SOUTH BEND — Alyson Murphy Long doesn’t keep her father, Chip, up at night.
Nor apparently these days does anything related to the Notre Dame offense he curates, which has all the makings of being the most productive/dynamic of the Brian Kelly Era.
“She’s a really good sleeper,” ND’s third-year offensive coordinator said earlier this month of the 2½-month-old. “One of the benefits of living here, my wife’s family is in Chicago. So we have a whole army looking out for her when I was on the road recruiting.”
On the day that Chip and Karissa welcomed their second child into the world, Alyson showed five-star timing. She was born early enough on April 6 that Chip was still able to make ND’s spring football practice that day, which included a scrimmage.
“It was a real good day,” he said. “Later that night, we had a big-time recruit commit to us.”
That was an actual five-star prospect — wide receiver Jordan Johnson, from St. Louis.
Long’s voice is prominent in several of the features in the 2019 ND Insider Notre Dame Football Preview, which will be available at retail outlets throughout the Michiana area next week and is available now to order online at ndinsider.com/buythemag.
There were plenty of outtakes from him and head coach Brian Kelly not included in the annual magazine, however, that are worth sharing. Here’s a sampling:
• Buying into Book: Quarterback Ian Book had seven scholarship offers coming out of Oak Ridge High in El Dorado Hills, Calif., only two of which were from Power 5 teams. Those were Washington State, the team he committed to first, and Notre Dame, where he ended up eventually.
So how did so many people miss on a player that set the Notre Dame school record for completion percentage in 2018 and finished in the top 20 nationally in passing efficiency as a first-year starter?
“It was his size,” said Long, who was at Arizona State when Book was being recruited. “I know we liked him at Arizona State, but we took a guy who was just a little bit taller.”
That would be Dillon Sterling-Cole. Like Book, he was a three-star prospect coming out of high school, but he was 6-foot-3, and Book was listed at 6-foot. Sterling-Cole started a game for the Sun Devils as a true freshman, in 2016, but only logged a couple of relief appearances, with zero completions, over the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined.
There’s no guarantee he’ll start this season for ASU.
Among the two quarterbacks ASU took in the cycle before Sterling-Cole, incidentally, was a three-star, dual-threat prospect named Bryce Perkins — the same Bryce Perkins who will come to Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 28 at Virginia’s incumbent starting QB.
Although Book was listed as a “pro-style” quarterback in his recruiting profile — and the 17th-best nationally in that cycle, per Rivals.com — Brian Kelly insists that’s misleading.
“I don’t know that we’re using the right labels anymore. They say pro-style vs. dual. What’s pro-style? Is it Tom Brady?” he said, adding that Book runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.
That’s hardly a throwaway statistic.
If that indeed is the case, it’s more than a 10th of a second faster than any Irish QB — pro-style or dual-threat — has run the 40 at the NFL Combine or at ND’s Pro Day.
That does not include Brandon Wimbush, who is finishing his college career at UCF this fall, and hasn’t performed on those stages yet.
• Fixing Phil: The worst thing that happened to Irish sophomore backup Phil Jurkovec during spring practice, per Long, wasn’t stretches of inconsistency and tough moments of growth.
It was his hyperawareness of what the outside world was writing and saying about those things and what they might lead to.
“That’s why this is a special place. Quarterback at Notre Dame,” Long said. “It took on a life of its own, there’s no doubt.”
Part of Long’s solution for the former four-star prospect is to stay aggressive on the field and insulate himself off it.
“Phil was just a really highly publicized recruit, more than Ian was,” Long said. “Like I tell guys, ‘The NFL doesn’t even look at you ’til your junior year. So take your time, work at it. Go make mistakes. That’s OK. Just don’t be careless.’
“You can make a mistake. There’s a difference between being careless and making a mistake.”
And as far as the outside world looking in?
“The only way clowns are in your life is if you let them,” Long said. “If you’re going to live in the Twitter world, then you better take the good with the bad.”
• Recruiting philosophy twist: When Long is evaluating prospects for the Irish offense, one of the first things he does is watch tape of those players, when applicable, playing defense.
“If we’re unsure about two guys, and one guy plays defense, we’re going to go with that guy — a guy who plays offense and defense,” Long said. “You’ve got to have some kind of grit, some kind of physicality.
“And just the percentage to miss on that guy goes way down in my opinion.
“I’m a physically tough coach. And if that’s not who you are too, you’re probably not going to make it here. So you’re always trying to find different ways to cut the probability of missing on a guy. And if he’s able to play on special teams, your whole roster is better. There’s not a lot of dead weight.”
The sky isn’t falling?
Angst runs rampant among fan bases at times during recruiting, even when the big picture and reality suggests an opposite reaction is more appropriate.
The recent commitments to Michigan by Notre Dame targets Braiden McGregor, a defensive end, wide receiver A.J. Henning, and safety Jordan Morant have sprinkled some frustration into an otherwise hot streak for the Irish on the recruiting trail.
A look at the numbers would suggest so when it comes to head to head.
Examining scholarship offers certainly isn’t a conclusive tool to measure the recruiting rivalry, in part because sometimes an offer is issued and the school later loses interest. But the numbers do tell a relevant story.
If wide receiver Xavier Watts commits to ND in the coming days, he’ll be the 16th recruit in the Irish 2020 class and the 12th who held a Michigan offer. The exceptions are long snapper Alex Peitsch, German defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger, Hawaii defensive end Jordan Botelho and New Jersey cornerback Clarence Lewis.
And in the 2021 class, four of the five players who have verbally committed to the Irish received Michigan offers, with Missouri defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio the lone exception.
Looking at Michigan’s 19-man 2020 class, only six held ND offers and neither of the two players in its 2021 class did.
Sorting out cornerback
Spring practice started off with sophomore Houston Griffith getting a long look at the boundary cornerback spot that All-American Julian Love vacated when he became an early entry to the NFL Draft.
Spring ended with No. 1 field corner Troy Pride Jr., taking some reps at the boundary cornerback position in the annual Blue-Gold Game on April 13.
It turns out, that wasn’t just for show.
“When training camp starts, Troy Pride is the only certainty,” Kelly said. “He’s got to start somewhere, and most likely it’s going to be into the boundary. And the other guys are going to be fighting for the field corner and nickel jobs, and the backup positions.
“Look the boundary is where the action’s going to be. At the end of the day, the quarterback’s going to throw it where it’s shorter. And so we’re going to start Troy there. We’re going to see how that goes, but that’s where the action is.”