Reinforcements for Notre Dame football start to arrive this week

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The recent hires on Notre Dame’s football coaching staff won’t be the only new faces roaming the Guglielmino Athletics Complex this week.

The Irish will also be welcoming their latest crop of early enrollees. Five Notre Dame recruits will begin their college careers a semester early and start classes Tuesday: Offensive lineman Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey, running back CJ Holmes, safety Isaiah Robertson and tight end Brock Wright.

A practice that former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis adopted in 2006 has become an annual opportunity for the program. Like anything in recruiting, the previous 11 groups of early enrollees have produced stories of success and fizzles of failure.

The benefits of enrolling early can be seen in short order. All five of the recruits who joined Notre Dame last January — wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, safeties Devin Studstill and Spencer Perry, and defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem — saw action in their freshman season.

Stepherson finished 2016 as Notre Dame’s third-leading receiver with 25 catches for 462 yards and five touchdowns. Studstill started nine games and tallied 38 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.

Joining Notre Dame for the spring semester allows freshmen to learn the playbook, experience practices, develop physically and settle into college without the pressure of an ongoing season.

Brock Wright, ranked by most recruiting services as a Top 100 prospect and the best tight end in the 2017 class, appears to be the early enrollee with the best chance of playing in the fall. He knows this semester can help make that happen.

"I'd really like to get acclimated in school, but also get into those workouts and start working hard, get my body in the physical shape I want to be in,” Wright said last month.

CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming projects Wright as a future star for the Irish with the potential of developing into a first- or second-round NFL Draft pick. But is he ready to play right away?

"Without a doubt. He's ready-made,” Lemming said. “What he has going for him is he's the best blocking tight end in the country also. He has good hands and everybody knows about that. But his blocking skills are college ready.”

Early enrollment has become a growing trend in college football. Alabama, as it seems to be with most aspects of the game, has become a leader in the process. This month, Alabama has 12 recruits enrolling, including two players from junior colleges. Enrolling last January allowed freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts emerge as the eventual starter for Alabama on its way to the College Football Playoff.

Notre Dame has stuck to smaller numbers in its classes of early enrollees. The biggest classes have included five recruits, which has now happened five times. It’s a combination of the preference of Notre Dame’s coaching staff and the options available to Notre Dame’s commitments.

Some high schools don’t allow or aren’t set up to graduate recruits in December of their senior years. Others, like Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy, have started to set December as the typical graduation date for football recruits. Hainsey, who knew he was going to graduate early when he transferred to IMG before his junior season, said 25 of his teammates graduated in December.

The current group of five early enrollees couldn’t be joining Notre Dame’s program at a more important time for head coach Brian Kelly. This offseason stands to be the most important of Kelly’s Irish tenure. Becoming a part of a turnaround following a 4-8 season is important to guys like Hainsey.

“Next year has to be better,” Hainsey said last month. “There’s a standard at Notre Dame of excellence. Everyone’s going to do everything they can this offseason to reach that standard.”

With only 15 commitments in the 2017 class, the early enrollees represent a third of the current class. As they begin their college careers, Notre Dame’s coaching staff will be working to finish the 2017 recruiting cycle with more talent to join them in the summer.

"It's a good group,” Lemming said. “Some of them should be able to play right away. They will benefit from their early arrivals to at least compete for starting jobs."

By the numbers

• OL Aaron Banks, 6-7, 315; El Cerrito (Calif.) High.

Rivals ranking: Four stars, No. 14 offensive tackle.

247Sports ranking: Four stars, No. 23 offensive tackle.

• OL Robert Hainsey, 6-5, 295; Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy.

Rivals ranking: Four stars, No. 10 offensive tackle.

247Sports ranking:  Four stars, No. 6 offensive guard.

• RB CJ Holmes, 6-0, 196; Cheshire (Conn.) Academy

Rivals ranking: Four stars, No. 5 all-purpose back.

247Sports ranking: Three stars, No. 39 running back.

• S Isaiah Robertson, 6-2, 195; Naperville (Ill.) Neuqua Valley.

Rivals ranking: Four stars, No. 17 athlete.

247Sports ranking: Four stars, No. 22 safety.

• TE Brock Wright, 6-5, 249; Cypress (Texas) Cy-Fair.

Rivals ranking: Four stars, No. 1 tight end.

247Sports ranking: Four stars, No. 6 tight end.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Tight end Brock Wright is the jewel of Notre Dame's latest crop of early enrollees. He is one of five recruits starting their Irish careers this week with the spring semester starting Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Intersport)

The Notre Dame football program has now seen 45 recruits start their college careers early by enrolling in January.

2017

OL Aaron Banks, OL Robert Hainsey, RB CJ Holmes, S Isaiah Robertson, TE Brock Wright

2016

LB Daelin Hayes, DE Khalid Kareem, S Spencer Perry, WR Kevin Stepherson, S Devin Studstill

2015

LB Te’von Coney, DT Micah Dew-Treadway, OL Tristen Hoge, DL Jerry Tillery

2014

WR Justin Brent, DE Andrew Trumbetti

2013

OL Steve Elmer, TE Mike Heuerman, WR James Onwualu, WR Corey Robinson, QB Malik Zaire

2012

DT Sheldon Day, QB Gunner Kiel, CB Tee Shepard

2011

K/P Kyle Brindza, DE Brad Carrico, QB Everett Golson, DE Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB Ishaq Williams

2010

SS Chris Badger, CB Spencer Boyd, WR Tai-ler Jones, QB Tommy Rees, CB Lo Wood

2009

CB E.J. Banks, SS Zeke Motta, DL Tyler Stockton

2008

DL Sean Cwynar, OL Trevor Robinson

2007

RB Armando Allen, QB Jimmy Clausen, CB Gary Gray

2006

RB James Aldridge, OL Chris Stewart, WR George West