A look back: Notre Dame 2014 Football Recruiting Analysis
The annual celebration of National Signing Day on the first Wednesday of February has been diminished a tad this year, as the NCAA implemented an early signing period over the course of three days in December.
However, Wednesday’s event is still occurring and it will be another opportunity for college football programs across the country to bolster their futures by securing more talent.
In the case of Notre Dame football, the Irish added 21 players in December, but anticipate signing a handful more players Wednesday.
RELATED STORY:Notre Dame adds ‘best QB in the country’ for 2018
How big of an impact will this year’s class of 25 or so players make? That remains to be seen over the course of the next four to five autumns. However, we do have the luxury of analyzing how veteran Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly has done earlier in his tenure.
“We’re very excited to announce the 2014 class,” Kelly said upon signing 23 new players four years ago this month. “I really like the fact that this has come together and the fact that it really represents for us, going into our fifth year, the one thing that I believe that you’re looking for and that is depth across the board.
“I think some of the things that stand out, 18 of these recruits that are in this class were in the top 15 in their position group, and so that’s what we were trying to achieve in this class.”
This is an analysis of that 2014 recruiting class and how those heralded (at the time) prospects eventually panned out in South Bend.
ALEX BARS – offensive line
Brian Kelly on Bars: “Alex is a young man that we think has all the gifts necessary to be a great student-athlete here at Notre Dame.”
How Bars performed: After redshirting as a freshman, Bars played half of his sophomore season before injuring his ankle and missing the rest. He bounced back by playing 25 games (starting all of them) over the past two seasons. He has displayed versatility by lining up at both guard and tackle. He is eligible to return in 2018 for a fifth season.
GRANT BLANKENSHIP – defensive line
Brian Kelly on Blankenship: We loved him in camp. We had a hard time with anybody blocking him. He was a guy that just stood out right away for us when we saw him in our summer camp working out. Had a great senior year, and again, a guy that continued to just grow. I think he’s just starting to hit his potential level, and it’s only going to get better and better.
“Grant is going to be really a solid player for us with great size, somebody that’s really going to grow into that position at the defensive line.”
How Blankenship performed: After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Blankenship’s game regressed as a sophomore and he saw action in just three games. His career came to an end in the following spring when he was suspended from the program and subsequently reportedly transferred to Oklahoma. However, he does not appear on the Sooners’ roster for either the 2016 or 2017 seasons.
JONATHAN BONNER – linebacker
Brian Kelly on Bonner: We really project him to be an outside player for us, an edge player, rush player, a guy that gets after the quarterback. I really was impressed with Jonathan, his personality, his character.
“When you talk about the right fit to Notre Dame, Jonathan possessed all of the right characteristics, academics, socially, and then as a football player. When he came up here, again, a lot of these guys we see first-hand, so our evaluations in a lot of these young men, we got a chance to see them. Jonathan really impressed us in all of those areas.”
How Bonner performed: Has really emerged as a solid player for the Irish. After redshirting as a freshman, he slowly evolved over the next two seasons, playing in 22 games and starting one. However, he broke out in 2017 with his best season yet. Bonner totaled 30 tackles, including 3 ½ for a loss and had four quarterback hurries, as he started every game. After initially stating that he would graduate and not return for the 2018 season, Bonner changed his mind last month and is expected to start at defensive end next season.
JUSTIN BRENT – wide receiver
Brian Kelly on Brent: Brent had enrolled early by Signing Day) “He does not look like a freshman. He looks like a senior. He is a physically gifted young man. You can see a lot of the accolades that are out there with him in terms of where he was ranked. But what we were looking for specifically, and there were some really good players at this position, we were looking for a physical player at this position, somebody that could impose their physicality and could run after the catch. His ability to run after the catch was very impressive for us and had, for us, some of the things, the traits that we were looking for at that particular time and that position. We’re really pleased about having Justin Brent as an early enrollee, so he’ll get a chance to play in the spring for us, as well.”
How Brent performed: He appeared in nine games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams, and that ultimately was the highlight of his career. Brent gained more notoriety for dating adult film stars and posting photos on social media than he ever did as a Fighting Irish athlete. After not appearing in a single game over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he transferred to Nevada last summer. He was eligible to compete for the Wolfpack last season as a graduate transfer, but didn’t appear on Nevada’s statistical totals.
JIMMY BYRNE – offensive line
Brian Kelly on Byrne: “Jimmy has progressed, especially his senior year. We liked Jimmy last year. He was an early offer for us and committed, and then really had a great senior year from our standpoint. Physical, moves his feet well, and again, I think what you’ll see with all of our offensive linemen, they all can get out and move their feet. They all have the ability to run block, pass pro. We like our guys to move, whether we’re running zone schemes or gap schemes, screens, all those things. You’re going to see that there’s an athletic component to all of these guys, and Jimmy certainly fits that, and really excited about him. He’s a great student, great young man, and a great fit for Notre Dame.”
How Byrne performed: After not seeing action in his first three seasons, Byrne played in just three games in 2017.
DANIEL CAGE – defensive line
Brian Kelly on Cage: “This guy is a ferocious player. He’s an inside player, and we love the way he got off the ball. His strength, lower body strength, he’s a guy that’s going to play the shade, he can play the nose. He’s a guy that’s very disruptive inside. And again, I know that area pretty good. It’s good football, Winton Woods, they play a great schedule, got a real good nose for the football. Just good competition and plays the game hard every snap. Really pleased in getting Daniel.”
How Cage performed: Cage was mostly a back-up player, but a regular one at that along the Irish defensive front. He played in 30 games and started 11 of them. He sat out the 2017 season with on-going concussion issues and eventually retired from the sport.
JAY HAYES – defensive line
Brian Kelly on Hayes: “One thing I’ll say about Jay is that he has been probably one of our, I would say best recruiters in a sense from day one. He’s talked about Notre Dame and why you make a decision to come to Notre Dame. I remember one of his quotes when I was with him was ‘Coach, some of these guys don’t get it. They don’t really understand why you would come to Notre Dame.’ He’s such a thoughtful kid at his age that he understands why he would come to Notre Dame for all the right reasons, getting a degree and opening up doors for him for the rest of his life, having said that, he’s a heck of a football player. Long, he’s 6’4″, long arms, about 275 pounds. He’s got multi-position capabilities. He can play inside, he can play outside. Really like the way he plays the game, ferocious attacking player and a guy that we have a lot of trust in their head coach. He’s a defensive line coach by trade, and he’s one of the best he’s ever had. Really excited about Jay Hayes coming into our program.”
How Hayes performed: Much like Jonathan Bonner, Hayes had a breakout season in 2017 and is expected to be a very good player in 2018. Hayes played in three games as a true freshman, before not seeing action as a sophomore. He played in 10 games as junior and registered 10 tackles, but exploded in 12 games last fall with 27 tackles, including 3 ½ for a loss.
KOLIN HILL – linebacker
Brian Kelly on Hill: “Colin was a young man that we offered when he didn’t have a lot of action, but we saw a young man that we thought we could develop into just an outstanding football player. First of all, we loved him as a person. Again, a right fit for Notre Dame, character, high energy, yes, sir, no, sir, had all those things that we really liked. He was engaging. Really impressed our admissions people. He had all the things that we were looking for as well as somebody that we felt we could develop.
“After we offered him, of course then he got a million offers after that. Another kid from Texas that was offered by Texas, but he saw the reasons that he chose Notre Dame and fought through that late recruitment. Here’s a guy that really will continue to just develop. He has not even seen his ceiling yet. Really excited about Colin and what he can do for us at the linebacker position.”
How Hill performed: Has evolved into a very productive college football player… at Texas Tech. Hill had a solid freshman season, as he saw action in nine games as a reserve, but then transferred to Texas Tech. He has registered 76 tackles (10 for a loss) in 25 games for the Red Raiders over the past two seasons.
COREY HOLMES – wide receiver
Brian Kelly on Holmes: “Corey is a really a precise route runner. Really like his game. He is a mature player. Very mature in the way he handles himself in the classroom. Off the field, really like everything about Corey Holmes. I can’t tell you anything I don’t like about this young man.
“His family is just a great fit for Notre Dame. Very mature kid, one that wants to take on all the challenges of Notre Dame. He reminded me a lot, and I don’t like to make the comparisons, but he has a lot of the same feelings in terms of where TJ Jones developed, but he’s 6’2″. This kid is longer. He’s a bigger kid than TJ. But he’s got a lot of those mannerisms and characteristics. This is a great fit for us from that high school. He’s played great competition, and he’s a great fit for our program. We’re really pleased to have Corey Holmes in our program.”
How Holmes performed: Holmes saw sparse action as a true freshman, before not playing any as a sophomore. He bounced back with a solid junior season (11 receptions in 12 games) but decided last spring to transfer to Purdue for his final two seasons. He caught one pass last season in four games for the Boilermakers.
DESHONE KIZER – quarterback
Brian Kelly on Kizer: “There are so many things to love about DeShone. He’s 6’5″. I love that. He’s 212 pounds. I love that. So you can see you’ve got a tall, athletic quarterback who’s got good size. He’s going to be able to do the multi-dimensional things that we love. But the one thing that I loved about him, and it’s similar to the other two guys that we have, this kid loves to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line… and I love that competitiveness of DeShone Kizer. He led his team the last couple years, came up a little short, but extremely competitive and confident, confident, confident kid. That’s what you’ve got to be. That’s what I told all these guys. If you come to Notre Dame as the quarterback, you’d better be really confident in your ability because they are going to knock you down five pegs every day, so you’d better be above that. We put them through a pretty strong vetting process before they even say I’m interested in Notre Dame because they’ve got to get through me first, which is not easy, and then they’ve got to deal with all you folks, and then they’ve got to deal with everything else that comes with the position. If you make it through that, Notre Dame is the place for you, and he’s a great young man, great kid, then it’s a great fit. It’s exciting to have him with us.”
How Kizer performed: Fabulous. After redshirting his freshman season, Kizer replaced injured starter Malik Zaire as a sophomore and (mostly) never looked back. As a sophomore, Kizer completed 63 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and 21 scores (against 10 picks). He also ran for over 500 yards and 210 scores. All of that got him sent to the bench (part-time), as Kelly elected to split time in the 2016 season with Zaire before it became painfully clear (to the coach, not anyone else watching) that Zaire wasn’t anywhere close to as good as Kizer. As a junior, Kizer again threw for almost 3,000 yards and 26 scores (with nine picks) and rushed for eight scores, as well. Following that season, he turned pro and was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Browns. He was a part-time starter for the Browns last season.
TYLER LUATUA – tight end
Brian Kelly on Luatua: “One of the things that stood out to me on his visit is that people said ‘Well, he didn’t talk enough. He wasn’t engaging enough. I didn’t hear enough from him.’ I said ‘Well, you just don’t know him well enough, because when you get to know Tyler Luatua, he’s just like Justin Utupo, you can’t shut him up.’ We got him on the phone, he spent more time with people on campus, and he blew them all away. He’s just got that kind of personality. We really love his personality and who he is.
“As a tight end, he’s a pass-catching tight end. No, he’s not the 6’5″, 6’6″ tight ends that we’ve had, but he is a really good tight end. He can catch the football. He can block for us. He’s going to be able to do all the jobs that we have at the tight end position for us. And again, we think we got one of the best tight ends in the country in Tyler Luatua.”
How Luatua performed: After playing in 32 games through three seasons, Luatua had to retire due to medical hardship prior to the 2017 season. He was an effective blocker but never caught a pass for the Irish. Following the 2016 season, Luatua announced that he was transferring to BYU, but later that spring had a change of heart and returned to South Bend.
GREER MARTINI – linebacker
Brian Kelly on Martini: Greer Martini is one of the smarter defensive players we signed. We got a chance to spend some time with him here on campus. His leadership skills, his ability to recognize and really, you have to have leaders. He’s a really good player, and he’s a really good leader, and he’ll be a very good linebacker for us here at Notre Dame. He will also be a guy that makes others around him better. So we’re really excited about having Greer with us. He’s a good size at 6’3″, 225. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger while he’s here. He’ll be an inside linebacker for us, and again, a position of need for us moving forward.”
How Martini performed: Martini played in 32 games in his first three seasons and started nine of them. He was particularly effective against option attacks. In the 2017 season, he was named captain and played in 12 games and started seven times. He finished the season fourth on the team in tackles with 75 and closed his career with 191 total tackles and 14 ½ for a loss.
PETER MOKWUAH – defensive line
Brian Kelly on Mokwuah: “Pete was a great fit for us, and looking for to augment our defensive line position, we wanted to find the right profile young man. He’s Nigerian. We’ve had a great Nigerian connection here, Romeo Okwara, Prince Shembo, just to name a few, and then Pete was able to connect Catholic institution, he goes to a Catholic school. That profile fit very well for us.
“He’s a kid that’s serious about his academics here at Notre Dame, all very good profiling for us in terms of the right fit here at Notre Dame. A 6’4″, 315-pound defensive lineman, pretty good fit there, too. So all of those things together, we really liked his personality.”
How Mokwuah performed: After redshirting his freshman season, Mokwuah appeared in six games over the ensuing two years. He did not appear in a game last fall and announced recently that he would spend his fifth season playing elsewhere following his graduation.
NYLES MORGAN – linebacker
Brian Kelly on Morgan: One thing that stands out about Nyles is his thirst for knowledge of the game. Every time I’m with him, he just wants to talk about football, and he’s a good student. His mom and dad want him to just talk about academics, and he’s a good student and he recognizes the value of getting a degree at Notre Dame. A couple of his choices were Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, so he understands that clearly, but every time he’s with me he just wants to talk about football. He is a student of the game. He couldn’t wait for today because after today he gets to talk a lot more football, and on a daily basis he’s going to be talking about football.
“Just got a great nose for the football, plays downhill, plays fast, great instincts, and when he arrives, he arrives with a bad attitude when he gets to the football. He’s just that kind of player. Very, very talented. You know, I think from our standpoint, an inside guy that certainly has the physical tools to be an exceptional player here at Notre Dame.”
How Morgan performed: Tremendous. In his first three seasons, Morgan played in 37 games and started 16 of them. Last fall, he was named as a team captain and started every game with the exception of the Citrus Bowl game, which he was stripped of his captaincy for by Kelly, who did not elaborate as to why. Regardless, Morgan had a great senior season. He finished second on the team with 92 tackles, including seven for a loss. He closed his Notre Dame career with 250 total tackles, 16 ½ for a loss and six sacks.
SAM MUSTIPHER – offensive line
Brian Kelly on Mustipher: “Here’s a powerful guy inside, and again, I think what stood out for us with Sam was his ability to move his feet again. All these guys can be big and strong and physical, but if they can’t move their feet, if they can’t bend, if they can’t get out of their stance and do a good job and moving and bending, then we’re moving on. I sound like a broken record with the offensive line, but those are the characteristics. They’ve got to be good people. They’ve got to be tough, competitive kids. They’ve got to be benders. They can’t be waist-benders; they’ve got to be knee-benders. And again, they’ve got to be able to move their feet.”
How Mustipher performed: After redshirting his freshman season, Mustipher played in 21 games, starting 12 of them, over the next two seasons. Last fall, he started all 13 games at center and is expected to do so in 2018, as well. He was a critical player in the Fighting Irish being awarded the 2017 Joe Moore Award, which goes to the nation’s best offensive line.
QUENTON NELSON – offensive line
Brian Kelly on Nelson: “He is physically one of the stronger kids we’ve got, 6’5″, and 302 pounds. I think the one thing that stands out about Q is that here’s a guy that just is relentless. He’s going to come after you play after play after play. His desire to want to be great is what always stood out about Quenton is that he’s always pushing himself. Every time we talk to him he’s coming back from something. He plays basketball, he’s working out, and he’s a guy that’s driving himself always to be the best he can be. Again, one of the best players in the country at his position, but physically strong, and at 6’5″, 300 pounds as a senior in high school, I mean, this kid can still move his feet and he’ll continue to work on that, and he’s a guy that is so focused on what he needs to work on, that’s what we loved about him. He wasn’t looking at his star rating, he was looking at the things that he needed to work on, and that’s all we needed to see from Quenton.”
How Nelson performed: Fabulous. After redshirting his freshman season, Nelson started 23 games over the next two seasons (one season at left guard and the next at left tackle). This past year, Nelson started all 13 games at left guard and was the best player on the 2017 Joe Moore Award-winning unit. He is projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
TYLER NEWSOME – punter
Brian Kelly on Newsome: “Just was really impressed with his versatility. Long-lever punter, which in terms of his abilities really transcend the normal punting. He’s a guy that doesn’t come along very often. He’s 6’3”, 190 pounds right now, and he is skinny. He’s going to be a really big kid. We loved the pop that he had as a kicker, but we were most intrigued by his punting, and that’s an area that he’s going to continue to work on and continue to develop, but he was such an intriguing young man in all the kids that we saw that when we saw him punting, there was nobody that was even close to with the potential upside that he has.
“He is a great student, one of the best in his class. All those things together made it, for us, a decision to offer Tyler a scholarship, and he committed to us, and we’re excited to have him signed here at Notre Dame.”
How Newsome performed: After redshirting as a freshman, Newsome has been a very steady punter over the past three seasons. He has punted 172 times in 37 career games for an average of 43.8 yards per kick. He is expected to return next fall for his fourth season as a starter.
NILE SYKES – linebacker
Brian Kelly on Sykes: “Just a great addition to our class. Really like Nile and his personality. He’s got a great family. Mom and dad, really excited about being a part of the Notre Dame family. Listen, that matters, too. We want people that want to be part of Notre Dame and be part of our family. To bring Nile and his family in, he’s a versatile player. He can play inside, he can play outside. He is a physical player. He’s got very good ball skills, instincts, and again, another versatile player in our front seven that’s going to add to the depth of our football team.”
How Sykes performed: He didn’t. After taking summer courses in South Bend following his high school graduation, Sykes transferred to Indiana University. He redshirted a season in Bloomington and has appeared in 24 games for IU. He missed last season after suffering a season-ending injury in the off-season.
DRUE TRANQUILL – defensive back
Brian Kelly on Tranquill: “Drue Tranquill, interesting, I kept talking…how we saw a lot of these players in the summer. Well, we saw Drue, too, and we saw Drue, and we weren’t looking for his position at the time because we were really full, and he was playing safety. But he kept jumping out at us. This kid was making plays, and (former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand) kept banging me about ‘Hey, listen, watch this kid.’ We kept looking at him, and he’d keep making plays during camp. And so he was always on our radar, but we were not ready to offer a scholarship at that particular position. It got to the point where I watched more film, we watched more film. I loved his attitude. I loved the way he played the game. I said ‘We’re going to offer him as a head coach’s offer. Head coach can offer anybody, right?’
‘Coach, we don’t have a scholarship.’
I said ‘Well, we’ve got a scholarship now.’
So I offered him a scholarship, and we really didn’t have a position for him because we just loved the way he played the game, and so that’s kind of how the recruiting process went on Drue.
People have asked does he play safety? Does he play running back? I don’t know where he plays, but he’s going to play somewhere here at Notre Dame, because he’s a darned good football player. He’s athletic, he’s competitive, and we’ll find a place for him somewhere. He’s one of those guys, if he’s going to play at Notre Dame, he’s going to play somewhere, because he’s a really good football player.”
How Tranquill performed: Beyond belief. Tranquill suffered season-ending injuries in each of his first two seasons (but played in 14 games), before remaining healthy through 12 games (all starts) as a junior. He was moved from safety to “rover linebacker” in 2017 and had his best season. He was third on the squad in tackles with 85 total (including 10 ½ for a loss) and recovered three fumbles. For his career, he has now made 206 tackles. He announced in December that he will return for a fifth year in 2018. He served as a team captain in 2017.
ANDREW TRUMBETTI – defensive line
Brian Kelly on Trumbetti: “The thing that really put him over the top for us is when we were watching his film, he was returning kickoffs in high school, and not many times do you see a defensive lineman returning kickoffs. We knew about his athletic ability right away, and certainly we loved the fact that he was a multi-sport player, was a track athlete. When we got a chance, when (former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) was here before he moved on to Connecticut, he got a chance to see him in track practice and got a chance to see his footwork and his quickness and all those things, and that started the recruiting process for us. Then obviously getting a chance to see him up on campus in our summer camps.
“Just to give you that glimpse, a lot of these young men made the commitment financially to pay their way to come up here in the summer for us to see them. A lot of these guys made that commitment to come up, to be in the summer camps so we could actually see them and compete, and that makes a huge difference, too, and that was one thing that Andrew was able to do. We got a chance to see him and really love that he’s with us early.”
How Trumbetti performed: After playing in 36 games (starting 11) through his initial three years with the program, Trumbetti had his best season in 2017, as he totaled 28 tackles, including four for a loss. He closed his career with 91 tackles, 12 ½ for a loss and 2 ½ sacks. Trumbetti played in 49 games for the Irish in four seasons.
NICK WATKINS – defensive back
Brian Kelly on Watkins: “You talk about a talented football player, his dad played in the NFL, great pedigree, 6’1″. This is a long corner. This is draft day, you’re getting a No. 1 draft pick. This kid is an exceptional football player. We think we got one of the best corners around. Long, athletic, can really do a lot of things for us. He can play man, he can play zone. I got a chance to see him play. I didn’t see him play one game in person, but I saw a lot of his tape. I just think he’s an outstanding player that is going to develop here, and again, from my standpoint, love the ability that we can get a corner that has some size to him.”
How Watkins performed: After playing in 23 games in his first two seasons (mostly on special teams and as a reserve corner), Watkins missed the 2016 season with a broken arm. He returned this season to play in 12 games and made 29 tackles, while also notching eight pass break-ups and an interception. He started the first nine games of the season, but not the final four (he missed one). He is expected to back-up Julian Love at cornerback in 2018.
NIC WEISHAR – tight end
Brian Kelly on Weishar: We could argue about this all day. He’s the finest pass-catching tight end that we saw. You could argue about who it is, but we think he is. We love his ball skills, we love his ability to use his body to control defenders, has a knack of catching the football in the air and taking it away from people. He’s a guy that will have a great career here at Notre Dame.
“He’s got that model and size that we’ve had here at Notre Dame. He’s not where Luatua is in terms of size right now. He’s going to have to get stronger. He’s 215 pounds. But he will. But he is a terrific pass catcher, and he’s going to be another one in the line of very, very good tight ends here at Notre Dame.”
How Weishar performed: After spending his freshman season as a redshirt, Weishar played in 24 games (starting three) in his first two seasons and he caught six passes.
In 2017, Weishar played in all 13 games (starting one) and caught nine passes and scored twice. He is expected to compete with Alize’ Mack, Cole Kmet and Brock Wright for playing time next fall.
JHONNY WILLIAMS – defensive line
Brian Kelly on Williams: Another young man that we’re excited to have, just so close by. Here’s a young man that just started play the game, 6’6″, 230 pounds, and who knows what his future is going to be? There’s no ceiling on Jhonny Williams’ future. He’s an engaging young man. He just recognizes that he’s got a great opportunity at Notre Dame, and we’re excited to provide him that opportunity.
“He’s one of the top players in the state of Michigan, and I think from our perspective, we’ve got one of those guys that if you call him a sleeper or whatever you want to call it, he didn’t play great competition, but he’s going to get an opportunity to play against the very best competition here. But we’ll take that any time with his athletic skill set. At his size, his athletic ability, we’re really excited about developing Jhonny Williams. He’s the kind of guy that you want to have on your team because of his personality, who he is, his story, his family background, and then a guy that you feel like you can develop down the road.”
How Williams performed: He spent one season with the Irish before transferring to Toledo, where he saw limited action. He later transferred to NCAA Division II Grand Valley State last summer and will have one season of eligibility in 2018.
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