VanGorder leaves first impression on Notre Dame recruits

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

Kolin Hill admitted to being nervous.

The senior linebacker prospect had no intentions of wavering from his verbal commitment to Notre Dame, but he still hadn’t met the man that will dictate when and where he plays once arriving in South Bend.

That changed on Monday when Hill was introduced to new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Hill hosted VanGorder and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks, his lead recruiter, for an in-home visit.

“I was a bit nervous in the beginning,” Hill said. “When he got into my house and we started talking, everything came easy.”

Hill learned more about VanGorder’s coaching resume and philosophy, and how he sees Hill fitting in Notre Dame’s defensive plan.

“Not much changed,” said the 6-foot-2, 222-pound Hill. “He pretty much ruled out that I'm going to play inside linebacker. I'm a good edge rusher, so I'll definitely be on the outside putting pressure on the quarterback.”

Hill had originally been pegged as more of an inside linebacker because of Notre Dame’s need at the position. But the addition of Nile Sykes and Nyles Morgan, combined with potential scheme changes, have given Hill a slight shift to an outside line-backer position that may come more naturally to him. He tallied 15 sacks and more than 100 tackles playing defensive end as a senior at Clemens High in Schertz, Texas.

Sykes had similar questions. When VanGorder and safeties coach Bob Elliott visited Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill., last Friday, Sykes spoke with his future position coach for roughly an hour.

“It was awesome,” Sykes said. “We had a really good conversation. It was nice to finally get to meet who I'll be playing for in the next four years. We had a really good talk."

Sykes learned that VanGorder pictured him as a Will (weakside) linebacker after his first impression, but indicated that wasn’t necessarily set in stone.

“He said that's just based off how I look. He doesn't know how much stronger I'll get or how much bigger I'll get,” said the 6-2, 230-pound Sykes. “He doesn't really like to tell guys where they're going to be for sure. There is that chance that I may grow some or get stronger.

“He said throughout the workouts and him evaluating me, he'll have a better vision of where I might be. Guys can change. He was talking about how he was going to try to find out my strengths and use my strengths to put me in a position to use those to the best of my ability.”

VanGorder inherits a group of inside linebacker prospects to tinker with that vastly improved since early December. Three of the top 21 prospects identified as in-side linebackers by Rivals — Sykes, Hill and Morgan — joined fellow inside line-backer commit Greer Martini in the 2014 recruiting class. The haul should allow VanGorder the flexibility to stick with Bob Diaco’s four line-backer system or transition to more of a three linebacker look.

But before VanGorder met with his linebacker prospects, he met with defensive line commit Jay Hayes last Thursday, the first day al-lowed by the NCAA contact period rules. VanGorder made the trip with head coach Brian Kelly to Poly Prep in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I was just curious about the type of guy he was,” Hayes said. “If you just look at a picture, he looks like a serious, old-fashioned linebackers coach that's just going to yell at you. But he came off as a good guy.”

Hayes also introduced VanGorder to his mother, and the conversation drifted from personal life back to football.

“We talked football and it was clear that he knows what he's talking about,” Hayes said of VanGorder. “He's been to Auburn. He's been to Georgia. He's been in the SEC and he went on to the Jets. His resume speaks for itself.”

Hayes, who said he’s up to 270 pounds, could play a variety of positions.

"He said I'll be moving around across the defensive line,” Hayes said. “He said I'm a dynamic player that's able to move in and out through different positions, which is pretty good.”

All three players left their meetings with strong impressions of VanGorder. With the introduction out of the way, they plan to sign with Notre Dame on Feb. 5.

“I'm solid with where I'm going,” Hill said. “Meeting coach VanGorder pretty much sealed the deal.”

TJames1@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Brian VanGorder speaks during a news conference introducing him as Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)