by John Vannie
Notre Dame closed out its recruiting efforts for the Class of 2017 on Wednesday with the signing of highly regarded defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes from Placer, California. The 24th and final member of the group added an exclamation point to what is projected to be the best collection of Irish immigrants since 1990. This balanced and talented class gives rise to the belief that Notre Dame’s 2012 team won’t be regarded as merely a one-hit wonder, but rather as the starting point for a long run of football excellence.
The core of every successful football team is its offensive line, and the Irish have five promising players whose average height and weight is 6’6” and 290 pounds. All were highly recruited, while early enrollee Steve Elmer from Midland, Michigan may challenge right away for a starting position at right tackle. Coach Brian Kelly is also thrilled to have Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchy, Colin McGovern and John Montelus on board.
Quarterback Malik Zaire from Kettering, Ohio, committed early to Notre Dame and has already established himself as a leader. The 6’1” left-hander combines quick feet and accurate passing skills, which make him an excellent fit for Kelly’s offense. Zaire will be joined by four capable targets at wide receiver. James Onwualu has an outgoing personality and desire to break the Notre Dame receiving records set by fellow Minnesotan Michael Floyd. Will Fuller is a fluid athlete who reminds folks of T.J. Jones. Torii Hunter, Jr. and Corey Robinson are the talented sons of professional athletes Torii Hunter (baseball all-star) and NBA great David Robinson.
The Irish also welcome two outstanding running backs in Greg Bryant and Taurean Folston, who will be counted upon to replace and ultimately surpass the production of outgoing seniors Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Both Bryant and Folston are from Florida, where they excelled against stiff competition. Bryant in particular is deemed to be physically ready to compete for significant playing time.
Notre Dame addressed the loss of tight end Tyler Eifert and a depleted depth chart at this position by signing a pair of outstanding athletes. Mike Heuerman from Florida and Durham Smythe from Texas are very much in the mold of recent Irish players that have been very successful in college and the NFL.
Defensively, Vanderdoes filled out the needs along the line, where the highly coveted Isaac Rochell and Ohio’s versatile Jacob Matuska were already on board. Five star athlete Jaylon Smith leads the linebacking corps. He is joined by Michael Deeb, a hard-nosed inside player from Florida, and Doug Randolph, a talented athlete from Virginia who had committed to Stanford early in the recruiting cycle before switching to Notre Dame.
The best news for Irish fans may be in the secondary, where Max Redfield became a member of the class after de-committing from USC. The Californian is ranked as one of the best athletes in the country and is projected to play safety in Bob Diaco’s defense. Cole Luke from Hamilton, Arizona is projected to be the cover corner the team needs. Luke and Redfield will be joined by Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw to bring good size, speed and athleticism to the program.
Not to be ignored are special teams, where the Irish had pressing needs at punter and place kicker. These have now been filled by a pair of preferred walk-ons in punter Andrew Antognoli and kicker John Chereson. Both had successful high school careers and are potential candidates for a full scholarship down the road.
The level of talent and the fact that this group covers all positions on the field have resulted in a top five rating by a collection of national recruiting services. If there are any areas that might be deficient, those might be the lack of a proven outside pass rusher for the defensive line and a player with truly exceptional speed at wide receiver. That seems like nitpicking, though, and the staff is already busy recruiting the next class with over 100 offers extended and four verbal commitments to date.
There is no doubt that the future looks brighter for Notre Dame football than it has in many years. Despite the loss to Alabama in the BCS championship, the Irish are now measuring themselves in all ways against the likes of the Crimson Tide instead of the Purdues of the world. It’s also significant that Kelly swayed two stellar recruits (Vanderdoes and Redfield) away from arch-rival USC, who appears to be on a downward trajectory after a successful decade under Pete Carroll. The school’s national recruiting base is certainly evident in this class, with nine players from key states such as Texas, California and Florida and six from the MidWest.