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February 6, 2013
Brian Kelly is an independent thinker with a proven plan. He doesn't need the approval of anyone on the outside validating his decision-making.
But when recruiting analysts across the board say his signing class of 2013 is his best among the four he has signed with the Irish, he's not about to offer a varying opinion.
"Absolutely, I love agreeing with experts," smiled Kelly as he announced the signing of 22 recruits with the prospect of still landing running back Tarean Folston - which he did about 90 minutes later -- and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.
"It's a recruiting class that when you're looking at it from our perspective, it meets the time and place as to where we are right now. We're a team that has gone from unranked to a top 10 ranking, top five ranking?At times we were the No. 1 team in the country, and your class begins to reflect that as you move forward."
With each passing year, Kelly and his staff home in on the type of player that fits the Notre Dame system, and then tries to upgrade the talent level within that framework. Whereas last year when the Irish had a signing-day defection and then a bit more attrition as the spring semester transpired, only Folston remained on the loose when Kelly spoke with the media beginning at noon ET Wednesday.
"As a staff, we feel it's our best class because in the recruiting process for us, there was a lot of clarity," Kelly said. "Here are our needs, here's what we need to do, these are the kids that are going to fit what we're looking for, and the coaches will tell you there was a lot of familiarity with the process. It made it easier for us to sell our message about Notre Dame."
Kelly said it was no coincidence that the class stayed together despite a) a 28-point loss in the national championship game and b) his flirtation with the NFL because the players who chose Notre Dame chose it for the right reasons.
"We eliminated confusion when we went back into the homes," said Kelly of the time immediately after his interview with the Philadelphia Eagles' organization. "All of our coaches were clear with why they were coming to Notre Dame.
"These decisions were not based upon Notre Dame has a stadium that seats 81,000 and plays on TV. These decisions were made based upon our distinctions at Notre Dame - a faith-based education, community, the high academic standards - and now their belief is that Notre Dame can play for a championship."
Kelly credited the Irish assistants for their diligence on the recruiting trail. He's also pleased with the fact that the combined winning percentage of the recruits at their respective high schools was approximately 74 percent. That winning background made them willing to stick their nose in there and compete, regardless of the level of competition at the various positions.
"They're not elite players if they're afraid of competition," Kelly said. "Those that back off and say, 'You've got two of these guys and you've got three of those,' sometimes that makes a difference. I understand that.
"But by and large, we've made the case in recruiting where we see you and we're honest with (you). Here's where we see you're at, and this is where you're going to be. If you do this, you're going to get your playing time. The elite players have that confidence that no matter who's in front of me, I'm going to beat them out."
While Kelly was reluctant to name "sleepers" in the class so as not to alienate anyone, he did cite a couple of positions where young players could have an impact as early as 2013.
"The running back position would be one where there could be some young players competing there," Kelly said. "The safety position, there should be some young guys competing.
"But every time I make that call, it comes from somewhere else, and that's the great thing about this class. It wouldn't surprise me if a couple of guys that are not maybe physically there yet showed themselves to be ready to play this year."
In the next recruiting cycle, the emphasis remains the same on offense but is ramped up defensively.
"The o-line and d-line will be areas that we'll continue to work towards," Kelly said. "Then you look at who your guys are in '13 to start to match your depth needs. But I still think this is going to be centered in 2013-14 on the o-line and d-line."
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