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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2018
South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: Sorry for the delay. We were finishing up our recruiting efforts. Very pleased with today in terms of what we were hoping for. We were extremely intentional going into this second phase, if you will, of signing day. The first signing day, 21 signed recruits. And then we were very intentional in terms of what we were looking for to round out this class.
Right now I can comment on 26 players, so we added five to the class. We're anticipating some more in this class. I can't announce it right now. Maybe by the end of the press conference we'll be able to talk about some more. But at this point, relative to where we wanted to be, we're extremely pleased.
As I said, you know, having the ability to have the signing day, the early signing day, have the 21, really puts you in a very good position looking at this second signing day in terms of what we were focusing on, and that focus was the defensive backfield, offensive line, and then running back. And I think we hit all of those quite well.
I would be remiss without certainly thanking Aaryn Kearney and his staff, our recruiting office. They did an incredible job, once again, in marshaling all of the forces necessary to recruit nationally. We'll have 13 states represented in this class. We were able in this second phase, if you will, to really target with our staff where we wanted to be and who we wanted to recruit.
You know, looking at those that are part of this signing period, we look at the offensive line with Luke Jones and Jarrett Patterson. We get great versatility in both of them. Luke Jones, four-time state champion. He's a winner. Jarrett Patterson, obviously, a winner, state champion, as well. Luke gives us great versatility, can play the guard position, can play center. We were looking for that. In particular an inside guy that had that versatility. And then Jarrett Patterson, who's a guy that's long but can play both guard and tackle, as well. So versatility was really what we were looking for at that offensive line position. Again, augmenting, obviously, the depth there. I think we did an incredible job of adding two offensive linemen that are going to shape this class quite well.
The running back position, obviously, was a need for us, and C'Bo Flemister is a guy that really was attracted to us with his running style. From a football standpoint, we loved the fact that we had a north-and-south back here that played with low pads, and that's what we were looking for, a guy that could really hit it inside out for us and extremely productive at the position. Great fit for us, really solid student that fits here at Notre Dame. So really excited about C'Bo.
Defensive back, DJ Brown out of St. John's College, where Kofi Wardlow is from. We really think that we've got somebody here that is a true corner. He's long at 6'1". Very smart player. I think what stood out for us is his football intelligence, the way he played the game. And again, comes to us with a great background in terms of coming from a school like St. John's. He's prepared for the academics here at Notre Dame, as well. So again, this is a lot about fit, as well. We're reminded so many times of how many great players that are out there, but there has to be both. There has to be a strong commitment to the culture here at Notre Dame and their workload academically. It's not just about the football things.
In terms of continuing with this class, Lawrence Keys, wide receiver out of New Orleans, really gives us an explosive playmaker. He adds to the depth at that class.
Braden Lenzy, who we didn't talk about last time I was with you was a signee after the signing day. When you add two guys like Lenzy and Keys, extremely athletic with the ball in their hand, complements very well the entire receiving class with Micah Jones, who's already here, that really talks about the balance of the class in terms of what we were able to assemble there at the wide receiver position.
I'm trying to go through the notes here in terms of the other guys that signed today. Who am I missing? Got them all, perfect.
And then again, if I take enough time up here with questions, we may have some more information for you, but just to finish off my thoughts at the wide receiver position, I talked about Micah Jones, obviously. Kevin Austin at the wide receiver position gives us great versatility across the board in terms of being able to play a number of different positions.
And then when we're putting this together, you know, this was a big need for us was to gain depth at the wide receiver position, and I think we were able to do that.
Corner, safety position, offensive line, the wide receiver position. We know about some of the more heralded recruits from the first signing day. But again, trying to put it all in perspective. Great job by our new additions to the staff.
I think Jeff Quinn did a great job closing out the offensive line position for us. I think when you look at Coach Joseph in terms of what he's been able to bring as a recruiter, Todd Lyght did a terrific job this recruiting cycle. Great to have those guys come on board, fill in in a late date and do a great job finishing out the recruiting cycle for us. So hats off to their work and really understanding what we were looking for here at Notre Dame. Both those guys did an incredible job.
I think that's probably enough from me. There's plenty of questions out there, so we'll open it up to questions.
Q. Can we ask you about the new assistant coaches, too?
BRIAN KELLY: Sure.
Q. Tying it into recruiting first, the decision to hire -- kind of pivot from Harry to hiring Jeff Quinn, your thoughts about what made him a strong candidate, and then what the recruiting process was like getting kids on board because obviously you signed three more linemen today, or two more linemen.
BRIAN KELLY: Well, we had a national search for that position, and so we brought in what I thought were four great candidates for the position. We had our staff that was involved in that. Our players were involved in that decision making. I thought it was important we had Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars that were on the committee.
When all was said and done, we picked the best candidate for the job. I don't know if it's a pivot. I think what I was looking for was somebody that would continue to develop our players, both on and off the field, that would be able to teach and continue to build on the success that we've had on the offensive line, and that fit Notre Dame. It's one thing to have skills, but you have to have skills and you've got to fit the culture here at Notre Dame. And when we went through all those candidates, Jeff Quinn was the easy selection for us, and that means all of us. This wasn't a singular decision; this was a process that we went through, and that's why we're excited about the offensive line position moving forward.
Q. With Terry Joseph, just curious what you've seen of him on the recruiting trail in this short time.
BRIAN KELLY: Experience, right. You know, as I got a chance to spend time with him and evaluate, recruiting, it's one thing to gain access in terms of building a relationship, but you still have to close. You can see that Coach is going to be a closer for us. He can go in there at the end and close. I think that's very, very important in somebody recruiting.
Look, you can be building a great relationship with somebody throughout the process, but you've got to close, and that's what stands out to me. He's an experienced recruiter. He's recruited at the highest level. But he also understands Notre Dame. He was a quick study in terms of understanding and recognizing our distinctions here at Notre Dame, and that's why I think he's going to be a great asset.
Q. And with Clark, I'm sure that recruits had questions about -- they probably saw continuity, but I'm curious if Clark has things that he wants to tweak about the scheme and put his own stamp on the defense.
BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think you're going to see a similar, obviously, structurally. Tactically I don't think you'll see a big difference there. But there's always going to be a personality that inserts itself into the defense. But you've got great continuity with Mike Elston and Todd Lyght, and certainly the difference here is you have a different personality that's going to be running the show.
But we're not going to be moving far from what the traits are. And so that's the most important thing. He can articulate what the most important traits are in putting that defense in a position to be successful. That's why I think that was a seamless transition and the right move for us at this time at Notre Dame.
Q. 26 or 27 signees, with that number, does this take you out of the grad transfer market this year, or will you kind of keep your eye on that as you go through spring?
BRIAN KELLY: I don't think we ever close the door. We're always open for business. We've got to make good decisions that are best for our program, but you know, we're always going to keep our eyes open.
Q. You signed two running backs, you've got one already here on campus --
BRIAN KELLY: Jamir, yep.
Q. Is there a thought of looking at somebody else, either from the recruiting class like Bracy at a running back or somebody from your existing roster?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think there's great flexibility on this roster. Tariq Bracy, obviously, we all know is a very good running back, as well. Joe Wilkins was an outstanding receiver. So yeah, there's the possibility there.
I think it's a little early for me to comment publicly, but we have some ideas internally that will augment that position, and I think as we get closer to spring, they'll kind of show themselves and we'll be able to talk about that. I'd prefer not to put that out there at this point because we're still in shorts inside running around. But I think as we get closer to spring and it's a spring practice, when you get a chance to see us, I think you'll see some -- probably some more additions at that position.
Q. You've been doing this for a long time here now. I'm sure this class is similar to your previous hauls in a lot of ways. How is it maybe a little bit different?
BRIAN KELLY: I think the difference for me more than anything else was the process, first of all, obviously, right? An early signing period. Where when you had 21 on board, you weren't running around the country trying to keep them committed to Notre Dame, which allowed us to be so much more intentional on the next few players that we signed. So I think process, number one.
I think number two, it's probably from an across the board depth standpoint on the back end of our defense and at the wide receiver position, an area that I feel is good about as any class that we've recruited here at Notre Dame. Now, look, they're all young players, and they've got to prove themselves. But I think when I walk away at the end of the day and take a step back, those two areas I feel really good about relative to what we've done there.
That stands out to me.
I think that any time that you're able to continue to bring in, in our eyes, a quarterback that you believe can be a great player, that's an exciting piece, as well. So quarterback, addressing needs throughout our program, the process, and then the back end of our defense, and certainly the wide receiver position, those are the things that really stand out to me.
Q. Do you think this is as good a job addressing needs as you've done?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, when you sign 26 and maybe more, I think that that probably addresses -- look, we need to get better from 65 to 85. That 65th scholarship to the 85th scholarship. This will strengthen our football team at that area, which sometimes goes unnoticed in the length of your season. We have to play better football in November, and that's my job. And part of this recruiting class is going to address some of those needs in November. We play very well in September and October. I think we've got close to over a 700 percent winning percentage in September and October. I think we've 19-13 in November, and that has to be addressed through recruiting. It has to be addressed through training. And it has to be addressed in how you work your team. And so this will be that first stage of addressing it in terms of 65 to 85.
Q. You mentioned a little bit about Quinn and Joseph doing a good job late; how much of a challenge was that when Mike Elko and Harry Hiestand leave, just to try to create some new relationships that maybe were there a little bit with some area recruiters but not your position coach, and sit here today with a Patterson, Brown, we'll see if you get to that 27th, just how impressed are you about the job that they've done, and what do you think the keys were to them getting you across the line?
BRIAN KELLY: Often real people, real people make a difference late. If you're shallow and are not presenting yourself as genuine and authentic, you're going to get squeezed out late in this process. You don't get them all. Sometimes it's out of your control individually. But both those individuals are great fits at Notre Dame because they know what we're recruiting and why we're doing it. Our why here is to develop our players holistically, and then prepare them for whatever that next step is. We use the Elmer Stanley representation on the offensive line. At the same year one guy takes his talents to the NFL, the other young man takes his talents to Washington, D.C. So that's our model on the offensive line. Jeff is able to articulate that. Jeff is able to talk about that in homes in terms of building that relationship, and Terry is, as well, on his hand.
I think authenticity, being real, being a real person and not just selling something is the most important.
Q. You obviously are a proponent of the early signing period. Now that you've gone through the process, including today, as you look back on it, what would you tweak in terms of how Notre Dame handled the process?
BRIAN KELLY: I don't think that I would tweak anything relative to the front end of the process. Loved it. It's going to be the back end of the process. Like now as we entertain the visits leading into the early signing day, because certainly we didn't have that leading into the December signing date this year.
So it's really for me -- to answer that question in its totality will be how we handle the back end of it, the back end being when are those visits going to start, when do you start them, when do you end them, and I think that's really what we're trying to figure out at this point relative to tweaking and how that's going to work.
But when you are presented with a new rule that gives you, go ahead, sign them early, and you've done all that work, that's kind of a lay-up, if you will. I think the real work now begins with the early visits, and then I think I'll be able to answer the question to you a little bit more in detail as we go through the full cycle.
Q. I know that you guys don't keep track of who's a three star, four star, five star, et cetera, but I'm sure you have a good idea. Some of the guys that aren't as highly acclaimed as others. Who would be at the top of your list of underrated players in this class?
BRIAN KELLY: By answering that question, it would tell you that I'm looking at the stars. I think I'm -- I don't really know that as much as I know that all of these players chose Notre Dame for the right reasons, and they're all young men that we believe can develop into championship players for us. So I think it would really be dictated upon who you guys see as that kind of player.
Q. Maybe some of the guys that you ended up landing and the schools that you competed with aren't necessarily the Alabamas, Ohio States, et cetera.
BRIAN KELLY: And I'm not trying to be elusive, who would that be, and then I can comment? I don't follow all of that stuff. Like a Lawrence Keys? I think he had a Texas offer, a Notre Dame offer, an SMU offer. We just felt like we were looking for a guy that could make plays with the ball in his hand, and I wasn't looking at whether he was a three or a four. Give me some -- I'll be happy to answer --
Q. Ja'Mion Franklin, I know he's one that is a three-star --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, okay.
Q. And Tommy Tremble, to me those are four-star players.
BRIAN KELLY: Well, each one has a different circumstance: Profile, area for Tommy. But didn't play his senior year. So maybe gets undervalued in that sense. What we saw was an incredible upside relative to his physical tools and his physical ability, and he was a fit here from the school that he went to. Was a great fit and had the skills.
Ja'Mion for us, maybe not a heavily recruited, very rural in terms of where they are, not a big spotlight on a young man like that, but had the traits, explosive first step, a guy that's hard to block, is always coming up with tackles for a loss. So I think there's always circumstances as to why maybe they're not as high a profile, and I think that we strictly try to work on their fit athletically and their fit culturally here at Notre Dame.
Q. I'm going to throw out one more name, and he signed previously, but John Dirksen and his development as a senior.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, again, in a rural area, a winner. We're looking for offensive linemen that have had success, that have been successful, that are great teammates, that will fit into the culture of our offensive line room. That's a huge piece for us. Our offensive linemen are eminently involved in the recruiting process. They give us thumbs up and thumbs down on a lot of the guys that we're recruiting. They are part of this recruiting process.
They first and foremost have to fit that room, and then we look at their potential, the developmental potential of that player, and John fits that for us.
We're officially at 27, so that adds Noah Boykin, another corner that we really -- we love the intangibles about Noah. He comes from a school that is not a predictor, a school that we would normally not recruit here at Notre Dame, but I will tell you that one of the things that we were so impressed with, and maybe this doesn't happen everywhere, we weren't certain about Noah and his ability to come to Notre Dame and be a great fit until after his admissions meeting. The feedback that we got from admissions in terms of his interview really sold us on this was the right place for us. Here's a young man that wanted to reach for the best and not settle, and that's what really, for us, drove this. Todd Lyght did an incredible job of staying with this process with Noah. And again, I think what we know about his football ability, he was one of the best players at the All-Star Game, has got a confidence about him at that corner position. He's a natural corner, and just gives us great flexibility and depth at that position that we've been lacking for so long here.
But here's a young man that chose Notre Dame for the right reasons, and we're really excited about having him here.
Q. I know you addressed this in December, too. Kind of by our count, you're up to about 89 players on scholarship, but you said you wanted to maintain that aggressive stance in recruiting because of the attrition factor that inevitably always occurs. Are you aware currently of potential defections now, whether it be medical or otherwise, where you would get to that 85?
BRIAN KELLY: I think we're comfortable where we are. I don't know that we'd go into this blindly without a plan, and so we feel pretty comfortable about where we are at this point from our signing.
Got to be at 85 when the school year starts, and we'll be at 85 when the school year starts.
Q. You lost David Ballou. Has there been a replacement found there for the winter conditioning?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, have we announced him? Yeah, okay, we hired Robert Steiner, and he has come from us -- he was at the University of Cincinnati and does a -- already very impactful. David was a great member of our staff. He goes back to his alma mater, the University of Indiana, and that's where he played, so it was a great fit for him to take that program over. But we're really excited about Robert's addition. He's got a history with Matt Balis, had worked for Matt, and just was recently at the University of Cincinnati.
Q. Is his role the same as what David's was because there seems to be an attrition in those aspects?
BRIAN KELLY: There's a balance there. He certainly is a high-energy guy for us in that room but has a great base in knowledge of our velocity training, our elite form training, so he's got a really good signing background that Dave had, as well.
Q. Are you able to confirm with the fifth-year players there that are returning?
BRIAN KELLY: Who would that be?
BRIAN KELLY: Bonner is back, yes.
Q. Jay Hayes?
BRIAN KELLY: Jay Hayes is back.
Q. Tyler Newsome?
BRIAN KELLY: Tyler Newsome is back.
Q. Nick Watkins?
BRIAN KELLY: Nick Watkins is back.
Q. Bars and Mustipher?
BRIAN KELLY: Bars is back, Mustipher is back.
Q. Freddy Canteen?
BRIAN KELLY: Freddy Canteen is back.
Q. Nic Weishar?
BRIAN KELLY: Nic Weishar, yep. Nic had shoulder surgery, but he's rehabbing quite well and doing a great job.
Q. A friend of mine, Ralph Russo, asked you the question about are you familiar with the proposal coming out of the Big 12, allowing a kid to follow a coach if he moves on, and what is your opinion on that?
BRIAN KELLY: I think we've been more centered on the redshirt ruling where you could play four games and still not count that. That's been one that we have been a proponent of, more so than following the coach per se. But I think we'll find that there will be some pieces of legislation that will come out that I think may allow the student athletes some more flexibility as it relates to that particular kind of question. So there's going to be a trade-off there, I think, a little bit as we get into the spring and summer.
Q. You mentioned closing earlier. Today you added five new public commitments and that far surpasses what you've been able to do on previous signing days. Is there anything you can point to why that's the case?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, again, a different process, which allowed us to be a lot more intentional with where we wanted to be in terms of those numbers. I'll give you an example. In our last home visit we had four coaches in there. Sometimes when you're trying to hold on to the other 21, you're spread out all over the country. And so the ability for each one of these recruits to really get to know more of the staff is, I think, a great advantage in this closing that can help that. Beating four top-25 teams, 10-win season, beating LSU, all those things don't hurt. We were coming off a 4-8 season the year before; maybe you don't close quite as well. So we had some great momentum with that. But I would say it's process more than it was, and then add the momentum to that, and I think that's why we're at where we are.
Q. What did you see in DJ Brown, and could he be a guy that you move around in the secondary a little bit?
BRIAN KELLY: I think if we were to pull some phrases, if you will, amongst a number of these position groups, there's some flexibility. We've already talked about Houston Griffin, right, he can play corner, he can play nickel, he can play safety. DJ has got the skills to play corner right now, but he's 6'1", 190, so we know that he's got length. We know he's got the ability to be a bigger, stronger player, as well. We liked his football IQ. We liked the way he played football. And so that was, first and foremost, and then his length. Those are things that I think you can't teach 6'1", and we wanted some size at that position. He brings it to us.
Q. Obviously you've been involved in all these recruitments, and going back the last couple years, I've never had a class say more this year that you've been personally involved in their recruitment. They've been raving about you from start to finish. Is that just them interpreting that way, or did you change anything about your recruiting style? You've been all over it according to those guys.
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think I go back to process, right? We were able to break this up. So with this last group, I was able to be -- when you're only recruiting about eight players from the middle of December through February, you really can be on each one of those players individually. That's what it's required to finish the way we finished. I've got a great staff that had set it up that way. Remember, I still only get one home visit, and so I think our coaches did a great job of setting it up for me to go in there where we had a number of opportunities to not close, but I think our coaches did a great job of setting it up for me to go in there and close.
I think Twitter helps. I think the ability to communicate through Twitter, for me, has been so very important in this process, as well, because you can constantly stay involved with that relationship, even though it is a bit distant. There still is a bit of a connection there that you didn't normally have.
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