Notre Dame signing day surprises come from odd places

Kelly Discusses ND Signing Day Approach

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly joins ESPN's Paul Carcaterra to explain the approach to signing day for the Fighting Irish. Kelly says the staff focuses on depth.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Only at Notre Dame.

This was what Everett Golson had tweeted last Wednesday, a cryptic message that naturally sent fans and media into a minor panic, though the source of the Irish quarterback's amusement remains unknown.

Turns out Golson was a week early with the sentiment, regardless of its intent.

On a day when Brian Kelly welcomed 24 new members to his football program, the additions naturally took back seats to news and apparent non-news regarding looming departures and potential replacements.

Brady Hoke? Contrary to a media report Wednesday morning, the ex-Michigan head coach has not joined Notre Dame's staff, both parties said during several media appearances later in the day. That could be because neither side has made any overtures, or it could be because it is just not true as of national signing day, as the Irish technically entered this day with no official openings.

"We've got nine coaches today," Kelly said, smiling. "We've got nine coaches today. We're going to talk recruiting today. Any changes that we have on the staff, we will definitely get you up to date on it, but I'm not going to get into today talking about coaches and who's coming, who's staying.

"I'm staying. You guys happy? Yeah, right. Big round of applause. I'll be here."

What appears to be much clearer is that the Irish will have vacancies to fill in the immediate future, with multiple outlets reporting that secondary coach Kerry Cooks is Oklahoma-bound and that quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur is going back to the NFL to join the Atlanta Falcons' staff.

That last nugget, it seems, might have also dripped out via social media, this time with another Irish quarterback — Malik Zaire — seemingly alluding to as much Wednesday morning.

Good news, however, did roll in, with the Irish landing a pair of targets who held off their pledges until signing day announcements: They received national letters of intent from four-star running back Dexter Williams of Winter Garden, Florida, who chose the Irish over Miami, and from four-star receiver Equanimeous St. Brown of Anaheim, California, who shunned Stanford, USC and UCLA and who, more notably, announced his decision in French, German and English.

"I'll have to figure out what language to talk to him in," Kelly quipped.

Kelly said there would be no more high school prospects on the way after Williams and St. Brown -- a pair of ESPN 300 prospects -- faxed in their commitments. The sixth-year Irish coach did, however, leave room open for some offseason transfers, along with two players who missed all of last season as part of the school's internal academic probe: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell and end Ishaq Williams.

"KeiVarae's situation is that he's working on classes right now at the University of Washington, and he's had conversations with the appropriate people to get those classes transferred back here to meet the needs that he has relative to transfer requirements and meeting eligibility," Kelly said. "There's still some work to be done there, but I know he's working toward getting that done, and our expectations are to have him back.

"I think Ishaq has a similar kind of criteria. His bar is a little bit more complicated, but he knows what he needs to do as well. So we're hoping that both of them can get it done."

So more good news could be on the way for Notre Dame, which hauled in the nation's No. 13 recruiting class, a group headlined by nine ESPN 300 prospects. Before then, though, clarity must arrive on who will coach some of these players, and that remained the prevailing storyline on a signing day like few others for Notre Dame.

Notes: Linebacker Jarrett Grace (multiple knee surgeries) is close to returning after missing the last year and a half, Kelly said. ... Safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be noncontact this spring. ... Safety Drue Tranquill (ACL) is ahead of schedule, Kelly said, while defensive linemen Jarron Jones (foot) will get his boot off Monday and linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle) got his boot off several weeks ago. ... Kelly also said guard Conor Hanratty has decided to stop playing football. ... Kelly said there is no set spring game or location yet, though he thinks there likely will be one somewhere on campus. Notre Dame Stadium is currently undergoing renovations.