Notre Dame Football: Alex Anzalone

Is it Aug. 31 yet?

Jan. 7 must feel like it was a lot more than six measly months ago for those in South Bend, Ind., as an offseason out of left field threatened to dissipate all of the goodwill built up during Notre Dame's renaissance 2012 campaign.

To recap, since losing to Alabama by 28 in the Discover BCS National Championship Game, the Irish have:

  • Spent days on their toes and watched four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone flip to Florida as coach Brian Kelly flirted with the Philadelphia Eagles in the days following the national title game.
  • Suffered through the humiliation of the revelation of the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, which tainted much of the remarkable story behind the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
  • Watched three second-year players -- including quarterback Gunner Kiel -- leave for other destinations before or early in spring ball, leaving the Irish without their top four players from the class of 2012, according to ESPN. (Cornerback Tee Shepard left shortly after enrolling in the spring of 2012.)
  • Withstood a long battle with five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, a saga that ended with ESPN's No. 10 prospect going to UCLA after signing with Notre Dame, costing him a year of eligibility.
  • Lost quarterback Everett Golson -- who had upward of 40 starts remaining in an Irish uniform -- for at least this season because of what he called "poor academic judgment."

So yes, the 2013 season opener against Temple at Notre Dame Stadium probably cannot come soon enough for many who are tired of the negative headlines and stream of bad news.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly is well-versed in steering squads through quarterback issues.
That doesn't mean good things aren't happening in Kelly's fourth year, however. For one, even without Vanderdoes, Kelly has another strong recruiting class that can make an immediate impact this fall. (It was ranked No. 4 nationally by ESPN when Vanderdoes was in the fold.)

Kelly also has experience navigating an uncertain quarterback field, though the position for the Irish is not as dire as it would be for most programs when losing a starter from a perfect regular season.

Just look at senior Tommy Rees, who saved Notre Dame in three of its first six games last season, is 14-4 as a starter, knows the offense inside and out and has the respect of the locker room.

Redshirt junior Andrew Hendrix has some experience and plenty of potential as well, and the promise of early-enrollee southpaw Malik Zaire, ESPN's No. 6 signal-caller from the class of 2013, impressed the staff this spring.

On the other side of the ball, there are eight starters back from a unit that finished second nationally in scoring defense last season, with a secondary that is much more experienced and should give coordinator Bob Diaco some flexibility with the unit as a whole.

While at Cincinnati, Kelly once used five quarterbacks in a single season, which ended at the Orange Bowl. If anyone can handle the haymakers the position has been thrown, it's him.

Rees' 20 turnovers during an 8-5 campaign in 2011 soured him on many fans, but if he can be more judicious, and if the defense can put forth a comparable performance to last season's, there is no reason this team cannot go BCS bowling for a second consecutive year.

If it doesn't? Things may get complicated, but this is the last year Notre Dame will have to worry about a fallback plan.

Whether Golson returns and is back in form moving forward remains to be seen, but the program can feel the comfort of having a place at the table for the college football playoff from 2014 on, as the Irish will play five ACC teams each year and have much, much better bowl access.

No program is perfect, however picturesque Alabama might look from the outside.

Oregon? Hello, NCAA. TCU? Where do we even begin?

Notre Dame proved in 2012 that it is once again a big-boy program. Stuff happens to big-boy programs. That doesn't make the future any less bright for the Irish -- something they can't wait to prove come Week 1.

Notre Dame signing day superlatives

February, 8, 2013
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National signing day 2013 is in the books. Let's take a closer look at what the Irish newcomers mean for the program moving forward.

Biggest winner of signing day: We'll just go ahead and call the program a winner here. Notre Dame made it to the national title game in 2012, landed the nation's No. 4 recruiting class and returns upward of 15 starters to a team coming off a 12-1 season. All of those questions the past 24 years of whether the Irish could still succeed in today's college football climate have been put to rest, and the program is in great position to be, at the very least, a BCS-bowl contender year-in and year-out.

Best closer: Tony Alford thrived in his first year as the Irish's recruiting coordinator, helping them land Oklahoma decommit and ESPN 150 running back Greg Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage) and ESPN 150 athlete Tarean Folston (Cocoa, Fla./Cocoa) late in the recruiting calendar.

Biggest surprise: Five-star defensive tackle and USC decommit Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn, Calif./Placer) chose Notre Dame over Alabama and UCLA on Wednesday night, giving the Irish ESPN's No. 1 defensive tackle, No. 10 overall prospect and one more elite talent to a recruiting class that was already the best in the Brian Kelly era.

Who flipped/biggest loss: Four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing) enrolled at Florida in early January during Kelly's flirtation with the NFL. Anzalone, who decommitted from Ohio State before decommitting from Notre Dame, is an elite talent who would have had the chance to compete for immediate playing time. That being said, the fact he is the only piece the Irish lost during Kelly's silence is fairly impressive and a testament to the staff as a whole.
Brian Kelly met with this team Sunday night to address what has been anything but a slow offseason since Notre Dame's Jan. 7 loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.

What he told them, though, was apparently the same thing he told reporters Tuesday morning during a half-hour conference call: The coach is at Notre Dame to stay, and coaching in the NFL is not something he wants to do.

Jones
Kelly
"I'm not going to get into the specifics of everything, but here's what I can tell you: The interview, so to speak, as people have talked about, was really a discussion that I had with Jeff Lurie of the Philadelphia Eagles and his leadership team," Kelly said. "I will tell you that the discussion was more about intrigue on my part. I had obviously always been in the college game, really did not have a good grasp of the NFL setup, and so for me, my head said, 'Let's be more informed as it relates to the NFL.'

"But my heart is in college football and with Notre Dame. So I think the recruits, I tell them up front that I'm committed to Notre Dame, flattered that the NFL would want me to be one of their coaches, but it's just, it's not what I want to do. I want to be a college football coach and really just was really happy and flushed that the Eagles would give me the opportunity to sit down and talk to them. Very much appreciate Jeff Lurie for the opportunity. But as I said, it's more intrigue than it was an interest on my part."

Kelly said the Eagles contacted Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick about their opening shortly after firing Andy Reid, with Swarbrick and Kelly agreeing that, if there were to be any contact with the organization, it would not come until after the title game.

Philadelphia and Kelly spoke the day after the title game, and Kelly did not announce his intentions to stay at Notre Dame until four days later, by which point four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing) had decommitted from the Irish and enrolled early at Florida.

Kelly expressed some regret with how he handled the situation publicly.

"If there was anything I would've done differently, it would've been to close that timeline relative to my interview and coming out with a statement," he said. "I was on vacation with my wife. We were away. We weren't watching TV. But I should've been more sensitive to the fact that there was this time period that had been going on and released a statement much sooner."

As it relates to a contract extension and securing the long-term future of Notre Dame football, Kelly said he has been in touch with Swarbrick since Dec. 6, with both seeing eye-to-eye in desiring the extended consistency of a program that has upward of 17 starters returning from an undefeated regular season.

Part of the NFL dalliance, Kelly said, was so that he can avoid similar situations in future years.

Future winning years.

"I just didn't know anything about it, really," Kelly said. "Again, as I said, college is all that I've been involved in. I really didn't understand the NFL process, the game, who was involved in the day-to-day operations of selecting the team, all those things. And quite frankly I wanted to answer those so I wouldn't have to go through this, because we're going to win again next year. There's probably going to be teams that are going to have an interest in coaching in the NFL, and I want to be able to tell them definitively that I want to coach in college.

"And the interview was more about, I wanted that information. So it was easy for me to make a decision on being here in the college game. I love Notre Dame. I love the college game. But I think the intrigue was more of just finding out about it, so it's now easy for me to say no."

Back to school, back to school …

January, 15, 2013
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Spring semester classes began Tuesday at Notre Dame, which also means that a handful of new faces are now regulars inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.

As football media relations director Brian Hardin officially announced on Twitter, and as coach Brian Kelly added, the new names to know are Steve Elmer, Mike Heuerman, James Onwualu, Corey Robinson and Malik Zaire.

For some more info from ESPN RecruitingNation on these newcomers, click the links below.
Both Zaire and Heuerman are ESPN300 prospects. The big absence, of course, is that of four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing), who spurned Notre Dame for Florida last week amid Kelly's flirtation with the Philadelphia Eagles. Nonetheless, 17 more commitments are expected to sign their national letters of intent come Feb. 6, with the Irish set to usher in a top-5 recruiting class as they look to continue the momentum generated from a return to the national title game.

Anzalone switches from Irish to Gators

January, 10, 2013
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Thursday afternoon the Florida Gators jumped to the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Just a few hours later the Gators received a commitment from ESPN 150 athlete Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing).

The 6-foot-3, 231-pound four-star prospect, who confirmed his decision with ESPN.com via text message, switched his pledge from Notre Dame and is schedule to enroll at Florida on Friday.

For Derek Tyson's full story, click here Insider.

Bryant addition another boost

December, 10, 2012
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Notre Dame has gotten quite the lift off the field following a 12-0 regular season on it.

Look no further than this past weekend, when four-star running back Greg Bryant pledged to the Irish, one day after the school beat out Ohio State for Class of 2014 Watch List offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne. Insider

Bryant, Notre Dame's 22nd 2013 commit, immediately becomes the Irish's second-highest rated prospect, beyond Jaylon Smith. And he will likely have the chance to step in immediately, with the Irish losing Theo Riddick and possibly Cierre Wood after this season.

With Bryant, George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, the yet-to-be-seen Amir Carlisle and freshman William Mahone, the Irish should have no shortage of backs to turn to next season, and the different styles each brings will create an interesting dynamic.

The addition of Bryant moved Notre Dame up one spot, to No. 3, in ESPN's class of 2013 recruiting rankings, behind USC and Florida. Insider You can read scouts' take on Bryant here. Insider

Below, we break down the Irish's 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. The 2013 class features eight ESPN150 prospects (*), four ESPN300 prospects (**), 17 four-star commits and one five-star. The Class of 2014 consists of four players, three of whom are ESPN Watch List members.

Class of 2013
Class of 2014

Irish recruiting roundup

November, 7, 2012
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Busy week.

Alex Anzalone sticking with Notre Dame 

November, 5, 2012
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Technically nothing changed, but Notre Dame coaches are thrilled with the decision Wyomissing (Pa.) area senior Alex Anzalone made Monday.

The ESPN 150 outside linebacker reaffirmed his commitment to the Irish after leaving South Bend following an unofficial visit that took place Sunday into Monday.

Te'o, ND commits make Butkus list

October, 22, 2012
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Turns out Manti Te'o has to play by the same rules as everyone else for defensive awards, too.

The Notre Dame senior and arguably the best defensive player in college football was named one of 12 semifinalists Monday for the collegiate Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker. The Irish have quite the crowd on the list, as three of their 2013 commits take up one-fourth of the high school semifinalist list.

Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing), Michael Deeb (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and Jaylon Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers) are all Butkus semifinalists. For good measure, so is one prospect out of Te'o's high school, Stanford commit Isaac Savaiinaea (Honolulu/Punahou).

Te'o was also named the FBS Independent defensive player of the week for the fourth time this season and seventh time overall after notching a game-high 10 tackles, a half-tackle for loss and his fourth pick of the season, tied for the most among linebackers.

Theo Riddick took home the offensive FBS player of the week honor after a career-best 143-yard rushing performance.

Irish recruiting roundup

September, 26, 2012
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Big weekend, eh?
The already-crowded Notre Dame famous parents section will have to make room for one more.

ESPN 150 receiver Torii Hunter Jr. (Prosper, Texas/Prosper) committed to the Irish following their primetime home win over Michigan, our Damon Sayles writes, making him the school's 21st commitment for the Class of 2013.

Hunter Jr. is the son of the MLB All-Star of the same name, and he joins the nephew of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly (Danny) and the son of pro basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson (Corey) as Irish 2013 commitments looking to make their own names.

Hunter Jr. raved about Saturday's atmosphere to Sayles, an obvious strong sign for a program that has been looking to make its game day scene a little bit more electric. Coach Brian Kelly has said that will come with winning. And, as he found out by landing Sayles, Notre Dame can benefit beyond the scoreboard because of it, too.

Hunter Jr. is ESPN's 50th overall prospect, the No. 6 player in Texas and the No. 8 receiver in the nation.

Here is a breakdown of the Irish's 21-man 2013 recruiting class, which features 17 four-star prospects, six ESPN150 commits (*) and 12 ESPN300 commits (**)
For a few minutes, anyway, Will Fuller (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic) was just another one of us.

The three-star wide receiver and former Penn State commitment was among the gathered media members Saturday outside the LaBar Practice Complex, awaiting the start of Notre Dame's fall camp like everyone else.

Fuller got to stay when the rest of us were kicked out, and he clearly liked what he saw on the field and off, as he eventually became the Irish's 19th Class of 2013 commitment.

The 6-foot-1, 163-pound prospect caught 46 balls for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and he tested well this spring on the Nike Combine circuit, posting an electronically-timed 4.53 40-yard dash, 4.25 20-yard shuttle, 33.9-inch vertical and 88.47 SPARQ Insider.

Fuller is ranked by ESPN as the No. 132 receiver in the Class of 2013, and as the No. 26 player in the state of Pennsylvania.

Here's a look at the Irish's 19-man 2013 recruiting class, which features 15 four-star prospects, four three-star prospects, five ESPN150 commits (*) and 10 ESPN300 commits (**)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing) remains firm in his commitment to Notre Dame despite his trip to Gainesville for Florida's Friday Night Lights camp.


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Alex Anzalone will be going to Notre Dame. He will be going to Notre Dame early. And, if he gets his wish, he will be wearing jersey No. 5, too.

All of which led the current defensive owner of that digit to post Sunday night on Twitter: "I think I might have started something special at ND."

Replacing the production of Manti Te'o, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, is a tall task for anyone. But the future of the Irish's linebacking unit is in good hands. Anzalone's commitment Sunday at The Opening — two months after his decommitment from Ohio State after a sex offender, a Buckeyes fan, posted a picture of himself and Anzalone on the Web — rounds out a loaded corps in the middle for the 2013 class, as Jaylon Smith, Michael Deeb and Danny Mattingly have already pledged to Notre Dame since the beginning of June.

ESPN rates Anzalone as a four-star prospect, the No. 5 player at his position in the nation and the 66th-best player overall from the 2013 class, one that is shaping up this offseason to be very special for Brian Kelly and the Irish staff.

Here is a breakdown of the Irish's 17-man 2013 recruiting class, which is composed of 14 four-star prospects, five ESPN150 commits (*) and 10 ESPN300 commits (**)

Alex Anzalone commits to Irish

July, 8, 2012
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Damon Sayles of ESPN RecruitingNation reports that outside linebacker Alex Anzalone committed to the Irish on Sunday.

Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing), a ESPN 150 linebacker, made the announcement at The Opening in Oregon. The No. 5 linebacker in the country had offers from numerous schools, but had narrowed his choices down to Penn State, Florida and Notre Dame.

Click the following link for the full Insider story on Anzalone's commitment. Insider

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