Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Irish moving forward after losing big one
By Matt Fortuna
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Recognizing the length of his question for Brian Kelly about Gunner Kiel, an inquiring reporter could not help but ask the coach if he had just asked a stupid question.
"It's a great question," Kelly immediately responded with a smile on his face. "All questions today are great questions."
The message, one Kelly would repeat throughout Wednesday's news conference, was clear: We won't worry about those who aren't at Notre Dame; we're happy with what we got.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly speaks at a news conference for national signing day Wednesday.
Sporting a dark-grey suit and kelly-green tie, the Notre Dame football coach began his national signing day media session by praising those behind the scenes at the school -- the associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, the director of admissions, the V.P. for student affairs -- before getting into specifics about the Irish's incoming class, though questions about two players dominated the 47-minute discussion.
Headlining the newcomers is Kiel, the prized quarterback prospect from Columbus, Ind., who enrolled in January. Headlining national signing day, however, is Deontay Greenberry, the four-star wide receiver from Fresno, Calif., who stunned virtually everyone by signing with Houston, nearly nine months after he verbally pledged to Notre Dame.
"Again, I think we painted the picture being clear about what we were about, and we made sure this is what you're gonna get at Notre Dame," Kelly said when asked what happened with Greenberry. "And for me it's hard to be disappointed about something you never had or you never coached. I'm more excited about the guys that signed because they are the right kind of guys."
Greenberry's cousin is four-star cornerback Tee Shepard, who had already enrolled at Notre Dame in January and whom Kelly called the best cornerback in the country. The common belief was that Greenberry would commit to the same school as his cousin.
Kelly said he talked to Greenberry on Tuesday night before finding out he was Houston-bound Wednesday from Jeff Freitas, Greenberry's high school coach. The Irish coach said he knew from experience that he had to brace himself for surprises when dealing with high school kids.
"I don't know that anybody would think differently when 17- and 18-year-olds are making decisions for the next five years," Kelly said. "It's arguably the biggest decision they've ever made and they're putting themselves in that position for the first time, many of them. So I don't think you ever go into signing day and say, 'Ah, this thing's over with.'
"I've been doing it now 23 years, and I've had surprises every single recruiting day. And some are good, some are not so good. As it relates to this one, I'm happy about the guys that signed with us because they know why they're here, and that's really the most important thing."
Greenberry was the not-so good. The good, however, came 15 days earlier, when Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame after previous verbal commitments to LSU and Indiana.
Kelly said the expectations for Kiel, who will be competing with three others for the starting quarterback job, are the same as they are for every recruit. He stressed that he wanted recruits who wanted to compete, not those who wanted a free year to redshirt.
"Honestly, we never really felt like we were done recruiting," Kelly said of Kiel's commitment. "In terms of, even though Gunner had made his decision, there just seemed to be a connection there that we weren't ready to give up on. And we were right, because Gunner's happy, he's happy to be here. Those stories happen. Some don't. Some you know, it's over. We felt like this was the right place for him, and maybe it was our belief that this was the right place, Notre Dame, that kept us involved."
In all, Notre Dame announced the signing of 16 high school prospects, in addition to sophomore running back Amir Carlisle, a transfer from USC. While last year's recruiting centered around the power position, Kelly said, this year's centered on the secondary and receiving corp, something he believes was addressed despite the losses of Greenberry and four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac), who de-committed from the Irish nearly a month ago before signing with Florida State on Wednesday.
By the end of Wednesday's festivities, the Irish had walked away with eight new offensive players, seven new defensive players and a new long-snapper. Nine of them were rated four-star prospects by ESPNU, six were three-stars and one was a two-star. They came from 12 different states and from each region of the country, and they all signed with Kelly and his staff following the vetting process that determined they would be a right fit for Notre Dame.
"I think that our coaches do a great job, and it starts with making sure that we talk about our distinctions and not shy away from them," Kelly said. "We talk about a faith-based education. We talk about, 'You gotta live in the dorms.' We talk about those things as they relate to Notre Dame, because we don't want to get here and you've 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. So that's why you have a signing day, because you're going to have to make a decision based upon what we are talking about in the recruiting process.
"So I think it starts with immediately talking about what our distinctions are, and I think I mentioned it earlier: We're not better than anybody else, but you're shopping down a different aisle. And we make sure that's clear in the process."