SOUTH BEND – He wasn’t necessarily in a panic, but Notre Dame football recruiting coordinator Mike Elston admitted Wednesday that just a few weeks ago, he was very concerned regarding the program’s 2017 recruiting class.
“You never want to pat yourself on the back,” Elston told a group of media gathered at the Guglielmino Athletic Complex Wednesday for the program’s National Signing Day festivities, “but I’m telling you, there was a point in the middle of January, where I wasn’t sure that we were going to get another commitment.”
It turned out that Elston’s concerns, though warranted, didn’t come true, as Notre Dame had 21 players sign letters of intent, some of which committing very late in the process, to comprise its 2017 recruiting class.
When veteran Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly made the difficult decision to overhaul his coaching staff in December, that may have bode well for the program on the field next fall, but it wreaked havoc from a recruiting perspective.
The athletes that Notre Dame had been recruiting had spent time developing relationships with the coaches that were no longer with the program, so all of that work went right out the window.
“Let’s face it,” Elston said, “recruiting is all about relationships and that was the challenge when you lose five coaches. There are a ton of relationships built that are immediately severed.”
The new Notre Dame staff dove into the challenging task of trying to quickly build new relationships, maintain existing ones, and repair any damage done by the coaching staff changes to others. But time was of the essence.
“This new staff,” new Fighting Irish special teams coach Brian Polian explained, “combined with the holdovers, we all sat in a room and looked at who we were recruiting and who we were going after. It was literally, who has a connection? Who knows this family? Who knows this school?”
For Polian, it was more a case of “Who knows this state?”
The Irish got involved late with defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who is a native of Hawaii, and because Polian had previously recruited and coached former Notre Dame players Roby Toma and Manti Te’o, both Hawaiians themselves, Kelly sent Polian five time zones away to see what he could do.
“We literally sat in a room and tried to connect the dots,” Polian said. “Where do we have relationships, because this recruiting is relationship-driven. Literally, the trip to Hawaii was ‘Let’s go see if we can get involved.’ We had no idea if we could be a factor.”
Not only did Kelly and his revamped staff work diligently to piece together the 13th-best class nationally (Scout.com), but Kelly said a group of incoming players did, as well.
The Irish had a group of 15 players that had committed to the program early and that group hung tough through a bad season and the ensuing coaching changes, according to Kelly.
“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 (and) then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame.
“I think this class, I guess is 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.”
With a new defensive coordinator bringing in his new scheme, new assistant coaches with their own relationships out on the recruiting trail, and a severe shortage of time, the process of putting together this class wasn’t ideal, but the end product was satisfactory, according to Polian.
“Having been a recruiting coordinator,” Polian said. “Having just been a head coach (at Nevada), watching the work that coach Elston did, watching the work that (director of player personnel) Dave Peloquin did, watching coach Kelly, really grinding it out here over the last month, to come out of the season we came out of, to come out of the coaching changes that we came out of, and to put together this class, I think is very, very positive.
“I have a biased point of view, but I am also just arriving back (to Notre Dame), so I can offer a little bit of an outsider’s perspective. Wow, you come off the adversity of last year and you put this class together, that is pretty good. It sends us off into the winter conditioning program and eventually spring football with a lot of positive energy.”
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— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) February 1, 2017
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, OL, Central Catholic High School, Clearwater, Florida
Myron Tagovailoa, DL, Kapolei High School, Ewa Beach, Hawaii
Kofi Wardlow, DL, Saint John's College High School, Washington, D.C.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Bethel High School, Hampton, Virginia