Brian Kelly’s Top-Recruited Offenses At Notre Dame
For the first time since 2013, Notre Dame recruited a full offense (and then some) that featured 14 players and represented each position.
Since the turn into the 21st century, this is only the third time Notre Dame recruited an entire offense (and then some) in one cycle, with 2013 and 2006 the other two.
That 2013 class was ranked No. 3 in the country, easily the highest in the 12 recruiting campaigns under head coach Brian Kelly, and second only to the No. 2 ranking in 2008, under head coach Charlie Weis, since the turn of the century.
That 2013 haul receives the bronze medal, or No. 3 in our countdown of Kelly’s best overall classes recruited on offense so far. Here is the overview, with the hope that the 2021 group could fare even better over the next four years.
Or maybe even the 2020 class, although that group signed only two offensive linemen (Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody).
Bronze Medal: The 2013 Class
Quarterback: Malik Zaire
Another “what might have been” story. Perhaps no Fighting Irish quarterback opened his career with two more impressive starts against name teams than Zaire in the 2014 Music City Bowl versus LSU and then the 2015 opener against Texas.
He was named the MVP in the 31-28 win versus the favored Tigers, including rushing for 96 yards, and then against Texas he sizzled via the aerial route by completing 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-3 blowout. Alas, in the next game, at Virginia, a fractured ankle sidelined Zaire the rest of the season, and he never quite regained his mojo in a backup role to second-round pick DeShone Kizer.
Running Backs: Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant
Speaking of what might have been …
Since 2002 when Rivals began its ratings, the two five-star running back recruits to sign with Notre Dame were James Aldridge (2006) and Bryant, both hampered by injuries early in their careers. When Bryant was declared academically ineligible prior to the 2015 season, he transferred to UAB, but in May the following year died tragically in a shooting in his home state of Florida.
Following his sophomore year, Folston’s 1,359 rushing yards ranked among the top five in school history at that point in his career, but a major knee injury three carries into his junior year limited him to 353 his final two seasons.
Wide Receivers: Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter Jr. and James Onwualu
Believe it or not, as freshman it was Onwualu who started the most games among this quartet with four because of his strong blocking skills. The following year, he moved to linebacker.
Fuller started three games as a freshman and caught six passes — and then became one of college football’s top game-breakers the next two years with 138 catches (29 touchdowns) en route to becoming a first-round pick after his junior year.
The student body president as a Notre Dame senior, Robinson had the best start as a freshman with nine catches, was projected as a future top-round pick by one outlet after a 40-catch season as a sophomore, but concussion issues forced him to leave football after his junior season.
Hunter morphed into a captain his senior year in 2016, but a devastating hit to the head in the opener at Texas eventually led him toward baseball.
Tight End: Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman
Like Robinson and Hunter at wideout, Heuerman had to leave football because of injuries that led to opioid addiction he eventually conquered.
Smythe didn’t have the glittering stats (28 career catches, six touchdowns) of many of his predecessors or successors at Notre Dame, but he developed into a fourth-round selection who became a starter this year for the Miami Dolphins.
Offensive Line: Mike McGlinchey, Steve Elmer, Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin and John Montelus
This five-man line (the most recent at Notre Dame until this season) was ranked behind UCLA as the best in the land in 2013.
Elmer (No. 60) and Montelus (No. 74) were both top-100 recruits, while the versatile Bivin was at No. 162.
Montelus’ career was hampered by a shoulder injury, and a litany of injuries also stifled Bivin’s progress, although he was a top backup at various spots. McGovern started eight games as a senior for the 4-8 Irish in 2016.
McGlinchey developed into a two-time captain and No. 9 overall draft pick. Elmer started 30 games before graduating in three years and moving on to the business world while bypassing a potential NFL career.
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