As Notre Dame’s sixth-ranked 2013 recruiting class was in its initial stages of recruitment, the collection of players became especially vocal about their pride for Notre Dame and created an #IrishMob13 hashtag in anticipation of their arrival on campus.
Running back Greg Bryant is one of seven freshmen who appeared on Notre Dame's first depth chart of the season.
As far as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is concerned, the class has impressed in its first weeks on campus leading up to Saturday’s season opener.
“I've asked these questions: One, have … they lost their passion or their desire to want to continue to get better,” Kelly said. “And every day I see these guys wanting to get better, staying out, they're here to watch film. It's not new to them anymore. You know, they're here, they're doing football every day. They still want to get better.”
“So I think what's impressed me the most about this group is that they're in it for the long haul. They've had a long summer. Our freshmen are they go through a very rigorous bridge program. They're here all summer, weight training, conditioning, and they can take on more. They're a pretty remarkable group of kids both on and off the field, and from a football standpoint, we can heap even more on them.”
Seven true freshmen appeared on Notre Dame’s two-deep depth chart that was released Tuesday. The class is a major component of the added depth Kelly has spoken at lengths about. Freshmen that aren’t ready to play extensively from the start of the season gain valuable experience on special teams and sometimes emerge on offense or defense later in the season.
“Well, I think we like to get our freshmen in on special teams early on and get them acclimated, especially those guys that we plan on or have a vision towards playing. So I think you could probably get an eye towards what our intentions are based upon those guys you see on special teams on Saturday.
“You know, if you see a lot of guys that are freshmen on special teams, you could probably take a pretty good insight into that we have an eye towards playing them. The running back situation, though, might be a little bit different. We think that that's a position that you can impact the game in week six at that position. That might be a little bit different. Whereas the defensive players, if we're going to play those guys, I like to get them on special teams right away.”
In order to ensure they have realistic expectations of playing time, Kelly said he communicates with them before the season starts to let them know the staff’s intentions.
“I do like to have that conversation so we're not on a different page,” Kelly said. “All the freshmen that we've had conversations with, they generally don't come to my office unless there's a disconnect with their position coach and coordinator relative to do you want to play. We've already had those conversations, so we're in pretty good shape.”
One of the staff’s challenges is getting enough freshmen involved without harming the special teams units that have already struggled in recent years.
“I work at it hard,” Kelly said. “It's not easy. We try to make certain, as I said earlier, that if we're going to play freshmen, I want to get them on the running teams. I want to get them out there, get them acclimated to the game situations because if they're going to play I think it's a great entry into playing on the field, as well as guys that we believe can impact those special teams without taking a position player and wearing him out.
“So I think it's a balance that myself and Scott Booker, we spend a lot of time talking about personnel and getting the right personnel on that team.”