Last year, Notre Dame’s 16-man recruiting class featured only seven players who ended up on offense: quarterback Gunner Kiel, running back Will Mahone, receivers Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson and Davonte’ Neal, tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Mark Harrell.
Greg Bryant's abilities as a receiver make him ideal for the hybrid running back/slot position.
It tied the 2005 haul — which saw a head coaching change from Tyrone Willingham to Charlie Weis — for fewest members ever signed on offense in one class by Notre Dame.
This year, head coach Brian Kelly and Co. recruited a rare full complement of all 11 positions on offense, and then some. The 14 prospects on offense this year are one of the larger volumes over the past 25 years.
Quarterback (1): Malik Zaire (6-1 ½, 190)
It’s not easy to recruit a quarterback 1) the year after signing a five star (Gunner Kiel) and 2) when Everett Golson is in line to be the starter through 2015. But Zaire instantly impressed Kelly when during an unofficial visit last spring he sat with the four Irish quarterbacks in the team meeting room.
“When he left that meeting, he made it clear to me that this was the place he wanted to be,” Kelly said. “…That’s looking at great competition and saying, ‘I don’t care about that, I’m going to come to Notre Dame because it’s the right place for me academically — and it’s the right place for me because I’m going to be the starter here at Notre Dame.’ We love those kind of guys that have that attitude.”
A good enough passer to partake in the Elite 11 QB Competition last summer in Redondo Beach, Calif., Zaire also rushed for 1,120 yards as a senior and 1,093 as a junior.
Although USA Today second-team All-American Greg Bryant, who rushed for 1,447 yards, 7.8 yards per carry and 17 TDs for 11-1 American Heritage in Delray Beach, Fla., doesn’t quite fit the physical profile of “power back,” Kelly envisions someone similar to the graduated Theo Riddick as a between-the-tackles runner.
“We think we get that kind of physical play with Greg Bryant,” Kelly said. “He’s a well-conditioned athlete. He’s got great instincts running the football … we love the fact that he can catch the football as well (25 catches the past two years that averaged 23.2 yards, with five TDs).”
Stats don’t really do justice to fellow Floridian Folston, who rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior on the Cocoa (Fla.) High School team that advanced to the Florida state semifinals. All that needs to be said are 1) he was on top of Notre Dame’s board among running back prospects and 2) Florida Today named him the offensive player of the year in the Sunshine State, which rivals Texas and California as the premier football hotbeds.
Because Folston didn’t sign until late Wednesday afternoon, Kelly was not available to comment on him.
Fuller might be to the 2013 receiver haul what Chris Brown was in 2012.
“If there’s a guy that flew under the radar a little bit, it was William Fuller,” said Kelly, who highlighted the wideout’s ball skills.
Hunter Jr. and Robinson were high profile recruits of famous professional athletes (Torii Hunter Sr. in major league baseball and former NBA MVP David Robinson). However, Hunter is coming off femur surgery that will probably sideline him in 2013, while Robinson has plenty of room for physical growth.
Because of Hunter’s burst, Kelly sees him as an “inside guy” at the slot position. Early enrollee Robinson “has not even come close to tapping his potential,” according to Kelly, and probably has the most room for growth among the skill athletes, maybe even evolving into a flex-tight end.
Early enrollee Onwualu’s athletic ability has already impressed strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo this winter, and his versatility provides some options to the staff.
“If we every got into a bind, he certainly could play defense as well,” Kelly said.
No school in America the last 40 years has had better tight end excellence than Notre Dame. Heuerman’s brother, Jeff, is a junior tight end at Ohio State (eight catches for 94 yards and a score last season), while Smythe originally committed to the in-state Texas Longhorns before switching his allegiance to the Irish.
Heuerman is one of five early enrollees who will partake in spring drills. Kelly said Heuerman fits the spread offense profile of splitting out as a receiver or aligning as an in-line blocker.
“Durham Smythe will be another one of those tight ends that will really, really do well here,” Kelly said.
The strongest single unit in this class on offense or defense — which is saying a lot — might be the five-man offensive line. Tackle was a huge area of need, and the Irish fulfilled that with as many as three prospects. The wild card is Bivin, who is rangy and athletic enough to play in space at tackle, yet starred at center in the Under-Armour All-American game. He joined outside linebacker Jaylon Smith as one of two Notre Dame players named on Parade’s 57-man team.
Elmer was the recipient of the Anthony Munoz Award (presented by the U.S. Army All-American Bowl) as top prep lineman of the year and will have first dibs at tackle as an early enrollee.
“He fits all the profiles that we’re looking for with great feet, athleticism, can play on the edge,” said Kelly of Elmer.
McGlinchey has been listed at 6-9 at times, but even at Notre Dame’s listed height of 6-7 ½ he possesses the wingspan needed at tackle. The staff was particularly impressed watching him perform as a basketball center for William Penn Charter School.
“We worry that Mike Brey is going to take him from us,” Kelly joked. “He could be 6-11 here soon. … He was a ferocious competitor, ran well, and is somebody that is going to continue to get stronger physically.”
McGovern attended Notre Dame’s camp this summer, which validated the staff’s first gauge when he committed during the spring.
“We got a chance to see him in person, and that makes such a big difference,” Kelly said.
Montelus played for the premier high school program (Everett High School) in Massachusetts and has been part of three straight state titles. Kelly is amused when he sees a group photo of the five offensive line recruits taken last spring.
“John is probably not 6-5, but he is well over 6-3 — and he looks short compared to everybody else in that offensive line class,” Kelly said. “But he’s not short on physical play. He will knock you out. He gets off the ball, he’s physical at the point of attack.”
The position breakdown is not set in stone, but the staff has a pretty good idea of where everyone will settle in.
“Generally speaking, McGlinchey and Elmer would be outside, and then you’ve got the three guys inside — McGovern, Montelus and Bivin," Kelly said. "Hunter could play outside as well. He’s got great flexibility in terms of being able to do both.”