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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 5, 2014
MICHAEL BERTSCH:¬† We'll get started here momentarily.¬† Coach will just start with an opening statement, say a few words about the class, and then we'll turn it over to questions from those in attendance before we turn it over to the callers.¬† With that, Coach, go right ahead.
COACH KELLY:¬† Good afternoon.¬† Today culminates a year of hard work by so many people.¬† Everybody involved in the recruiting office, everybody on campus, admissions, everybody that's associated with the University of Notre Dame, everybody has a hand in it, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director.
When you come to Notre Dame, it is all hands on deck, because it's so important that when we talk about recruiting to Notre Dame that everybody has an opportunity to meet those that are going to be making a decision on Notre Dame.¬† So I want to thank everybody that's involved in that process, in particular our assistant coaches that really have to do some cross‑country recruiting.
As you know, the weather has not been very good these last three weeks, so it's been a bit of a difficult stretch for everybody.
We're very excited to announce the 2014 class.¬† I really like the fact that this has come together and the fact that it really represents for us going into our fifth year the one thing that I believe that you're looking for, and that is depth across the board, and I think some of the things that stand out, 18 of these recruits that are in this class were in the top 15 in their position group, and so that's what we were trying to achieve in this class.
I think if you really boil it down, it's about the front seven and the offensive line.¬† Yeah, there's some great skill players that I'll talk about, but you're winning up front, and building that depth in the front seven and the offensive line really stands out in this class, and then having some really good players across the board for us.
Coming to Notre Dame, we really, I thought, did a great job, our coaches, of talking about our distinctions.¬† So when we're on the road recruiting, we were talking about 8,000 students here at Notre Dame.¬† We were talking about a faith‑based education.¬† We were talking about a competitive academic environment.¬† We were talking about community and living, residential life.¬† We were talking about all those things, and at the same time being able to talk about winning a National Championship.
So both of those things are important, as well as a 40‑year decision, not a four‑year decision.
When we were having this opportunity to recruit a young man, they had to have a passion for wanting to get a degree from Notre Dame and winning a National Championship.¬† If they want to come here just to hang their hat to play football and go to the NFL, we passed on some pretty good players, because I don't want guys to come here and not finish their degree.¬† I want guys to come to Notre Dame, get their degree, help us win a National Championship, and be the No.1 pick in the NFL Draft.¬† That's what I want, if that's what they want.
So that was our charge going out is looking for guys that wanted a degree from Notre Dame, help Notre Dame win a National Championship, and then if they wanted to go to the NFL, that they would play on one of the greatest platforms in college football.¬† They'd play at Notre Dame.¬† They'd be on NBC.¬† They'd be on national television.¬† They'd be under one of the great opportunities to be seen on a day‑to‑day basis.
So when you look at the list of guys, we vetted them out just like they vetted us out.¬† So recruiting is a two‑way street.¬† A lot of times our fans ask why didn't they recruit this guy or they recruited this guy; it's a two‑way street when it comes to the recruiting process.¬† So we are really, really pleased with the work that our coaches have done, our recruiting staff.
I'd be remiss to not highlight Dave Peloquin, who did an incredible job this year.¬† He was short staffed this year in the recruiting office.¬† We had some departures within that office at a very untimely time in a sense during the recruiting process, and he held that together.¬† He was juggling a lot of balls in the air late, and I thought he did a great job.¬† Again, as you put this thing together, a lot of hands, a lot of people, a lot of work, but Dave in particular did a great job down the stretch.
With that I'd like to talk a little bit about the individuals that we have here in front of us today.¬† I'll start with our early enrollees, which I think‑‑ I got an opportunity to poke into our workouts today, and today for a lot of people, it's an exciting day, and I'm excited, too.¬† But on the other hand it's an exciting day because starting tomorrow, we get a chance to work with the guys that are here.
One of the guys that's here as an early enrollee in Justin Brent.¬† Justin Brent, when I got a chance to see him work out this morning, the first thing that stood out to me is that he does not look like a freshman.¬† He had his shirt off this morning and he was running around, and he looks like a senior.¬† He is a physically gifted young man.¬† You can see a lot of the accolades that are out there with him in terms of where he was ranked.
But what we were looking for specifically, and there were some really good players at this position, we were looking for a physical player at this position, somebody that could impose their physicality, could run after the catch.¬† His ability to run after the catch was very impressive for us and had, for us, some of the things, the traits that we were looking for at that particular time and that position.¬† Really pleased about having Justin Brent as an early enrollee, so he'll get a chance to play in the spring for us, as well.
Andrew Trumbetti, also another early enrollee from Demarest, New Jersey, Northern Valley Regional High School.¬† The thing that I would say about Andrew, the thing that really put him over the top for us is when we were watching his film, he was returning kickoffs in high school, and not many times do you see a defensive lineman returning kickoffs.¬† We knew about his athletic ability right away, and certainly we loved the fact that he was a multisport player, was a track athlete, and when we got a chance, when Coach Diaco was here before he moved on to Connecticut, got a chance to see him in track practice and got a chance to see his footwork and his quickness and all those things, and that started the recruiting process for us, and then obviously getting a chance to see him up on campus in our summer camps.
Just to give you that glimpse, a lot of these young men made the commitment financially to pay their way to come up here in the summer for us to see them.¬† A lot of these guys made that commitment to come up, to be in the summer camps so we could actually see them and compete, and that makes a huge difference, too, and that was one thing that Andrew was able to do.¬† We got a chance to see him and really love that he's with us early.¬† Andrew Trumbetti from Demarest, New Jersey.
Alex Bars, offensive lineman from Nashville, Tennessee, Montgomery Bell Academy.¬† You know, again, looking at the offensive line as a need for us in terms of building that depth across the board, as you know, this year an area that we lost some key starters, and we have to really go and we had to play true freshmen this year, and then we had to play some guys that had not had any experience at all, and we were in a position that we needed to really augment that position across the board.
Alex at the offensive line position, 6'6", can play the tackle position, again, another young man that we got a chance to see in the summer, has a great pedigree, a couple of brothers that play college ball, dad played here at Notre Dame, and it's one of the things sometimes‑‑ you know, everyone thinks, well, if the parent played here you have an easy connection.¬† Sometimes it's the most difficult, right.¬† Dad played here, it's an easy leap; not so much.¬† Sometimes you've got to work harder to get that young man to come to Notre Dame because he wants to go off on his own sometimes.
You know, Alex is a young man that we think has all the gifts necessary to be a great student athlete here at Notre Dame.¬† Coach Hiestand did a great job recruiting Alex, and our entire staff was involved in that process, as well.¬† So Alex Bars from Nashville, Tennessee.
Grant Blankenship, defensive lineman from The Colony in Texas.¬† Here's a young man that has just blossomed in the last couple years, 6'6".¬† I was in his home last week, and he just continues to grow.¬† He's about 265 pounds.¬† We loved him in camp.¬† We had a hard time with anybody blocking him.¬† He was a guy that just stood out right away for us when we saw him in our summer camp working out.¬† Had a great senior year, and again, a guy that continued to just grow.¬† I think he's just starting to hit his potential level, and it's only going to get better and better.
And to get a young man out of Texas, I think Kerry Cooks did a great job incidentally in the state of Texas.¬† We got three players from Texas, all of them offered by the University of Texas.¬† I don't know if that happens very often.¬† But we're very fortunate, and it's a great area for us, the state of Texas, and to have three from Texas starting with Grant is going to be really a solid player for us with great size, somebody that's really going to grow into that position at the defensive line.
Another outstanding player who really caught our eye this summer, Jonathan Bonner out of Chesterfield, Missouri, Parkway Central High School, great program.¬† He was the St.Louis Post Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year.¬† We really project him to be an outside player for us, an edge player, rush player, a guy that gets after the quarterback, and really was impressed with Jonathan, his personality, his character.
Has a bit of a connection here with Notre Dame, as well.¬† When you talk about the right fit to Notre Dame, Jonathan possessed all of the right characteristics, academics, socially, and then as a football player.
When he came up here, again, a lot of these guys we see firsthand, so our evaluations in a lot of these young men, we got a chance to see them.¬† Jonathan really impressed us in all of those areas.
Jimmy Byrne out of Palmer Heights, Ohio, St.Ignatius, a great program.¬† Really love the way Jimmy has progressed, especially his senior year.¬† We liked Jimmy last year.¬† He was an early offer for us and committed, and then really had a great senior year from our standpoint.¬† Physical, moves his feet well, and again, I think what you'll see with all of our offensive linemen, they all can get out and move their feet.¬† They all have the ability to run block, pass pro.¬† We like our guys to move, whether we're running zone schemes or gap schemes, screens, all those things.¬† You're going to see that there's an athletic component to all of these guys, and Jimmy certainly fits that, and really excited about him.¬† He's a great student, great young man, and a great fit for Notre Dame.
Daniel Cage out of Cincinnati, Ohio, Winton Woods High School.¬† I think from Daniel we got a chance to see him here last weekend on his official visit, and he's got a great family.¬† I think what stood out with the poor weather conditions that we've had here, they made the drive up from Cincinnati, and what a great family.¬† The mom and dad were here, got a chance to see Notre Dame for the first time, and the support that Daniel got in making a decision to come to Notre Dame, you know, it was a family decision certainly because the parents got a chance to really understand Notre Dame and understand how a degree from Notre Dame is really going to help Daniel.
This guy is a ferocious player.¬† He's an inside player, and we love the way he got off the ball.¬† His strength, lower body strength, he's a guy that's going to play the shade, he can play the nose.¬† He's a guy that's very disruptive inside.¬† And again, I know that area pretty good.¬† It's good football, Winton Woods, they play a great schedule, got a real good nose for the football.¬† Just good competition and plays the game hard every snap.¬† Really pleased in getting Daniel.¬† As you know, it was not a long recruiting process.
We told Daniel, the circumstances, because of losing a player and then having a couple of guys go early, we had to recruit him in a shorter window, but we were able to show him why we thought Notre Dame was the right fit for him, and he got a chance to see Notre Dame, and he signed with us today.¬† Daniel Cage, we're excited about having him at Notre Dame, as well.
Jay Hayes was an early commit to us out of Brooklyn, New York, Poly Prep Country Day.¬† He's going to be playing in the All‑Star game here, and one thing I'll say about Jay is that he has been probably one of our‑‑ I would say best recruiters in a sense from day one.¬† He's talked about Notre Dame and why you make a decision to come to Notre Dame.¬† I remember one of his quotes when I was with him was, Coach, some of these guys don't get it.¬† They don't really understand why you would come to Notre Dame.¬† And he's such a thoughtful kid at his age that he understands why he would come to Notre Dame for all the right reasons, getting a degree and opening up doors for him for the rest of his life.
Having said that, he's a heck of a football player.¬† Long, and he's long.¬† He's 6'4", long arms, about 275 pounds.¬† He's got multi‑position capabilities.¬† He can play inside, he can play outside.¬† Really like the way he plays the game, ferocious attacking player and a guy that we have a lot of trust in their head coach.¬† He's a defensive line coach by trade, and he's one of the best he's ever had. ¬†Really excited about Jay Hayes coming into our program.
Kolin Hill, linebacker out of Schertz, Texas, Samuel Clemens High School just out of San Antonio.¬† Colin was a young man that we offered when he didn't have a lot of action, but we saw a young man that we thought we could develop into just an outstanding football player.¬† First of all, we loved him as a person.¬† Again, a right fit for Notre Dame, character, high energy, yes, sir, no, sir, had all those things that we really liked.¬† He was engaging. ¬†Really impressed our admissions people.¬† He had all the things that we were looking for as well as somebody that we felt we could develop.
After we offered him, of course then he got a million offers after that.¬† Another kid from Texas that was offered by Texas, but he saw the reasons that he chose Notre Dame and fought through that late recruitment.¬† Again, I thought Kerry did a great job of recruiting Colin and getting him here to Notre Dame.
Here's a guy that really will continue to just develop.¬† He has not even seen his ceiling yet.¬† Really excited about Colin and what he can do for us at the linebacker position.
Corey Holmes out of Pembroke Pines, St.Thomas Aquinas, one of the premier programs in the country, not just Florida.¬† Really a precise route runner.¬† Really like his game.¬† He is a mature player.¬† Very mature in the way he handles himself in the classroom.¬† Off the field, really like everything about Corey Holmes.¬† I can't tell you anything I don't like about this young man.¬† His family is just a great fit for Notre Dame.¬† Very mature kid, one that's wanting to take on all the challenges of Notre Dame.
He reminded me a lot, and I don't like to make the comparisons, but he has a lot of the same feelings in terms of where TJ Jones developed, but he's 6'2".¬† This kid is longer.¬† He's a bigger kid than TJ.¬† But he's got a lot of those mannerisms and characteristics.¬† This is a great fit for us from that high school.¬† He's played great competition, and he's a great fit for our program.¬† We're really pleased to have Corey Holmes in our program.
DeShone Kizer out of Central Catholic High School in Toledo.¬† I was talking about DeShone earlier on one of the shows, and there's so many things to love about DeShone.¬† He's 6'5".¬† I love that.¬† He's 212 pounds.¬† I love that.¬† So you can see you've got a tall, athletic quarterback who's got good size.¬† He's going to be able to do the multidimensional things that we love.¬† Now we've got three quarterbacks on campus that all do the same things.¬† You don't have to adjust your offense.¬† All three of the quarterbacks, we finally‑‑ all do the same things.
But the one thing that I loved about him, and it's similar to the other two guys that we have:¬† This kid loves to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.¬† Now we have similar quarterbacks in terms of run‑pass threats.¬† Different sizes, right, but they all love the opportunity to have the ball in their hands, and I love that competitiveness of DeShone Kizer.¬† He led his team the last couple years, came up a little short, but extremely competitive and confident, confident, confident kid.¬† That's what you've got to be.¬† That's what I told all these guys.¬† If you come to Notre Dame as the quarterback, you'd better be really confident in your ability because they are going to knock you down five pegs every day, so you'd better be above that.
We put them through a pretty strong vetting process before they even say I'm interested in Notre Dame because they've got to get through me first, which is not easy, and then they've got to deal with all you folks, and then they've got to deal with everything else that comes with the position.¬† If you make it through that, Notre Dame is the place for you, and he's a great young man, great kid, then it's a great fit.¬† It's exciting to have him with us.¬† So he'll be here as one of our three scholarship quarterbacks.
Tyler Luatua out of Paramount, California, La Mirada High School.¬† Tyler, one of the things that stood out to me on his visit is that people said, well, he didn't talk enough.¬† He wasn't engaging enough.¬† I didn't hear enough from him.¬† I said, well, you just don't know him well enough because when you get to know Tyler Luatua, he's just like Justin Utupo; you can't shut him up.¬† So it was clear to me that we just needed to spend a little bit more time with him, and Mike Denbrock did a great job recruiting him, said, listen, just spend more time with him.¬† We got him on the phone, he spent more time with people on campus, and he blew them all away.¬† He's just got that kind of personality.¬† We really love his personality and who he is.
As a tight end he's a pass catching tight end.¬† No, he's not the 6'5", 6'6" tight ends that we've had, but he is a really good tight end.¬† He can catch the football.¬† He can block for us.¬† He's going to be able to do all the jobs that we have at the tight end position for us.
And again, we think we got one of the best tight ends in the country in Tyler Luatua.
Greer Martini out of Woodberry Forest High School.¬† That's been a really good high school for us.¬† Obviously we've got a couple guys in Randolph and Prosise, so there will be our third.¬† Coach Alexander does a great job of developing his players, and they're just a great fit here at Notre Dame.¬† Greer Martini is one of the smarter defensive players we signed.¬† We got a chance to spend some time with him here on campus.¬† His leadership skills, his ability to recognize and really‑‑ you have to have leaders.¬† He's a really good player, and he's a really good leader, and he'll be a very good linebacker for us here at Notre Dame and will also be a guy that makes others around him better.
So we're really excited about having Greer with us.¬† He's a good size at 6'3", 225.¬† He's only going to get bigger and stronger while he's here.¬† He'll be an inside linebacker for us, and again, a position of need for us moving forward.
Pete Mokwuah is a young man out of Staten Island out of St.Joseph By the Sea.¬† A shorter recruiting period for us, as well, but Pete was a great fit for us, and looking for to augment our defensive line position, we wanted to find the right profile young man.¬† He's Nigerian.¬† We've had a great Nigerian connection here, Romeo Okwara, Prince Shembo, just to name a few, and then Pete was able to connect Catholic institution, goes to a Catholic school.¬† That profile fit very well for us.¬† A kid that's serious about his academics here at Notre Dame.¬† All very good profiling for us in terms of the right fit here at Notre Dame and a 6'4", 315‑pound defensive lineman, pretty good fit there, too.
So all of those things together, we really liked his personality.¬† His mom got a chance to come up with him and see Notre Dame.¬† He's got a couple of sisters, one at UConn, one at St.John's, so the family really understands about college and getting a great education and so it was a really good fit in getting Peter here at Notre Dame.
Nyles Morgan out of Crete‑Monee High School, played on a state championship team as a junior, and this year came up a little short.¬† One thing that stands out about Nyles is his thirst for knowledge of the game.¬† Every time I'm with him, he just wants to talk about football, and he's a good student, and his mom and dad want him to just talk about academics, and he's a good student and he recognizes the value of getting a degree at Notre Dame.¬† A couple of his choices were Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, so he understands that clearly, but every time he's with me he just wants to talk about football.¬† He is a student of the game.
He couldn't wait for today because after today he gets to talk a lot more football, and on a daily basis he's going to be talking about football.
Just got a great nose for the football, plays downhill, plays fast, great instincts, and when he arrives, he arrives with a bad attitude when he gets to the football.¬† He's just that kind of player.¬† Very, very talented.¬† You know, I think from our standpoint, an inside guy that certainly has the physical tools to be an exceptional player here at Notre Dame.
Sam Mustipher, an offensive lineman out of Good Counsel High School, great program, and I think, again, Sam was another young man that we got a chance in the summer to see and spend time with.¬† I think Coach Hiestand has done a great job in building relationships with all of these young men, and in particular all of these young men at Good Counsel High School or St.Joseph's By the Sea, they've already made that decision once to go to private schools for a reason, to get that quality education, and they're continuing to do that here at Notre Dame.¬† So Sam was a good fit there.
Here's a powerful guy inside, and again, I think what stood out for us with Sam was his ability to move his feet again.¬† All these guys can be big and strong and physical, but if they can't move their feet, if they can't bend, if they can't get out of their stance and do a good job and moving and bending, then we're moving on, and I think‑‑ I sound like a broken record with the offensive line, but those are the characteristics.¬† They've got to be good people.¬† They've got to be tough, competitive kids.¬† They've got to be benders.¬† They can't be waist benders, they've got to be knee benders.¬† And again, they've got to be able to move their feet.
Quenton Nelson out of Red Bank, New Jersey, Red Bank Catholic High School.¬† Again, physically one of the stronger kids we've got, 6'5", 302 pounds.¬† I think the one thing that stands out about Q is that here's a guy that just is relentless.¬† He's going to come after you play after play after play.¬† And again, his desire to want to be great is what always stood out about Quenton is that he's always pushing himself.¬† Every time we talk to him he's coming back from something.¬† He plays basketball, he's working out, he's a guy that's driving himself always to be the best he can be.
Again, one of the best players in the country at his position, but physically strong, and at 6'5", 300 pounds as a senior in high school, I mean, this kid can still move his feet and he'll continue to work on that, and he's a guy that is so focused on what he needs to work on, that's what we loved about him.¬† He wasn't looking at his star rating, he was looking at the things that he needed to work on, and that's all we needed to see from Quenton.¬† He's a pretty funny guy, too, if you saw his video.
Tyler Newsome, punter‑kicker out of Carrollton High School.¬† We had Tyler up here this summer.¬† We had the kicking camp here, and we got a chance to see him work out.¬† Just was really impressed with his versatility.¬† Long lever punter, which in terms of his abilities really transcend the normal punting.¬† He's a guy that doesn't come along very often.¬† He's 6'3", 190 pounds right now, and he is skinny.¬† He's going to be a really big kid.¬† We loved the pop that he had as a kicker, but we were most intrigued by his punting, and that's an area that he's going to continue to work on and continue to develop, but he was such an intriguing young man in all the kids that we saw that when we saw him punting, there was nobody that was even close to with the potential upside that he has.¬† Great student, one of the best in his class.¬† And I have a young man, Red Keith, who is a coach there that played for me at Central Michigan, and he was able to fill us in on Tyler as a competitor, too.¬† We got Kyle Brindza, who's one of the greatest competitors I've ever coached.¬† So I like those guys at that position to be great competitors, too, and I've been told by Red he's a great competitor, as well.
All those things together made it, for us, a decision to offer Tyler a scholarship, and he committed to us, and we're excited to have him signed here at Notre Dame.
Nile Sykes, the linebacker from Montini Catholic High School.¬† Chicago Sun Times all‑area, just a great addition to our class.¬† Really like Nile and his personality.¬† He's got a great family.¬† Mom and dad, really excited about being a part of the Notre Dame family.¬† Listen, that matters, too.¬† We want people that want to be part of Notre Dame and be part of our family, and to bring Nile and his family in, he's a versatile player.¬† He can play inside, he can play outside.¬† He is a physical player.¬† He's got very good ball skills, instincts, and again, another versatile player in our front seven that's going to add to the depth of our football team.
Drue Tranquill, interesting, I kept talking, a number of these players how we saw a lot of these players in the summer.¬† Well, we saw Drue, too, and we saw Drue, and we weren't looking for his position at the time because we were really full, and he was playing safety.¬† But he kept jumping out at us.¬† This kid was making plays, and Coach Hiestand kept banging me about hey, listen, watch this kid, and we kept looking at him, and he'd keep making plays during camp.¬† And so he was always on our radar, but we were not ready to offer a scholarship at that particular position.
It got to the point where I watched more film, we watched more film.¬† I loved his attitude.¬† I loved the way he played the game.¬† I said, we're going to offer him as a head coach's offer.¬† Head coach can offer anybody, right?¬† Coach, we don't have a scholarship.¬† I said, well, we've got a scholarship now.¬† So I offered him a scholarship, and we really didn't have a position for him because we just loved the way he played the game, and so that's kind of how the recruiting process went on Drue.¬† People have asked does he play safety, does he play running back?¬† I don't know where he plays, but he's going to play somewhere here at Notre Dame because he's a darned good football player, he's athletic, he's competitive, and we'll find a place for him somewhere.¬† He's one of those guys if he's going to play at Notre Dame he's going to play somewhere because he's a really good football player.
Nick Watkins out of De Soto, Texas, the third of our Texas players.¬† Bishop Dunn High School, which has got a number of our teachers from our ACE program there, as well, and just a great school.¬† Nick Watkins, you talk about a talented football player, his dad played in the NFL, great pedigree, 6'1".¬† This is a long corner.¬† This is draft day, you're getting a No.1 draft pick.¬† This kid is an exceptional football player.¬† We think we got one of the best corners around.¬† Long, athletic, can really do a lot of things for us.¬† He can play man, he can play zone.¬† I got a chance to see him play.¬† I didn't see him play one game in person, but I saw a lot of his tape.
I just think he's an outstanding player that is going to develop here, and again, from my standpoint, love the ability that we can get a corner that has some size to him.
Nic Weishar out of Midlothian and Marist High School.¬† We could argue about this all day.¬† He's the finest pass catching tight end that we saw.¬† You could argue about who it is, but we think he is.¬† We love his ball skills, we love his ability to use his body to control defenders, has a knack of catching the football in the air and taking it away from people.¬† He's a guy that will have a great career here at Notre Dame.¬† He'll be that‑‑ he's got that model and size that we've had here at Notre Dame.
He's not where Luatua is in terms of size right now.¬† He's going to have to get stronger.¬† He's 215 pounds.¬† But he will.¬† But he is a terrific pass catcher, and he's going to be another one in the line of very, very good tight ends here at Notre Dame.
Jhonny Williams out of Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Berrien Springs High School.¬† Another young man that we're excited to have, just so close by.¬† Here's a young man that just started play the game, 6'6", 230 pounds, and who knows what his future is going to be.¬† There's no ceiling on Jhonny Williams's future.¬† He's an engaging young man.¬† He just recognizes that he's got a great opportunity at Notre Dame, and we're excited to provide him that opportunity.
You know, he's one of the top players in the state of Michigan, and I think from our perspective, we've got one of those guys that if you call him a sleeper or whatever you want to call it, he didn't play great competition, but he's going to get an opportunity to play against the very best competition here.¬† But we'll take that any time with his athletic skill set.¬† At his size, his athletic ability, we're really excited about developing Jhonny Williams.¬† He's the kind of guy that you want to have on your team because of his personality, who he is, his story, his family background, and then a guy that you feel like you can develop down the road.
That's our 2014 class.¬† I'll be happy to open it up to questions.
Q.¬† Just to be clear, you mentioned about guys that were three‑and‑out.¬† If a kid in his living room said, I really am only interested in being in college for three years, would you pass on him?
COACH KELLY:¬† I would have a serious problem recruiting him to Notre Dame if they said, I only want to come to Notre Dame for three years; I have no interest in really getting the degree at Notre Dame.¬† I would have serious reservations about bringing him to Notre Dame.
Q.¬† In this class can you identify, I know it's hard until they get here in June, but can you identify who you maybe anticipate will be able to challenge to maybe get in the two deeps?
COACH KELLY:¬† You know, I thought standing here last year if you had asked me, I would have pulled out some of the skill guys to do that, and then Isaac Rochell plays for us.¬† Here's what I'm seeing:¬† And I mentioned Justin Brent just a few minutes ago, because physically these guys are coming in so much more prepared, it's mentally‑‑ it's the developmental mentally, it's developing them mentally to find out whether they're going to play.¬† It's not physical.¬† And you really can't tell that until they get into camp and how they pick up the grind of going through double sessions and the grind of school and balancing all those things, because physically if you look at a number of these guys, you could say they could play right now.¬† I don't know how they're going to handle it mentally.
That's really the question now, who's going to be able to handle it mentally.¬† That's going to be the tougher question.¬† I could tell you right now, why couldn't Grant Blankenship play right now?¬† He's 6'6", 260.¬† I just saw him last week.¬† He looks great.¬† He looks like he could play right now.¬† But I don't know if he can handle all the other players.
So that's really hard for me to answer now that I stand here at Notre Dame.¬† At some other schools I could tell you.¬† They're not physically ready to play.¬† And then Steve Elmer steps on the field as a freshman and plays at the offensive line.¬† So that's the long answer to the question, that I think now it's becoming who can handle it mentally.¬† Most of these guys are physically able to play.
Q.¬† With Nyles Morgan it was kind of an interesting situation in that his lead recruiter left, his defensive coordinator then left.¬† At one point you weren't in his top six.¬† He explained how he felt like Notre Dame kind of got back in with him.¬† From your standpoint can you talk about the process of pulling in an elite linebacker who really looked like he could have fallen out of his class?
COACH KELLY:¬† Certainly.¬† Well, first of all, I would say that we kept banging at that door, even though there was no answer, and then we got an answer, and then obviously Coach Martin and Coach Diaco left.¬† There was only one guy left to recruit him, and that was me.
Obviously that was the only way to get the ball rolling was for me to go in there and develop a relationship with him, and then as we got Coach VanGorder back on staff and we got it rolling, we were able to kind of tag‑team approach that.¬† But I think it started with him really recognizing and getting an opportunity to meet a lot of the players, too.¬† I think that had something to do with it.¬† We got him up here a couple of times, and then his parents were involved in the process, as well.¬† I know his parents were favorably impressed with him going to an academic institution.¬† I know his coaches were favorably impressed with Notre Dame, as well.¬† So I think we had a lot of things working in favor.¬† But I think it started with me getting involved in the process, and then everybody else kind of tag‑teaming that.
Q.¬† Playing in Dallas, do you feel like there's tangible evidence that that helped you with the kids in Texas?
COACH KELLY:¬† It certainly didn't hurt us.¬† I was on the phone with some '15s today that were at that game, that knew, hey, saw your game, and so if it's not '14s, it's '15s, and if it is '14s, I think it gave us at least the opportunity to continue that connection with those guys.¬† I would say this, that we felt like it was a very successful game not only on the scoreboard but from a recruiting standpoint, as well.
Q.¬† Building on that in Texas, do you think there was kind of an afterglow of 12‑1 there?¬† Was it just the dynamics of the kids you were recruiting?¬† What do you think changed in Texas to be able to get three kids with Texas offers?
COACH KELLY:¬† Three years of getting shut out down there.¬† You know, I mean, not shut out literally, but Kerry has been in there, Kerry has been recruiting the state of Texas for a long time before he got to Notre Dame, so Kerry has had a great network down there for a period of time, and we've been digging hard down there.¬† I can't tell you how many flights I've been in and out of there, and we haven't necessarily hit home runs, but we've got some good players out of Texas.¬† Obviously Torii Hunter is a pretty good player we think, Corey Robinson is a good player.¬† We've got others there.¬† But I just think we've just been digging.¬† We've been really working hard.¬† I think Kerry has done a great job.¬† And then this year in particular, I think that work has continued to pay off.¬† We started early at Bishop Dunn.¬† We're getting into the right schools and to the right kids certainly.¬† I think that's important, as well.
Are we going to get three kids from Texas every year that get offered by Texas?¬† That's going to be tough sledding.¬† But there are going to be years that I think we're going to be able to do well in Texas, and I think it's a great area for us.¬† We've got a great network and a great alumni network there, as well.
Q.¬† Another theme in this class is guys maybe you revisited in December and November, Jhonny Williams, Nile Sykes, even Mokwuah into January.¬† Could you talk about that process, about keeping an open mind, Kolin Hill would be in there, too, keeping an open mind about guys and just sort of trying to approach a kid and say, hey, I know we didn't‑‑ we thought you were pretty good before but now we really like you?¬† How does that process work?
COACH KELLY:¬† Yeah.¬† I think that, you know, if it was an exact science, right, this recruiting process, well, we'd have it all down.¬† It's not an exact science, and so there are factors that change things, and sometimes it's not just about what you watch on film but the way that you think about your team.¬† Maybe it's the way you want your team to look like after the year or during the year.
I have an influence in that, and so sometimes my opinion needs to be heard on some things, and it shifts the way we want to go.¬† My guys are great.¬† They're going to go the way I ask them to go, and sometimes I'll stay out of it and sometimes I'll get involved.¬† In this instance, when it came to Jhonny Williams, that was a situation where we found out late about Jhonny Williams, and we got in late.¬† That was one that flew under the radar.¬† As it related to the defensive line position, we just felt like we were‑‑ we didn't cast a large enough net, and we just needed to be out there larger in terms of our number of candidates, and so that's why we went back in that way.
Q.¬† Could you speak a little bit more on Nyles Morgan in terms of the importance of having an inside linebacker who physically is put together like a kid who could come in and help you right away at a position where you lose two starters and you have another one coming off a serious injury?
COACH KELLY:¬† Yeah.¬† Certainly feel like he has all the tools to do that, and as I was really talking about with Eric's answer is that it's really going to be about how you handle it mentally, and then how you adjust to it as a coach.¬† If he's the very best player, I want the 11 best players on the field, and we've got to do a good job as coaches of getting the 11 best players on the field sometimes.¬† Sometimes we're a little bit hesitant of getting the 11 best players on the field for certain reasons, and if he's one of the 11 best, we've got to find a way to get him on the field.
The issue he's got is he's got some guys working out that have been here a year that are going to try to keep him from getting on the field, too.¬† I think there's still some competition there that he's got to get through, but his skill set, it's pretty easy to see.¬† That's what a Mike linebacker looks like.
Q.¬† Do you expect to go beyond the 23, or this is your class, you're not expecting any late additions?
COACH KELLY:¬† We're open to going beyond the 23.
Q.¬† You talked about mentality.¬† Talk a little bit about what opportunity is here when you talk to kids about where the needs are and where you see the most likely chance for people to fill the voids.
COACH KELLY:¬† Well, the first thing is we give them the depth chart.¬† Here's where the guys are at that position.¬† Now, if there's a lot of guys on the depth chart we don't give them a depth chart.¬† But if there aren't we give them a depth chart.¬† At those positions we show them where are their guys.¬† For example, as it relates to the cornerback position, you give them a depth chart, and you say, hey, Nick, look, here's where we are.
At the other positions, I want them all coming in ready to compete because I point out Corey Robinson, I point out Will Fuller, I point out Tarean Folston, I point out all the freshmen that we played.¬† So you'd better come in ready to play because if freshman are ready to play and can help us win, we're going to let you play.¬† We're not going to hold you back.
If we can show you that you're in the depth from that standpoint, we'll do that.¬† If not, my philosophy is you'd better come ready to play because we've shown that we'll play freshmen.
Q.¬† I think you talked last year about getting close to 85.¬† If my math is right you're right up to it.¬† How much will that help just in practice and having enough kids, players to fill whatever voids come when injuries occur?
COACH KELLY:¬† It's huge.¬† It's huge.¬† It's that, getting to 85, and then the next 20 is making sure that the next 20 are not 5'9", 150 pounds.¬† So the next 20 guys are what we're working on, and that's hard, because to get them in to school here, there's high, high standards.¬† Being able to get that next 20 is a challenge, as well.¬† So we're working on getting to 85, which is absolutely crucial, and then the next 20 guys, we've got to continue to work in recruiting.
So we're working right now trying to get really, really good students into school that have some size so we can lean up against them.
Q.¬† You mentioned Drue Tranquill, you don't know what position he'll play.¬† I know Coach Elston said in a video that you're looking for bigger safeties.¬† Can you explain some of the other philosophical defensive adjustments that you're making from Coach Diaco to VanGorder?
COACH KELLY:¬† Well, I don't know if that's necessarily a philosophical or more of a‑‑ we want our safeties certainly to be physical and be able to be great tacklers.¬† I'm not trying to speak for Mike, but Drue fits that mold of a physical safety.¬† We're looking for guys that can play close to the ball, can play off the hash, and we need to be really good tacklers, so we want a physical presence.
So right now if you just take him as he stands, he's a big, physical safety.¬† We want to continue developing and recruiting those kinds of safeties, which we did.
Q.¬† I guess I'm also thinking down the stretch recruiting, you cast a bigger net for interior defensive lineman.¬† Are you more inclined to be a one‑gap defense as opposed to two, anything along those lines?
COACH KELLY:¬† We have to be able to have inside guys that can play the nose and the shade.¬† That's where you're starting to cast the wider net because it's not just one guy.¬† So because we're going to play both three‑ and four‑down, we're really duplicating the position.¬† So we're adding one guy and instead of just saying one guy playing the position, we're saying two guys for that one position.
Q.¬† At the start you mentioned small student body, faith‑based school, competitive academically.¬† You've always emphasized these things, but you seem to be a little bit more forceful in emphasizing that now.¬† Is there a greater push to get recruits to understand that so that when the season ends you don't have this player veering off to the NFL and you're a more cohesive group in your approach?
COACH KELLY:¬† The NFL is a different‑‑ that's a different model in the sense that I just have to do a better job of educating our own players on the NFL and what it means to be a first‑round draft pick versus a second or a third.¬† When an agent says let's play for your second contract, how ridiculous that is.¬† That's a whole different argument.
My point is in the recruiting process, we do not want to go out there and say, come to Notre Dame for these reasons; hey, come to Notre Dame, we'll get you an apartment off campus; come to Notre Dame and we'll help you go pro early.¬† I just wanted to be clear that these are our distinctions, and you're shopping down a different aisle.¬† We're not better than anybody else, but this is what you're going to get if you shop down this aisle.¬† So when we get into this at the end, I pretty much know which way you're going to go.
You know, so we already know where our work is and who we're going to get and who we're not going to get, because there's plenty of players out there for us to get and develop.
Q.¬† When you look at the personalities of the 23 guys that you signed, they seem to fit what you were talking about so well.
COACH KELLY:¬† They do.¬† All of them do.¬† I think that when we‑‑ look, we took a couple of swings at some guys, and if we hit a couple of home runs, great.¬† But we weren't going to let the class deteriorate, right, or break up because we were waiting on one or two guys.¬† This class was set months ago, the base of this, the core of the class.¬† Yeah, we had to scramble on maybe a D‑lineman or two here or there because of need, but we had our core because we knew the guys we were looking for and we had a connection with those guys, they had a connection with us.¬† That's how we'll continue to recruit.
We're going to have our core guys, they're going to have a connection with us, a connection with them.¬† Texas got a little crazy because there was a new coach down there who had to come in, and I think a good splash would be to get a couple of guys to go to Texas from Notre Dame that were committed.¬† Other than that, we're going to know our guys because we're going to talk about the distinctions of Notre Dame.
Q.¬† In your rundown you mentioned a lot of the kids that face very stiff competition and a couple that might not have.¬† When you're trying to find something in a recruit when you first target him that doesn't play great competition, what are some of the traits you look for that think he might be able to come help you here?
COACH KELLY:¬† Well, first of all, he's got to dominate his opponent, so if he doesn't dominate his opponent, that's a red flag.¬† He might like math more than football.¬† That's a problem.¬† I'd like him to be a little bit closer.
Second of all, he's got to have at least some intangibles that we can really look at:¬† Outstanding track, outstanding in basketball, some other sport that you can kind of look at and go, wow, off the charts.¬† So another sport where you can kind of identify.¬† Jhonny Williams's numbers in track and field are off the charts for his size.
So you try to look at some other sports that kind of give you some numbers to go by if you can't just watch film and go, wow, that's a no‑brainer.
Q.¬† I think over the last two years you've really probably shored up the wide receivers, yet you talked about the outside linebackers and defensive end positions and offensive line.¬† I know you've begun 2015 in earnest.¬† What is kind of the up‑the‑middle defense that is the focal point of the upcoming class?
COACH KELLY:¬† There will be a couple things.¬† Certainly quarterback, we need another quarterback at that position.¬† We'll be recruiting a running back at that position.¬† Certainly you always are filling the tackle position; the offensive tackle position will always be one that you're looking for.¬† So early on when you're looking at your '15 class, you're trying to get those staple players right away, those guys that you know you're going for, and then the numbers start to kind of take shape.¬† You've got 14, you've got 16, you've got 18 scholarships, then we start to target in on those specific positions that we may have a need at.¬† Is it another defensive tackle?¬† Is it another offensive receiver position?¬† My point being, you're going to take those positions that you know are staple positions, and then you move from there.¬† That's where we are.
Q.¬† You've mentioned in years past kind of learning on the recruiting trail and using that to evolve the message you send to recruits each year.¬† Is that something you're still learning as you go each year here or is that message a little more solidified?
COACH KELLY:¬† Well, I think our message has been outstanding.¬† All of our coaches have done a terrific job with being consistent with the message across the board.¬† We communicate very well and understand ‑‑ I think all of our coaches know when to move on and know when we can hang in there and fight.¬† You know, we hung in there with a couple of kids that it was 50/50.¬† I mean, it was 50/50, and the schools they went to are not like us at all.¬† But it was 50/50, and they knew they had to make a call which way they wanted to go on that, and our guys knew that.¬† We painted our picture the way I just told our story, and our guys can do that and they do a great job with it.
I think what we're doing a better job of and understanding how important our social media piece is, our mailing, our direct marketing, all of those pieces are very important, as well, because we've got to reach 16 year olds and 17 year olds, and it's important to reach those through the medias that they're working in, as well.¬† I think we're doing a better job.¬† We're getting better at it.¬† We're going to continue to get better.¬† We're going to stay on the cutting edge of that, and that allows us to get a 16 year old who does not know who Jerome Bettis is.¬† He has no idea who Rocket Ismail is, and this allows us through our marketing to then get in and tell our story because when we can tell our story, their uncle knows who Rocket is, their coach knows who it is, and then our story opens up all those doors.
That's what we've learned, that we've still got to get to those 16 year olds, and we'll have to do it through their medium, and I think we're getting better at that time.
Q.¬† Was that the most significant change this year, and how did you come to the understanding that you needed to do more of that?
COACH KELLY:¬† I think just as a group, as a staff, talking it out, saying, hey, we get together as a staff, and then we say, all right, coaches, what do you need for resources.¬† What resources can we provide you?¬† And so as we get a chance and when we meet a lot, it's just that discussion.¬† All of our coaches are weighing in on, hey, what are the ways‑‑ I need you to help me get my foot in the door here, and what ways are going to allow me to get in the door.¬† So being creative, because if we can get one of our coaches in the door to tell the story about Notre Dame and talk about what we can do for you, we've got a shot.
So that's how we came up with those discussions to be more creative.
Q.¬† You talked about the mentality of coming in and being ready to play, specifically with Jay Hayes, he's a New York guy, and you talked before about those guys, some of those guys needing a little bit longer to get used to the college taste of things, yet with his personality, maturity and a position of need, is that somebody in that same boat or is he somebody that could be ready to play right away?
COACH KELLY:¬† Oh, no, he's got to come ready to play.¬† I think every one of the guys that we've recruited on the defensive line have to come with a mentality that you're coming ready to play.¬† You know, the great part about it is that we can finally have some contact with our guys in the summer with the change in rules, and that at least we can see our guys in the summer.¬† So we'll be having conversations with our guys.¬† We'll be able to have contact and talk to them, engaging them.¬† I think that's going to give us a better sense of where they are mentally.¬† In answering Eric's question, I think we'll get a better sense of where our guys are mentally in the summer because now we can have some contact and conversation with them.
Q.¬† And have you settled on fifth‑year guys at this point or is that still unknown?
COACH KELLY:¬† Yeah, I don't know, who would they not be?¬† The fifth‑year guys, who am I missing that we haven't talked about?¬† Who's a question mark?
COACH KELLY:¬† He's back.
Q.¬† Luke Massa?
COACH KELLY:¬† He's back.
Q.¬† He will be, also?
COACH KELLY:¬† Yeah.
Q.¬† So is it five total then with Luke Massa, Justin Utupo, Christian Lombard, Austin Collinsworth and Kendall Moore?
COACH KELLY:¬† They're all back.
Q.¬† You talked about the 85 and what's important about the 20 afterwards.¬† You want four or five preferred walk‑ons every year; can you talk about ones you might be getting now such as Sam Bush, I believe you have a couple of quarterbacks?
COACH KELLY:¬† I can't.¬† The restrictions on it are they have to be‑‑ well, there's a couple of restrictions on it.¬† They have to be admitted into school.¬† One of them is admitted into school, but there's some other restrictions on it because of some other issues.
Q.¬† Why are they so important to the program?
COACH KELLY:¬† Well, first of all, three of them have scholarship offers to other schools.¬† They're really good players.¬† Second of all, they have the ability to demonstrate the other team we're playing at a high level.¬† That is so important, that I can have a demo squad that I can put out there that can help us prepare for the team that we're playing that week.¬† Sometimes it would be better if I just put an orange cone out there.¬† Now I've got some guys that can actually help us prepare, and we need to continue to develop that as we move forward.
Q.¬† How do you convince guys like that, though, who do get offers such as a Joe Schmidt several years ago from pretty good top schools to come to Notre Dame and pay the freight?
COACH KELLY:¬† Well, there's a number of factors.¬† Some may have been lifelong Notre Dame fans.¬† Some have ties to the University.¬† Some recognize a Notre Dame degree, and others know that I put walk‑ons on scholarship.
Q.¬† You talked about social media and the importance.¬† Where do you feel you stand with the support staff?¬† You hear in the South that there is just such enormous numbers there, people just watching tape all the time.¬† Where do you feel Notre Dame compares as far as having that support staff in place?¬† You said you were a little shorthanded this year.
COACH KELLY:¬† Yeah, well, we're shorthanded because we lost personnel to other schools.¬† Where I stand on it is that I think building a recruiting office is, for me, where we're going to put a lot of our resources.¬† We're not going to bring in six offensive analysts and four analysts in the weight room to oversee the position group work for the strength coaches.¬† Never believed in that.¬† We're not going into that field.
But we will augment our recruiting efforts, and in particular, which I have alluded to, I think the recruiting part that we are going to have to stay on the cutting edge of is the marketing and promote end because we've got an incredible story to tell, and we've got to get it out there to 16 year olds that don't know a lot about our tradition and history of Notre Dame football.¬† We've got to continue to stay out there, out front.
We're going to continue to build that area of this football program, but you will not see analysts and interns and that kind of augmentation to our staff.¬† I think four GAs is great.¬† I think operations and player development, all those areas are great because they're student‑directed.¬† Anything for the student athlete I'm for.¬† But I think in terms of recruitment, I think that piece can be elevated, and I think that's where we'll put our resources.
Q.¬† And you had said that maybe you didn't cast a wide enough net on the defensive line.¬† Having spoken with Kevin McFadden at Good Counsel, he was absolutely adamant that Sam Mustipher is an ideal three technique.¬† Are you thinking of giving him a look there, or is he offensive line?
COACH KELLY:¬† No, he's an offensive lineman.
Q.¬† Why did you feel you didn't cast a wide enough net?
COACH KELLY:¬† I just was a little bit too narrow focused on where we were with our defensive line, and I needed to just be a little bit more‑‑ I needed to change my view of how we recruited defensive linemen and open it up a little bit more.¬† It was strictly a decision that I needed to make.¬† We did it a little late, and we were fortunate that we were able to get two very quality defensive linemen late in the cycle here, but we've made that adjustment in our profile.
Q.¬† Where did you feel that you have restrictive, just size or‑‑
COACH KELLY:¬† I just think in the entire profile in terms of what we were looking for, a guy that could do more than just one job.¬† We were looking for just one guy, and I needed to look for somebody that could do a couple of different jobs at that position.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports