Considerable drama left for Notre Dame on signing day

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

There will be happiness. There will be heartbreak.

The festivities of Wednesday’s National Signing Day are expected to prompt a full spectrum of emotions for Notre Dame’s coaching staff.

Starting with the reasons to celebrate for the Irish, at least 17 verbally committed recruits are expected to submit a National Letters-of-Intent to Notre Dame. Five recruits in the 2016 class already enrolled at the university last month. That collection of 22 prospects has given the Irish a recruiting class ranked comfortably inside the nation’s top 10 by Rivals and 247Sports.

But will the Irish receive any more good news on Wednesday? If all goes right, Notre Dame could secure its best signing day finish in years. Multiple five-star targets remain on the board, with commitments looming. The day could also prove to be mostly anticlimactic, as has been the case on the last two signing days.

In 2015, the Irish added wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and running back Dexter Williams at the end of the recruiting cycle. That good news was weighed down by misses with safeties Justin Reid (Stanford), Nate Meadors (UCLA) and Arrington Farrar (Wisconsin), and cornerback Iman Marshall (USC).

The 2014 results also provided a similarly low hit rate. Notre Dame added defensive tackle Daniel Cage, but lost out on wide receivers JuJu Smith (USC) and Michiah Quick (Oklahoma), cornerback Terrence Alexander (Stanford) and defensive tackle Courtney Garnett (Oklahoma).

The math is slightly skewed by the fact that including Notre Dame as a finalist might not always reflect a realistic chance for the Irish, but there’s undoubtedly room for improvement at the finish line.

Notre Dame can only hope the coffee brewing Wednesday morning when the letters-of-intent start rolling in at 7 a.m. EST (this year digitally rather than with a fax machine) comes with a strong close.

The best chance for an Irish victory will come around 10:30 a.m., when Orlando Oak Ridge linebacker Jonathan Jones makes his choice between Notre Dame and Michigan. The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder would give the Irish needed depth at linebacker. The only other players in Notre Dame’s class at the position — Daelin Hayes and Jamir Jones — have been pegged as potential defensive ends in the future.

247Sports slates Jones as a four-star recruit and the No. 18 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 19 inside linebacker.

Two more Notre Dame linebacker targets are scheduled to make their commitments in the morning on ESPNU. But the addition of Ben Davis or Jeffrey McCulloch would qualify as surprise upsets for Notre Dame.

Davis, a five-star linebacker from Gordo, Ala., will pick from a final four of Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Notre Dame early in the 10 a.m., hour. Many believe he will choose the same path as his father, Wayne Davis, who holds the career record for tackles at Alabama.

The 6-4, 235-pound Davis received one of head coach Brian Kelly’s final in-home visits last week. Kelly brought assistant coaches Autry Denson, Mike Elston, Todd Lyght and Brian VanGorder along for the final push for the nation’s top inside linebacker. The last time Notre Dame landed a five-star linebacker on signing day, Manti Te’o choose the Irish over USC in 2009.

McCulloch, a 6-2, 220-pound linebacker from Houston Aldine Davis High, is also expected to stay in his home state. Texas is joined by Texas A&M, Stanford and Notre Dame as McCulloch’s four finalists for his 11 a.m. EST announcement.

Rivals ranks McCulloch as the No. 6 inside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 8 outside linebacker.

The final scheduled announcement will come from linebacker Caleb Kelly. His commitment time of 8:30 p.m., will bring back memories of defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who happens to be the last five-star recruit to commit to Notre Dame on signing day. His announcement came at a similarly late hour from the West Coast in 2013. The saga that followed Vanderdoes and his post-signing transfer to UCLA won’t soon be forgotten by Notre Dame recruitniks.

The Irish will hope for a better end result with the 6-3, 216-pound Kelly. But in order to do so, Notre Dame will have to overcome Oklahoma’s strong recruiting ties in Fresno, Calif. Associate head coach Mike Denbrock, Brian Kelly and Elston visited the Clovis West star last week to deliver the final pitch.

Rivals rates Kelly as a five-star prospect and the No. 3 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. 247Sports pegs him as a four-star recruit and No. 5 at the position.

The biggest unknown of the day comes from five-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson. The only way Notre Dame could have known what he will do Wednesday for certain was if the Irish brought him back on the equipment truck they took to his home in Savannah, Ga., last week.

Whether or not the 6-0, 175-pound dynamo even signs anywhere this week remains in doubt. As of last Thursday, Robertson told the Tribune he planned to push his decision past signing day. But Robertson’s plans haven’t gone as reportedly scheduled as of late.

He scratched visits to Alabama, where he was once verbally committed, the past three weekends. Robertson did visit Georgia Tech on Saturday. Georgia has also been pushing for an official visit, but it can’t happen now until after the NCAA dead period for recruiting ends Thursday night.

Notre Dame has been one of the few constants in Robertson’s recruitment over the past few weeks. A signing day decision from Robertson would likely bring good news to the Irish.

Landing Robertson would give the Irish their first five-star wide receiver, per Rivals ratings, since Michael Floyd in 2008. Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell recently named Robertson as the surest thing in the 2016 class. Both Rivals and 247Sports peg him as the top wide receiver in the country.

Robertson would be the kind of addition that can wipe away any sorrow that signing day may bring. Either way Wednesday should be an eventful day for the Irish.

See you at 7 a.m.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly will announce his commitment on signing day. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)