South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: Certainly excited about the signing class of 2019 here. We may have room for one more. We’ll see how that plays out this afternoon. But just a great group that represents all the things that I’m looking for and our staff has been charged to find when it comes to recruiting football student athletes to Notre Dame. Number one, fit. And when we talk about fit, cultural fit, academic fit and certainly, they have got to be able to fit as it relates to the skill in the classroom and on the football field.
All of these young men are going to develop here at Notre Dame and graduate and contribute to championships. And so that was our charge. I think we have done a great job in certainly filling potential needs that we have, but also addressing areas that I think more than anything else bring not only positional needs but personality, competitiveness, and overall football awareness and instincts into our program. Sometimes we get caught up with looking at the depth chart and saying, well, I need another corner back hear, I need another wide receiver here. These are football players that also have the ability to play on either side of the football as well and not that we’re in here to talk about guys that could change positions, but what struck us about these guys is that they excelled both on offense and defense in high school and we love that about players that have that competitiveness.
So the other thing that stands out, obviously, is early enrollees, the ability to want to take that next challenge. We like the fact that nine of these young men have accepted that opportunity to come here early. They have excelled in high school to the point where they can in fact graduate early, come to Notre Dame and look at the next challenge, and that being here obviously in a collegiate environment. Doesn’t mean that they’re better. It just means that they are accepting a challenge that is a bit different. And so those nine will get a chance to begin their college career and, obviously, get a chance to be in spring ball and get working on their academic career.
A number of states represented. We love the fact that we have got diversity within our ranks. Great diversity throughout our student body that is reflective in this class as well. International representation with Alex Ehrensberger, obviously, from Germany. And again, this does not mean we are going to turn into an international juggernaut in the recruiting world, but it does mean that we won’t have our blinders on when it comes to recruiting. We will search and find the best fits for our football program wherever they may be.
We continue to tap into the great state of Hawaii. That has been one that we’re very proud of and, in the history and tradition that we’re building there from that state. With another young man in Jordan Botelho, coming from a great Catholic school in Saint Louis School.
So some really neat pieces to it. I like the length of our corners in particular. I just think that when you look overall, offensive line, size, speed, an exceptional class when it comes to those intangibles that you’re looking for. I think we did a great job in terms of the calendar. This is two years in a row now that this quote/unquote early signing day — this is the signing day for us, so I don’t know why we continue to call it an early signing day. It is the signing day and it will be moving forward. There are some challenges there, but nothing that has really kept us from keeping our staff out of here in July and giving them a great break. So I think it’s worked out quite well to have these guys all sign here in December.
Obviously, a great job by our recruiting office led by Aaryn Kearney. He’s done an incredible job. Jazz and the entire staff, Coach Polian. Everybody that puts together our weekends, Jack Swarbrick, our entire admissions, Bob Mundy, who just retired was a big part of this class. Don Bishop. Just, there’s so many people to thank. I’m sure Brian will pick up the slack for me in those areas relative to thanking all of those people.
But just I think the overall tenor here is that this is an exciting class, guys that can come in and compete for us immediately, and then having the nine early enrollees, pretty excited about the group coming in. So, with that, let’s start with any questions that you folks might have about this class.
Q. This is an unusual class for you in that there wasn’t movement in or out of your class, you didn’t lose people to de-commitments —
BRIAN KELLY: Did we lose any last year?
Q. I think you, I think there was one. There was another year where you didn’t have any. But you also didn’t take somebody from another class, which is something that’s —
BRIAN KELLY: That happens, right, sure.
Q. Is it the — do you think it’s just evaluating guys earlier in the recruiting calendar changes that maybe lend itself to that?
BRIAN KELLY: I think so. I think having this process be one where you’re on them earlier and have identified your prospects earlier. It feels like we have been recruiting these guys a lot longer, for me. And having a longer time in a relationship with them, that makes a bigger difference to me. I think that and feel that way over my time here that this is one where we have established, I think, a better calendar and a deeper evaluation protocol in the sense that we’re on them sooner and have been able to build that relationship.
Q. Isaiah Pryor is an interesting guy to me because he’s going to be a grad transfer with a couple years, doesn’t have a history of injuries. Is kind of your threshold for grad transfers health and a potential starter when you’re shopping now?
BRIAN KELLY: Certainly. And you have to have a connection and somebody very familiar. Kerry Coombs, who is on my staff, I’m very close with Kerry, and Kerry recruited him, coached him, and was a strong advocate for him. So that has to be part of that recruiting process, too, when we’re talking about transfers. There has to be some connection there with, certainly, the other things that you talked about, years of eligibility — we would be very hesitant if we had, you know, injuries at a position that requires contact like that. If it was a shoulder at a wide receiver position, we would probably be less concerned. But a safety, if have you shoulder injuries, that would be certainly a red flag.
Q. I believe Chris Tyree isn’t one of the early guys coming in?
BRIAN KELLY: Chris Tyree is early.
Q. He is early. Okay.
BRIAN KELLY: Unless I’m — he’s not. Chris Tyree is not.
Q. Okay. So you have him listed at 179. I think maybe he’s a little bit heavier than that. What’s the ideal size for him coming in? What are your hopes for him coming in the door as a freshman?
BRIAN KELLY: So a general rule for all of our guys is when they get in, they will meet with Coach Bayliss, they will meet with our nutritionist, and we’ll begin the process of developing them from where they are. So if, whatever he is, 175 pounds, we’ll then begin that process based upon when we do our testing and find out where that right number is. So it’s hard to say right now what it is, but we’ll develop him naturally from that number and continue to build a coat of armor on him once he gets in here.
Q. I would imagine getting to D�sseldorf isn’t that much harder than getting to Honolulu.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I agree. It’s probably, it’s easier.
Q. Okay. But the investment in a guy like Ehrensberger and the projection of him, what tipped you to saying, this is worth sending Mike Elston over there, this is worth trying to figure out what this film’s going to look like in America in a couple years?
BRIAN KELLY: Two things: Length, and I think just his ability to change direction. So where that end product would be. You’ve seen the development of our defensive line, where it came in and where it is. We want to continue to look towards that model where those guys can be looked at as elite players as they develop. We can see him as an elite player as he develops in the program. So for us to invest all of that time, we have to be able to see him develop in our program as an elite player down the road. And to do that you have to have elite traits early on. It can’t be 6’1″, you know, and somebody that can’t stand out in a crowd. And 6’7″ with really good foot a guilty and quickness, that stands out early on.
Q. I’m wondering, how do you view the timing of Chip Long exiting the program as it pertains to national signing day? Do you see it as a positive that you had a chance to kind of discuss that change before the kids actually officially committed?
BRIAN KELLY: I think we have all the guys that we recruited. I think Eric answered the question. All these guys — we had deep, long-standing relationships. Not one guy recruits here at Notre Dame. It’s not your guy. It’s our guy. I recruit them, Coach Polian recruits them, we team recruit. That’s how we do things here at Notre Dame. And Notre Dame recruits to Notre Dame. So no one person is stronger than the university. And for those guys that decide to go to schools based upon one individual, then you’re left up to those kinds of, you know, de-commitments based upon singular relationships. That’s never how we have recruited here at Notre Dame and that’s not how we’ll ever recruit.
Q. I’m sure you don’t pay much attention to recruiting rankings, but Xavier Watts seemed to be pretty underrated. In terms of his on-the-field traits, what made him such a sought after recruit by your staff?
BRIAN KELLY: Just a serious focused competitor. I mean, just everything about his demeanor. I talked a little bit about this in my opening remarks. You got to read into ball players a little bit more when it comes to their demeanor and how they can impact others. This is a serious individual that takes his craft, that takes being a competitor and a winner to the next level, and he’s going to influence others around him. That’s really what stood out. Certainly, he’s got all the skills, but everybody’s got the ability to play at this level. We just love those other things about him.
Q. This class has a lot of skill talent on offense, but not just at specific positions but kind of widespread. You guys have elite guys at offensive tackle, wide receiver, running back. Why were you guys able to have so much widespread success across the offense and the message was resonating at different position groups for you guys this year in this class?
BRIAN KELLY: And I don’t know where to start, I mean, we began with a plan early on in terms of identifying the needs of this class, we built great relationships early on, stayed with it, have had really good success on the field over the past three years while we were recruiting, great recognition, Notre Dame, obviously, in itself has its own ability to sell itself from an academic standpoint and a community standpoint and consistency in messaging throughout that entire period of time. So long-standing relationships, success on the field over a long period of time, and then I think Notre Dame continuing to be who it is and who it’s been has allowed us to put together an elite class.
Q. How much of the focus on offense was a response to the Clemson game and then the playoff and maybe not being able to score as much as you would like to in that kind of a setting and maybe pitching to those guys and making them believe that maybe they’re a part of being the answer to those issues?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I don’t — we never go into a home and talk about what we can’t do, it’s what we can do with you and what it would look like adding you to this. So I think when it comes to each one of these guys it’s picturing yourself, here’s where we are, here’s where we can go, adding you to the success that we have already had. So I think painting that picture is certainly important, but we certainly do it from a positive perspective and then let them take it from there.
Q. With wide receivers, and certainly you have nothing to do with the rankings, but if you look back at the rankings that a lot of these guys get, it’s very inconsistent in whether the guys that were highly projected turn out versus maybe guys that were lower projected end up turning out. What is it about that position that maybe is a little bit more unpredictable in projecting or maybe it’s not in your opinion and you think —
BRIAN KELLY: Well styles of offense, quarterback, all those things. The developmental process there, it’s just huge when you go from high school to college in terms of all the things that are available to you in terms of developing that position. So it makes it really difficult to clearly say, other than maybe a few players at the top, top end of that spectrum, a lot of those guys are in that area of developmental. And so it’s been that way for awhile, we have seen that, we can just use Claypool and Fuller as a couple of examples that will be elite players. So, yeah, certainly there is a few players at that top end, but that position in itself is open to so many other different variables as you go through the process.
Q. You said you could add to the class maybe later today, but in February, that second signing date, is there and I know you said it’s not necessarily by position, but on the second signing day, would there be a specific position that you might be inclined to add to this class?
BRIAN KELLY: Probably just be on the offensive side of the ball, yeah.
Q. In terms of best fit, the best Notre Dame fit, the kid that projected best to Notre Dame, who is that in this class?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, my, you can’t do that to me, I mean these kids are —
Q. You can throw out a couple names.
BRIAN KELLY: Okay, how about all of them?
Q. No, you got to —
BRIAN KELLY: I mean, look, I think that — here’s the great thing about Notre Dame. If you talk about its history and tradition, it was the ability to attract those that could come from tough backgrounds, all over. We had become homogenized a little bit maybe in our student body, but our football, the cross-section of the players that we have in this program, it’s pretty, it’s pretty amazing in terms of the diversity of the group. But they all have one common thread and that is they want to be challenged in the classroom and they want to be challenged on the football field. And so that’s the common denominator that keeps these kids coming from all over the country from the West Coast to the East Coast. And, look, and that has to be part of the recruiting process and the transparency within has to be that. Look, you’re going to get challenged here and if you’re not up for that challenge, we’re not the right place for you. And that transparency really has been effective for us in the recruiting process.
Q. You may answer this question the exact same way, but, I mean, on the flip side, the player that maybe didn’t project or the player that you had to turn and really convince that Notre Dame was a good fit for him?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think there’s several of those guys that take germinating, if you will, that you have to stay with it. Look, I believe that we have done a great job identifying who those players are and that we believe that they fit. They may not believe that they fit early on. And so it’s that process of us staying with them and continuously showing them who we are and what our distinctions are and staying with that and not falling off and saying, again, here’s why we believe this is the right place for you. I think there were several of those guys that we had to stay with and continue to show that. Chris Tyree I think is a great example of that. That we needed to stay in there with him and continue to show the reasons why Notre Dame was the right place for him. And I don’t think he’s the only one, I think there are others that I could look down on this list that are part of that. So as much as we see it in them, sometimes they don’t see it and we have to be diligent and not be afraid of sticking with it and making sure they get that message.
Q. You mentioned the length of the three defensive backs and, well, the three that have signed. When you recruit those guys, are you, I mean how specific are you in talking specific position, field corner, boundary corner, safety, with these three in particular?
BRIAN KELLY: No, we’re not talking about field and boundary, because that’s always open to the ability to change from year to year, right and left. What we’re talking about are two things, makeup speed, the ability to run and length. The third is to have the ability to play the ball in the air. That’s three. But first and foremost length and speed are the two most important attributes at the position that, in which we were seeking this year. But we didn’t get into the specifics as to whether you’re a field corner or wide corner, we wanted those two things and then we’ll kind of sort it out from there.
Q. What about just in terms of corner safety? I mean is there a projected safety among these three?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I mean it’s just Pryor. Pryor’s the only guy. I mean we really were — unless you were what we felt was an elite, elite safety player that could come down and play without hesitation, a slot receiver man-to-man, or, i.e., you know, a true third corner that could play safety, we were looking for corners.
Q. You talked about having established a better calendar and a deeper evaluation protocol. How does that help you with the long-term management of your program instead of having to spend the next couple of months scrambling and I guess maybe allows you to move forward and constantly be working ahead in recruiting?
BRIAN KELLY: Well I don’t know that we were ever scrambling, per se, as much as it’s allowed us to plan out or plan further ahead. I think everybody was kind of seeing, two years ago when we went to the early signing day, how would this play out moving forward, especially in the summer months, in terms of who is going to take visits, things of that nature. So I think we were a bit reactive, grant you that. But I think now that we have established a pretty good calendar it’s allowed us to plan accordingly a couple years out in terms of what this looks like. So as I said earlier, I think this is the established signing day for us and we’ll continue to operate accordingly moving a lot of the things that we do around this signing day.
Q. A couple weeks ago you were talking about speed and being more intentional in scouting that for this cycle. I was curious about the organizational and the evaluation process of that, if it was any different from years past, because that’s a trait that everyone’s looking for, everyone’s trying to get, faster, quicker. How did this click for you this cycle?
BRIAN KELLY: So internal conversations obviously routinely occur when it comes to speed. We wanted verifiable speed other than, he’s running a 4.4. Okay, you’re going to have to prove it. Show me you’re running a 4.4. Give me verifiable times. We need, we can’t, we can no longer move forward on, this is what he runs. So we have to see it in person, we have to get verifiable speed numbers on these guys or we’re not moving forward. So it was, I think, just more intentional in terms of getting verifiable numbers.
Q. And I guess in terms of accomplishing that goal besides like digging deeper it sounds like from a —
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think that’s what we’re talking about.
Q. And then maybe this sort of builds on the question, the 32 and 6 was that maybe the biggest factor in accomplishing it, getting these guys to come here when every other program in America is looking for guys who can run a 4.37.
BRIAN KELLY: Yes, but that’s not it. It just gets you, it gets your foot in the door, you still have to build relationships. There were other relationships that Chris had with other coaches that were deeper, you still have to be able to build those relationships and then still paint the picture as to, why here. So, yeah, no doubt 32 and 6 gets you in the door. You didn’t get in the door if you weren’t 32 and 6, it gets you in the door, but like anything else, you still got to sell a vacuum cleaner. And not that that’s what we’re doing, but the reality is that you get in the door, but you got to sell it. And I think we did a great job of selling who we are and why it was right for him and great student, AP classes, all those things lined up. If those things don’t line up, he’s not buying. So 32 and 6 only gets you so far, all those other things have to line up too.