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December 18, 2009

Collinsworth starts Kelly's campaign

The thought crossed the mind of Austin Collinsworth immediately.

A week later it turned into a reality when the 6-foot, 178-pound athlete from Fort Thomas, Ky., committed to Notre Dame as the first pledge of the Brian Kelly era. The rapid recruitment of Collinsworth, whose father Cris Collinsworth is a former NFL star and current NBC analyst, proved to be a convergence of Notre Dame and its new coach.

That's exactly what this three-star prospect hoped would happen when he learned Kelly was leaving for Cincinnati for Notre Dame on Dec. 11. Collinsworth was a former Bearcats target but didn't see himself as a fit at Cincinnati. That doesn't mean he didn't like its former coach.

"I love that guy," Collinsworth said. "He's got a lot of positive energy. He's a great leader and somebody I'd like to follow."

Collinsworth met Kelly a year ago on a recruiting trip to Cincinnati. The former Bearcats coach thought enough of Collinsworth to sit the standout from Highlands High School next to him during the junior day. From there a bond was formed, although Collinsworth figured it would go no further than mutual respect from a distance.

"Since then he's kind of been my favorite coach, but Cincinnati wasn't a program I wanted to play in," Collinsworth said. "That wasn't a program for me but when he went to Notre Dame I thought it could be a perfect situation. I was very happy when he called."

Kelly phoned Collinsworth two days after his introduction as Notre Dame's new boss and the athlete set his visit for South Bend during the head coach's first official day on the job. Collinsworth visited on Dec. 17 and committed a day later, although the decision wasn't a fait accompli.

Notre Dame needed more than Kelly to convince Collinsworth to come, but conversations with Dayne Crist and Kyle Rudolph helped. A sit down with athletics director Jack Swarbrick, along with Collinsworth's parents, also played a part.

"It's the greatest balance for me," Collinsworth said. "I was looking for that balance of academics, football, social life and people. I really found that at Notre Dame."

Collinsworth said he'll start out on offense, likely at receiver, but there's a chance he could switch sides. He starred at running back for Highlands, helping the Bluebirds (15-0) to a third straight state title this season. That run included a 12-7 victory over St. Xavier of Cincinnati, which features four-star offensive tackle Matt James.

In the state title game, a 35-7 rout of Hardin, Collinsworth ran 25 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns.

The versatile athlete suffered a broken left thumb in mid-season and re-broke it in the playoffs, playing through pain to a championship. He had surgery after the season that might sideline him for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl next month.

With the academic side of Notre Dame satisfying Collinsworth's criteria for a college and Kelly providing the right kind of coach, this dynamic athlete can't wait to get started in South Bend. He committed to Notre Dame over offers from Oregon, Stanford, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Louisville and Vanderbilt.

"Coach Kelly's offense is fun to play in," Collinsworth said. "He knows how to get people the ball."

Collinsworth plans to take his official visit to Notre Dame in January. He's the 18th verbal commitment in the Irish recruiting class.


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