Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Irish Dominating Recruiting as Spring Practice Picks Up

Only a month ago, Fighting Irish football fans were naturally anxious. They were fresh off a tumultuous second season that saw terrible QB play undermine potentially great success. They saw several recruits, and a couple coaches, either get poached by other programs or just drop ND all together. To make matters worse, ND recruiting for the 2013 class had started slowly, forcing fans to sit back and watch Michigan pull in top recruits left and right in a fashion more akin to Texas recruiting. So when the Irish held their Junior Day last week, it coincided with the start of spring practice to give ND fans some form of hope for a fresh start. Little did they know that in South Bend this year, March would actually start roaring like a lion at the end of the month.

Kelly and the Irish are off to a fast start this spring
As spring practice approached, ND had three verbal commitments: OL Steven Elmer, DE/LB Jacob Matuska, and WR/RB James Onwualu. The three of these are by themselves great prospects. Elmer might still be the best player in the entire ND 2013 class as of right now, and has been committed since September of last year. Matuska figures to slide in nicely on the defensive side of the ball for the Irish, adding the big size and skill they love at those positions. And Onwualu is yet another intriguing prospect brought in by Brian Kelly & co. Onwualu plays at the same high school that Michael Floyd played at, which probably made it easier to bring him on board. But don't let that fool you - the kid is versatile and should fit in nicely in the newly emphasized position of WR/RB that Kelly has instituted going forward. Still, while these are good players, fans were beginning to wonder if the recent loss of incoming stud freshman Tee Shepard to an undisclosed health problem was just the latest in a series of recruiting losses that had the Irish stumbling to the finish line last year, the commitment and signing of Davonte Neal notwithstanding. Could the Irish pick it up?

Great to grab huge OL like McGlinchey (74)
Kelly & co. certainly sought to disprove any notion that they couldn't bring in elite talent on a consistent basis (even though each of BK's recruiting classes has actually been excellent) and they definitely did so this past weekend. The hammer fell first with the commitments of Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin, two outstanding young offensive linemen. The commitment of the two continued the trend of the Irish under Kelly of landing mammoth offensive linemen, with McGovern standing at around 6'6 and Bivin around 6'7. The trend continued the next day, with the commitment of yet another talented and huge lineman, the 6'9 Mike McGlinchey. The great thing about him, besides his ridiculous size, is the story behind his commitment. He had stopped at the ND Junior Day to check everything out, and he was going to head to Wisconsin afterwards. After soaking it all in, and on his way to Wisconsin, he made his decision. He had his dad stop the car, he told him the news, and they turned the car around right away on the highway and headed right back to South Bend. As an ND fan, you have to love it. His commitment brought the total linemen committed already in the class to 4, and each of them is considered one of the best in the class at their position. It's great that each is so highly touted, with each a 4 star recruit, but more important is the fact that they all connected with each other, the university, the program, and new OL coach Harry Hiestand. Hiestand, questioned by some when he was hired by Kelly earlier this year, has been amazing. Some of the recruits even mentioned how the current players on the team talked about what a difference he's been over the departed Ed Warinner (who was one of the defectors to OSU). I always love to hear these things, and it makes me confident that one of the more important positions on the field will be locked down for some time, on a personnel, recruiting, and coaching standpoint.

Zaire is a true dual threat QB
Not to be outdone, later that day ND got its first real "shock" in recruiting thus far, when stud dual threat QB Malik Zaire committed. Now, I don't mean to say that the other recruits were locks, but they seemed to garner much more of a heightened interest in the program, to the point that it wasn't totally unexpected to see any of them pull the trigger (well except maybe for McGlinchey, who was suspected to be a PSU lean). Zaire could be the one commit, though, that keeps the whole class together. Told that he was being recruited as a QB by the staff, Zaire still committed to the team, knowing full well that the position is stacked with young talent ahead of him. The Irish have Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, and Gunner Kiel all with at least two years of eligibility beginning with this year. Still, Zaire fell in love with the University and the program, figuring that if he felt that the place was so right, he might as well just commit already. He has turned into one of the biggest recruiters the Irish could have as well, contacting members of the current class and other prospects that the Irish have in mind, trying to bring them into the fold. When you combine this and the fact that he isn't worried about the obstacles in his way to being the starter, you could see he's a natural leader. And then you see his talent, and it's a wonder the kid is only a 4 star recruit. Watch and enjoy:

In the next two days after Zaire's commitment, the Irish picked up their last two recruits from the weekend, ATH Rashad Kinlaw and WR Corey Robinson. Both are intriguing, under the radar types that Brian Kelly seems to thrive with. Kinlaw, a QB for his high school team in New Jersey, is highly rated on some sites but an unknown on others. This is merely because he only played in 5 games as a Junior because of a leg injury. The Irish are recruiting him to play DB, and he has elite size and athleticism to fill that role. Kinlaw's high school coach bluntly claimed the Irish were getting a steal, and that Kinlaw should have 80 offers. As it stands, he represents another potential coup for Kelly, who is one of the best in the business at developing under recruited players. In fact, ESPN even published a story about underrated recruits where they said that Kelly and Beamer put the most 2 star recruits in the NFL of any coach in the country. Not that Kinlaw is a 2 star recruit, but you get the idea of what he can do with this type of kid. 

Kelly with the Admiral
The same goes for Corey Robinson, who's dad you may recognize as David Robinson from the NBA. Corey may be one of the most intriguing prospects in the class when it is all said and done, because frankly, he isn't all said and done growing. Underrated by many of the services coming into this recruiting period, Corey now stands at 6'4, while maintaining the athleticism he had when he wasn't so tall. And considering how his dad was a late bloomer at the Naval Academy, Corey could possibly even sprout higher. As it stands, adding a kid who is already that big, with good hands and athleticism that he even figures to improve, is great. Not to mention the pedigree he comes from, where he'll know how to come to work like a professional every day. Should be a great pickup.

In a matter of days, the Irish have added 6 elite recruits to serve as the base for a potentially great class. They're after a great many more elite prospects, and seem to be in the lead for many of them (I don't want to mention them by name. I'm superstitious and don't want to jinx them). The Spring game is coming up soon on April 21st, and that will be another opportunity for recruiting. Even better is when you view these commitments in conjunction with the start of Spring Practice. You get to see just how much good talent Kelly and his staff have brought in, and you realize that he's only had two seasons in South Bend. Year 3 should be a pretty good indicator of where the program stands, but when you consider the situation he inherited, signs of improvement are everywhere. And really, when you've endured such a long struggle as the Irish have, all of these things have to get you excited about ND football again. I can't wait to see where it all goes.