Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly’s third National Signing Day with the program has come and passed. The Fighting Irish started the day ranked No. 7 by 247Sports and settled in at No. 14 at the time of this story. The 2012 haul includes 13 incoming freshmen, three early enrollees and a transfer.
“We have a class that represents the needs that we have in our football program,” Kelly said Wednesday afternoon. “As you know, last year our need base relative to our class was centered around the power position. I thought we did a great job of addressing that. This year was about that skill level, especially at the defensive backfield and the wide receiver position.”
With Notre Dame’s unique selling points come hurdles in attracting top prospects. Kelly explained the importance of thoroughly laying out what it requires to succeed in a competitive academic and athletic environment.
“It starts with making sure we talk about our distinctions and not shy away from them,” Kelly said. “We talk about a faith-based education. You’ve got to live in the dorms. We talk about those things as it relates to Notre Dame, because we don’t want you to get here, and you signed a letter of intent, and it wasn’t the right fit. You just got sold a bill of goods. It does you no good to get sold a bill of goods, you come to Notre Dame and it’s not the right fit for you.
“We’re not better than anybody else, but you’re shopping down a different aisle. That’s clear in the recruiting process.”
What’s always been clear is there are many bizarre and twists in the recruiting process all the way until it’s time to ink the deal. Notre Dame was stunned Wednesday morning when five-star receiver Deontay Greenberry turned an Irish verbal commitment into a signed Letter of Intent faxed to Houston.
“We painted the picture clearly about what we’re about,” Kelly said. “We made sure this is what you’re going to get at Notre Dame. For me, it’s hard to be disappointed about something you never had or never coached.”
Greenberry’s Washington Union (Fresno, Calif.) coach Jeff Freitas confirmed with BlueandGold.com that Greenberry had spoken with Tee Shepard, a 2012 defensive back already enrolled at Notre Dame, and explained his change of heart. Kelly said Wednesday it was news to him.
“We found that out today,” he said.
The best news came weeks ago when five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel flipped on LSU at the last minute before enrolling early at Notre Dame.
“Honestly, we never really felt like we were done recruiting [him],” Kelly said. “Even though Gunner had made his decision, there just seemed to be a connection there that we weren’t ready to give up on. We were right, because Gunner’s happy; he’s happy to be here. ... We felt like this was the right place for him at Notre Dame that kept us involved.
“He’s seen us play a number of times. He’s seen our offense. He was very comfortable within the realm of our offense and being confident that he could come in and run our offense. He made a decision to come to Notre Dame because he feels comfortable in the system that we run here.”
Like the rest of the class, Kelly expects Kiel to make an immediate impact.
“Because we had needs in this class,” Kelly said, “in the recruiting process we clearly tell our freshmen, ‘You better be ready to compete.’ I don’t think we set the bar any different for Gunner Kiel than we do for any other freshmen as it relates to coming in and competing, or I don’t want you here.”
Now that Notre Dame has put a bow on another crop, Kelly and Co. have already turned their attention to 2013.
“I think I’ve had 15 phone calls today to 2013 recruits,” he said. “As you can see, there’s not much time to sit around and think about the recruiting process. You have to react and move forward, which we have done already today.”
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