The Brian Kelly Era Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Recruiting Classes With The Most, Least Three-Star Prospect Hits
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The Notre Dame Signing Classes With The Most, Least Three-Star Recruit Hits

Then-Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Brian Polian made sure to throw in an acknowledgement in his early February National Signing Day comments.

“We are not yet where we want to be,” Polian said, referring to Notre Dame’s recruiting.

A loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff illustrated where steps still need to be taken to catch or at least come closer to the select few teams at the sport’s summit. At the same time — and as Polian and his fellow coaches pointed out — Notre Dame is where it is because it has overachieved based on recruiting rankings.

The Irish have two Associated Press top-five finishes in three years without a top-five class in that span or the three cycles before it.

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Notre Dame football head coach linebacker Drew White
Linebacker Drew White is one of a few 2017 three-star signees who turned into multi-year starters. (Associated Press)

That’s a credit to the coaching staff’s ability to produce draft picks and meaningful contributors from less-acclaimed recruits.

“We are and will be a developmental program,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said on signing day. “Whether it's a guy that’s got a high rating or a low rating, we’re looking for a young man that has a high ceiling, and we want his best days of football to be ahead.”

Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a projected first-round pick, is the standard. A three-star signing day flip became a Butkus Award winner and an All-American as a senior. Defensive end Ade Ogundeji is on the cusp of being drafted after he came to Notre Dame as a low three-star former Mid-American Conference commit.

Not every three-star reaches that level of impact, but the Irish have turned a few into helpful starters or multi-year cornerstones in every class since Brian Kelly arrived in 2010. Here’s a look back at all 11 that have been in the program for at least a year and their three-star (and two-star) yield.

2020

Total players: 17

Three-stars: 6

Starters: 1 (for now)

This class won’t be fairly evaluated for a couple more years, but it did produce a freshman starter at cornerback in Clarence Lewis. He was the only three-star recruit in the class who didn’t redshirt, and the least heralded of the trio of three-star corners in the class.

2019

Total players: 22

Three-stars: 11

Starters: 3 (for now)

It’s still early on for this class too, but the hit rate is already impressive. Running back Kyren Williams is an offensive cornerstone. Marist Liufau impressed in a timeshare at buck linebacker and emerged as the starter later in the year. Jay Bramblett has held the punter job since stepping on campus. Cornerback Cam Hart and perhaps linebacker Jack Kiser should be in the thick of position battles at their respective spots.

2018

Total players: 27

Three-stars: 14

Starters: 2 (for now)

This class gets attention for its high-profile transfers who didn’t work out, but it has already produced one likely draft pick (tight end Tommy Tremble) and a multi-year offensive line starter in Jarrett Patterson.

The number of starters is likely to increase. Justin Ademilola has a good chance at taking over the strong-side end spot. Elsewhere, TaRiq Bracy has started games at cornerback, but fell out of the rotation this past season. Safety DJ Brown, receiver Joe Wilkins Jr., offensive lineman John Dirksen and linebacker Paul Moala will likely compete for starting jobs in 2021. Brown was the primary nickel back last season.

2017

Total players: 21

Three-stars: 13

Starters: 6 (for now)

It’ll be hard to find a class more impressive than this one in terms of development and overachieving. Recruited during a 4-8 season and nearly 30 percent of it added in the last six weeks of the cycle, it was the backbone of two playoff appearances and a 43-8 record the last four years.

The headliner, of course, is Owusu-Koramoah, who was the last player to commit in the class. But there are four other players who will head into their third seasons as starters in 2021: linebacker Drew White, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive lineman Kurt Hinish and kicker Jonathan Doerer.

Additionally, converted quarterback Avery Davis is back for his second year as the primary slot receiver. Dillan Gibbons should be viewed as an early favorite to claim one of the guard spots.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish football defensive end Ade Ogundeji
Defensive end and 2016 signee Ade Ogundeji had a low-three-star grade from Rivals. (James Gilbert)

2016

Total players: 23

Three-stars: 10

Starters: 4

The attention here goes to all four defensive ends turning into pros, but one-year Ogundeji was the only three-star of that quartet. This group still produced quarterback Ian Book and all his accolades, a surprise senior season from running back Tony Jones Jr. and a four-year long snapper in John Shannon. Receiver Kevin Stepherson was on his way to becoming the fifth before his 2018 dismissal.

2015

Total players: 24

Three-stars: 11

Starters: 4

Lighter on percentage of starters, but high on quality. The 2015 class yielded three-and-done running back Josh Adams (3,201 career yards) and four-year kicker Justin Yoon, plus a one-year starter at corner in Nick Coleman. We’ll include guard Trevor Ruhland who made 11 career starts as an injury fill-in.

2014

Total players: 23

Three-stars: 11

Starters: 5

This one had a high yield and one of the better three-star stories in three-year starting linebacker Drue Tranquill, who became a fourth-round pick. All the three-star hits were on defense or special teams: 2017 starting tackle Jonathan Bonner, ends Andrew Trumbetti (11 career starts) and Greer Martini (12 career starts) and four-year punter Tyler Newsome.

2013

Total players: 24

Three-stars: 6

Starters: 2

Notre Dame’s highest-rated class of the Kelly era (No. 3, per Rivals) had the fewest three-stars and produced one multi-year starter from that group: tight end Durham Smythe, who had 28 career catches for 381 yards and became a fourth-round pick. Colin McGovern started eight games as a senior after winning the right guard job out of camp.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish football running back C.J. Prosise
Former three-star running back C.J. Prosise was a starter as a senior and became a third-round draft pick. (Bill Panzica)

2012

Total players: 17

Three-stars: 8

Starters: 4

Of the four starters, two of them managed to stick in the NFL. C.J. Prosise moved to running back as a senior, grabbed the starting job after Tarean Folston’s injury and turned the one-year chance into 1,029 yards and a third-round draft selection. Two-year starting defensive end Romeo Okwara went undrafted but is entering his sixth NFL season.

Elsewhere, receiver Chris Brown started games in each of his four seasons (32 in total) and had 1,410 yards. He was second on the team in yards his last two seasons. The fourth was long snapper Scott Daly.

2011

Total players: 23

Three-stars: 13

Starters: 5

This is the early Kelly era version of the 2017 class. The 2011 group had its hands all over Notre Dame’s 12-1 season in 2012 and 10-3 year in 2015. The highlights were two-year starting quarterback Everett Golson, who led the 2012 team, three-year starting (2013-15) interior offensive lineman Nick Martin and 2012-14 kicker Kyle Brindza. Safety Matthias Farley was an 11-game starter in 2012 and made 26 starts in four years.

Running back Cam McDaniel only started seven career games, but he’s included because he led Notre Dame in rushing in 2013.

2010

Total players: 23

Three-stars: 13

Starters: 4

The Kelly/Charlie Weis bridge class was a success considering the circumstances. Quarterback Tommy Rees, a 31-game starter, stabilized the position in 2010 and was the primary starter in 2011 and 2013.

Safety Austin Collinsworth became a starter as a senior. Bennett Jackson moved to cornerback midway through his career, started every game there from 2012-13 and was a sixth-round pick. He is still in the NFL. The late Kona Schwenke started seven games at defensive tackle in 2013 due to some injuries in front of him.

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