A bit of surprise caps Notre Dame's big National Signing Day

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The good news kept coming for so long Wednesday, Brian Kelly couldn’t divulge the latest addition to Notre Dame’s 2018 recruiting class when he started his press conference shortly after noon.

Four-star cornerback Noah Boykin had already announced he would sign with the Irish in a ceremony at Washington (D.C) H.D. Woodson, but his National Letter of Intent paperwork still needed to be processed. Eventually the Irish were able to ink the former Maryland commit who appeared to be destined for Florida or Virginia in recent days.

Boykin was the fifth new commitment of the day, the 27th member of Notre Dame’s class and the sixth to sign with the Irish on National Signing Day.

“One of the things that we were so impressed with, and maybe this doesn't happen everywhere,” Kelly said, “we weren't certain about Noah and his ability to come to Notre Dame and be a great fit until after his admissions meeting. The feedback that we got from admissions in terms of his interview really sold us on this was the right place for us.

“Here's a young man that wanted to reach for the best and not settle, and that's what really, for us, drove this.”

Boykin’s decision was so unpredictable that cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght spoke to the media before Boykin announced his commitment. Typically, Notre Dame has each assistant coach wait to speak to reporters until after all of their recruits have signed. The 247Sports Crystal Ball, which allows recruiting analysts to predict where a recruit will sign, didn’t have a single Notre Dame prediction for Boykin.

Lyght helped push the Irish to sign a total of five players who could play cornerback in the 2018 class including Boykin and three-star recruit DJ Brown, who also inked with the Irish on Wednesday. A year ago, Notre Dame landed zero cornerbacks in the 2017 class.

“Todd Lyght did an incredible job of staying with this process with Noah,” Kelly said. “And again, I think what we know about his football ability, he was one of the best players at the (Offense-Defense All-American Bowl), has got a confidence about him at that corner position.

“He's a natural corner, and just gives us great flexibility and depth at that position that we've been lacking for so long here.”

Rivals ranks the 6-foot-2, 176-pound Boykin as the No. 21 cornerback in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him No. 25 at the position.

Boykin wasn’t the only one to provide Notre Dame with late drama. Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn worked his phone late into Tuesday night to secure a commitment from Jarrett Patterson. The 6-4, 280-pound offensive tackle from Mission Viejo (Calif.) High signed with the Irish ahead of UCLA. It wasn’t until about midnight that Quinn felt secure about Notre Dame’s chances.

“I told Jarrett (Tuesday) night, I even told my wife, I said I’m not going to sleep — because he’s out on the West Coast — until I get that call,” Quinn said. “We had gone back and forth. I’m certainly proud of Jarrett making that decision.”

Patterson is the first offensive lineman to commit to Notre Dame since Quinn was promoted to offensive line coach following Harry Hiestand’s departure last month. With Patterson and Luke Jones, a previously committed three-star recruit, signing on Wednesday, Quinn will have four freshman offensive linemen at his disposal in the fall.

Patterson is the only one of the four to receive a four-star rating from either 247Sports or Rivals. 247Sports slates Patterson as a four-star recruit and the No. 17 offensive tackle in the class. Rivals rates him as a three-star recruit and the No. 29 offensive tackle.

“Great athlete. Great size. Length. Moves well,” Quinn said. “The one thing that was really key for me is when I saw his film, it caught my eye. There was a focus, there was a determination. He was intentional with his technique and his hands and his body positioning and how he was finishing guys.”

The three other recruits to commit and subsequently sign with the Irish on Wednesday were expected: wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, running back C’Bo Flemister and cornerback DJ Brown. All are rated as three-star prospects.

Keys, a 5-11, 170-pound senior at New Orleans McDonogh 35, gave Notre Dame a fourth wide receiver in the class. He’s the smallest, but he might be the best route runner of the group. 247Sports pegs Keys, who picked the Irish over offers from Texas and SMU, as the No. 79 wide receiver.

“After visiting with him and his coaches and being there a number of times, we recognized that he has a lot of grit,” said wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander. “He’s a playmaker. He’s different. He’s different in a lot of ways. He’s different on and off the field.”

Flemister officially flipped his commitment from Georgia Tech to be the first to sign with Notre Dame early Wednesday morning. The Irish zeroed in on the 5-11, 190-pound senior at Zebulon (Ga.) Pike County with the recently developed hole in the running back depth chart.

“The running back position, obviously, was a need for us, and C'Bo Flemister is a guy that really was attracted to us with his running style,” Kelly said. “From a football standpoint, we loved the fact that we had a north-and-south back here that played with low pads, and that's what we were looking for, a guy that could really hit it inside out for us and extremely productive at the position.”

247Sports slates Flemister, who rushed for 2,348 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior, as the No. 40 running back in the class.

Brown, a former Virginia commit, chose to follow his former teammate at Washington (D.C.) St. John’s College High, freshman defensive end Kofi Wardlow, to Notre Dame. The 6-1, 180-pound cornerback picked the Irish ahead of his two other finalists, Northwestern and California, and previous offers from Clemson, Ohio State and more.

“We really think that we've got somebody here that is a true corner. He's long at 6-1,” Kelly said. “Very smart player. What stood out for us is his football intelligence, the way he played the game.”

Rivals ranks Brown as the No. 67 cornerback in the class. 247Sports slates him 71st at the position.

It wasn’t all good news Wednesday for the Irish. Five-star offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere signed with Ohio State, four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu signed with USC and three-star defensive end Derrick Eason stuck with his commitment to N.C. State.

That didn’t prevent the Irish from recording an unprecedented day in Brian Kelly’s tenure. Before Wednesday, Kelly had never signed 27 recruits in one class nor added five new commitments on signing day at Notre Dame. His biggest classes, in 2013 and 2015, included 24 signees. Adding three new commitments on signing day last year was the previous high for Kelly at Notre Dame.

Kelly pointed to the new recruiting calendar, which allowed the Irish to sign 21 recruits in December, as a reason for the improved closing effort. It afforded Notre Dame the opportunity to give a greater focus to a small amount of recruits in the final weeks.

The Irish even sent four coaches — Kelly, Quinn, recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and offensive coordinator Chip Long — for the final in-home visit with Patterson on Friday. That would have been a tough ask to pull off in the previous system.

The results reflect the effort. As of Wednesday evening, Notre Dame’s 27-man class ranked 10th-best nationally, according to 247Sports. Rivals ranked the Class No. 11.

“Sometimes when you're trying to hold on to the other 21, you're spread out all over the country,” Kelly said. “And so the ability for each one of these recruits to really get to know more of the staff is a great advantage in this closing that can help that.

“Beating four top-25 teams, 10-win season, beating LSU, all those things don't hurt.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Four-star cornerback Noah Boykin provided the biggest surprise of National Signing Day for Notre Dame when he chose to sign with the Irish. (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post/Jonathan Newton)