Notre Dame had 19 players signed when head coach Brian Kelly began his annual National Signing Day press conference a little after 1:30 p.m. inside The Gug.
By the time Kelly was finished, the Irish had 21 players signed, finishing off a whirlwind last month of recruiting for the class of 2017.
“Exciting day, obviously, any time that you’re coming to a culmination of sometimes a year and a half’s work, and that work requires so many moving pieces, this year more so than ever,” he said.
Hampton (Va.) Bethel High three-star rover Jeremiah Owusu, Washington (D.C.) St. John’s College High three-star defensive end Kofi Wardlow and three-star Kapolei (Hawai'i) High defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa inked with the Irish in the afternoon, key additions to a class that stood at just 15 committed players as recently as mid-January.
With a 4-8 finish to the 2016 season and an exodus of five assistant coaches, Kelly complimented the faith the 15 longtime commits put in Notre Dame throughout the process.
“We couldn’t be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish,” Kelly said. “Really, during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame.
“This class, I guess what I'm saying, is about the 15 that really stuck together, giving myself an opportunity to reconstitute our staff, put our staff together, get back out on the road after the dead period, and finish it out really strong.”
The efforts were again spearheaded by recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, who enters his third season in that capacity in 2017. The second year of the annual summer recruiting camp Irish Invasion again proved beneficial, Kelly said, and the behind-the-scenes personnel pulled their weight to Kelly’s liking.
Kelly said he likes the balance of the class — the 21 players represent 19 states — but doesn’t expect the incoming recruits to be needed as much as last year’s group. After 13 of the 24 signees in the class of 2016 saw playing time as freshmen, Kelly is “hopeful” the Irish can lean more on their veterans in 2017.
A year after going an entire cycle without a decommitment, a rarity in today’s recruiting landscape, Notre Dame had several players back out on their pledge late in the process this year. Mansfield (Texas) High four-star defensive back Paulson Adebo signed with Stanford, La Mirada (Calif.) High four-star athlete Elijah Hicks signed with Cal, Winter Park (Fla.) High three-star wide receiver Jordan Pouncey signed with Texas, Beaver Falls (Pa.) High four-star defensive end Donovan Jeter signed with Michigan, Indianapolis Cathedral four-star linebacker Pete Werner signed with Ohio State and Norcross (Ga.) High four-star defensive end Robert Beal signed with Georgia.
Those would have been huge additions to a class that was in need of depth, particularly at defensive back and along the defensive line. The late additions to the haul — which also included San Diego Cathedral Catholic three-star safety Jordan Genmark Heath, Shawnee Mission (Kan.) Bishop Miege three-star wide receiver Jafar Armstrong and Charlotte (N.C.) South Mecklenburg kicker Jonathan Doerer — helped alleviate those misses.
Kelly said Notre Dame would prefer to do its own work and have players committed for longer, but flipping players from other schools late was a necessity this season.
“It was a bit of a change for us,” Kelly said. “I'm not saying we’re going to wait till the last week and try to cherry pick everybody’s commits, but it was a bit of a different perspective for us. I don’t necessarily want to make a habit of pulling our commits.
“We’d like to do our own work. But these were the right fits for us, as well. We went after guys that we felt fit at Notre Dame, and it worked out pretty good for us.”
With the class of 2017 complete, Notre Dame now looks toward the future. A full calendar year will be invaluable for the team’s new assistant coaches, and Kelly is excited about the future.
“For me, I’m proud that I get a chance to lead the group that I have,” Kelly said of his six new assistants. “They hit the ground running. They didn’t ask for much. They asked for a little bit of direction in terms of, ‘What are our guidelines? What are the general guidelines?’
“Let’s go to work.”