SOUTH BEND - The good news for young Notre Dame football players is that veteran coach Brian Kelly isn’t afraid to put anyone on the Fighting Irish roster onto the field in critical situations, regardless of age and/or experience.
The bad news for Notre Dame football fans is that veteran coach Brian Kelly isn’t afraid to put anyone on the Fighting Irish roster onto the field in critical situations, regardless of age and/or experience.
Last season, the Irish played an inordinate amount of first-year players and the end result was the program’s worst season (4-8) in almost a decade.
“After each year,” Kelly said Monday, “you have the opportunity to evaluate your season and certainly get a chance to do a full evaluation of all things within your program. I started that after the USC game, certainly with the first bit of evaluation, was getting a chance to talk to all of our players, getting a chance to talk to each one of them individually, then our staff, and then, moving forward on 2017.”
Kelly said that he conducted “96 exit interviews” with his student-athletes of all classes, and “moving forward on 2017” will never be more evident for the Irish Nation than Wednesday, when Kelly adds, what is currently, 18 new recruits.
The revamped Notre Dame coaching staff has been scouring the nation to add late pieces to the group and have added four players this month, and all of the 18 athletes will get their opportunity to prove themselves quickly.
“I think I’ve kind of alluded to that a little bit,” Kelly said last season on playing young players, “is the need to play these kids. That’s who they are, they’re kids. But we’re going to be a young team.”
Notre Dame had 18 players listed on its depth chart for the aforementioned regular season finale at USC that were either in their first or second season of eligibility – and that was just on the offensive side of the ball.
Kelly also tapped into 21 such players defensively.
“We’re not going to be Alabama,” Kelly explained, “We’re not going to have a bunch of older players playing for us and we’re not going to be some of the teams that are allowing them to mature at that level.”
Already enrolled from the 2017 recruiting class are Aaron Banks (offensive line), Robert Hainsey (offensive line), C.J. Holmes (running back), Isaiah Robertson (defensive back), and Brock Wright (tight end).
Kelly ended up starting first-year players last season at safety (Devin Studstill), wide receiver (Kevin Stepherson), cornerback (Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr., and Donte Vaughn), while playing a host of others a lot of snaps, particularly late in the season. The youngsters performed with mixed results, but definitely showed glimpses of ability that should be beneficial next fall.
“We’re going to play some of the younger players,” Kelly said at the time, “and that is going to be the case here moving forward. So I have no problem with that.”
Notre Dame is adding 11 players recruited for offense, a pair of athletes, a kicker, and four defensive players.
“Kids are coming here to get their degree and play championship football,” Kelly said. “They have great confidence that they can do that at an early age… as long as they can accept their role as a freshman, we’ll keep playing them.”
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Notre Dame 2017 football recruits
Jonathan Doerer, K, South Mecklenburg High School, Charlotte, N.C.
Jafar Armstrong, WR, Bishop Miege High School, Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Jordan Genmark-Heath, Athlete, Cathedral Catholic High School, San Diego
Aaron Banks, OG, El Cerrito Senior High School, El Cerrito, California
Michael Young, WR, Destrehan High School, Destrehan, Louisiana
Darnell Ewell, OG, Lake Taylor High School, Norfolk, Virginia
Robert Hainsey, OT, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida
C.J. Holmes, Athlete, Cheshire Academy, Cheshire, Connecticut
Jonathan MacCollister, OT, Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Orlando
Isaiah Robertson, S, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, Illinois
Kurt Hinish, DT, Central Catholic High School, Pittsburgh
Drew White, ILB, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
David Adams, ILB, Central Catholic High School, Pittsburgh
Avery Davis, QB, Cedar Hill High School, Cedar Hill, Texas
Cole Kmet, TE, St. Viator High School, Arlington Heights, Illinois
Josh Lugg, OT, North Allegheney Senior High School, Wexford, Pennsylvania
Brock Wright, TE, Cy-Fair High School, Cypress, Texas
Dillan Gibbons, Central Catholic High School, Clearwater, Florida