Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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28 FEBRUARY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I n a world where expedience is demanded with fast food, rapid transit and instant news via social media, college football recruiting has joined the fray. In the second year of the early sign- ing period, 21 high school seniors inked their early national letters of intent scholarships Dec. 19 to join the Notre Dame football program in 2019. Add- ing to the sped-up process, a school- record 10 will already be on campus as early enrollees — including all four offensive linemen and three of the four defensive linemen — when the second semester classes commence Jan. 15. Notre Dame first began accepting early enrollees to school in 2006 with the trio of running back James Al- dridge, offensive lineman Chris Stew- art and wide receiver George West, and then generally the school had two to five most of the time through 2017. Last year the group expanded to seven, and this year it reached double digits. Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the university has taken an "in- side-out" approach to make this more feasible, while prospective student-ath- letes have piled extra academic work on themselves to make it possible. "They have to work extremely hard to get here mid-year," Kelly said. What has significantly helped is that previous early enrollees have had a track record of success academically. Had the past 12 years of early enrollees not prospered, there would have been more reluctance to continue the pace it is at now. "It's gone from, 'Do you really think he should be here?' to, 'We will em- brace him because we've had such great success with the mid-year,'" Kelly explained. "The university has really embraced it and taken the time to be so much more concerned with that transition. We've built classes and we've built transition for the mid-year enrollees." From a football perspective, get- ting a head start in director of football performance Matt Balis' strength and conditioning program, plus 15 spring practices under the belt, provide a bet- ter chance for them to be ready to play, if needed, as true freshmen. A 12-0 regular season also led to no surprises or buyer's remorse Dec. 19 when it came time for the 21 verbal commits to sign. "I have not seen our operation work as efficiently in this process as it has with these 21," said Kelly of his 10th recruiting class at the school. Collectively, the early returns had Notre Dame rated No. 10 by ESPN, No. 11 by Rivals and No. 13 by 247Sports. Rivals had four Notre Dame recruits among its top 100 — offensive linemen Quinn Carroll (No. 54) and Zeke Cor- rell (No. 95) and safeties Litchfield Aja- von (No. 87) and Kyle Hamilton (No. 97) — while 247Sports had Hamilton ranked No. 22. The freshmen with probably the best chance to make an impact are punter Jay Bramblett and walk-on kicker Harrison Leonard, because four-year starters Justin Yoon at kicker and Tyler Newsome at punter have had their eli- gibility expire. GEORGIA ON ITS MIND Among the 21 players to sign, 16 dif- ferent states were represented. Espe- cially notable is for the second year in a row Georgia was the state with the most volume. Last year, the Peach State tied Cali- fornia, Florida and New Jersey with three apiece, signing running back C'Bo Flemister, tight end Tommy Tremble and safety Derrik Allen. This year, Notre Dame added linebacker JD Bertrand, cornerback KJ Wallace and safety Hamilton. In Kelly's first eight recruiting cam- paigns, only four players from Georgia signed: wide receiver TJ Jones (2010), defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt (2011) and Isaac Rochell (2013), and punter Newsome (2014). Earlier this year, CFB Data revealed that behind the "Big Three" of Florida (294 NFL players), California (290) and Texas (260), Georgia (173) has the most active NFL players, with Ohio (120) the only other one to produce triple digits. Per capita, Georgia is even higher. Notre Dame is playing a home-and- home series with the Georgia Bulldogs, with a trip to Athens scheduled this Sept. 21 following a 2017 matchup be- tween the two schools. The Irish will also play at Georgia Tech Nov. 14, 2020, keeping a high presence in the state. VACANCIES ARE STILL AVAILABLE Kelly contended "there is room for more" prospects on National Signing Day Feb. 6. The two Notre Dame is looking to ink are California four-star defensive end Isaiah Foskey from su- perpower Concord De La Salle, and fellow California native and four-star linebacker Asa Turner, who issued a verbal pledge to the University of INSTANT GRATIFICATION A 21-man class signs early, and 10 are set to enroll in January Running back Kyren Williams was one of 21 recruits that signed his letter of intent with Notre Dame Dec. 19. PHOTO COURTESY VIANNEY ATHLETICS

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