Notre Dame football notebook: Kelly’s first shot at recruiting ND has attrition and success

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Five-star defensive end prospect Chris Martin parachuting out of the 2010 Notre Dame recruiting class was just the start of a chain of events that reinforced Irish fans’ angst over the hiring of Brian Kelly in December 2009.

Kelly’s track record at Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Grand Valley State strongly suggested that he could coach up whatever material he had. The lingering question was whether Charlie Weis’ successor as Notre Dame’s head football coach could pair his player development mantra with the ability to lure elite talent to South Bend.

Later in the 2009-10 cycle, the nation’s No. 2 prospect, mammoth offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, eliminated the Irish and ended up signing with Miami (Fla.). Former Irish running back standout Tony Brooks’ son, Anthony Barr, was another top prospect who chose sunshine (UCLA) over Kelly’s vision of what a post-Weis ND could look like.

“For me, not knowing everything that I know about Notre Dame now, I think it would have been a lot easier if I had the experience that I do now,” Kelly said Tuesday of his first Irish recruiting class. “I would walk in there and go, ‘Are you kidding me? Why am I wasting — listen, you're coming to Notre Dame, right? Here is what you’re going to get.’

“For me, I think it was more about selling myself at that time: Here is who I am. Here is my background. Here is what I have accomplished. This is why we're going to be successful at Notre Dame.

“I think you would go in that a whole lot differently now. You would go in, and if I was to talk about Notre Dame now, it would be, ‘Hey, listen, here is what you're going to get at Notre Dame.’ ”

In the end, Kelly, the lone holdover assistant coach from the Weis regime — Tony Alford — and temporary recruiting coordinator Dave Peloquin (still a valuable commodity behind the scenes in recruiting) cobbled together a 23-man class that included eight players that Kelly and/or Weis flipped from other teams’ classes.

One of them, defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, will face the team from which he defected, BYU, on Saturday, when the Cougars (7-3) visit Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day (3:30 p.m. EDT) in a matchup of two teams that probably should still be in play for a BCS berth if not for some perplexing inconsistencies.

BYU also will have a member of ND’s 2010 recruiting class suit up Saturday. Safety Chris Badger is a redshirt freshman safety for the Cougars, his 2010 and 2011 seasons spent as a Mormon missionary in South America and his 2012 campaign spent fermenting at the bottom of the Irish depth chart.

He transferred just prior to the start of the 2013 season to BYU, in large part to be closer to his mom, Shauna, who is ill. The NCAA eventually waived the one-year sitting-out period normally required of transfers.

Badger has since seen action in seven games, mostly on special teams. Five of his six tackles this season came in last Saturday’s 59-13 rout of Idaho State.

Two other players left the Irish 2010 class via transfer (cornerback Spencer Boyd to South Florida and multi-position prospect Derek Roback to Ohio University). Offensive tackle Matt James, one of two prospects rated among the top 100 in the nation per (the other was nose guard Louis Nix), died tragically in a spring break accident a couple of months before he was set to enroll at ND.

Three others — linebacker Danny Spond, offensive tackle Tate Nichols and running back Cam Roberson — are all on medical hardship, though Spond remains active with the team as a student assistant coach.

South Bend Clay product Daniel Smith, a wide receiver, technically remains on the roster, but his career effectively ended Oct. 5, when he suffered a broken ankle against Arizona State in a game played in Arlington, Texas. Offensive guard Christian Lombard suffered a season-ending knee injury but may be back in 2014.

Six members of the class, meanwhile. ended up playing different positions than what they were recruited.

Together those who remain have a chance to do something Saturday that no Irish senior group has accomplished since 2003 — be 4-0 in their careers on Senior Day.

Already they’re the first class since the 1995 group that will play in a bowl game each of their four seasons at ND. And they’ve fashioned a 35-14 record (.714), the most wins by a senior class since that 1995 class.

“I mean, this is a unique class in that ... this was kind of that class that we tried to hold on to when we got here,” Kelly said. “The development of relationships with this group was one where they were a group of guys that we didn't have a strong bond with but we had to build one over time.

“And I think we have. I think we have a different relationship in a sense, a unique relationship with these guys in that they had to trust us, and that in itself as a group is a great dynamic.”

As for Martin, he landed at Florida and left there without ever playing a down for the Gators, the start of a walk down the road to football oblivion. His most recent stop was at Kansas, with Weis giving him a chance last spring semester.

Martin was dismissed from the program in June after allegedly being involved in a home invasion. At last report, he was scheduled to begin trial on Monday in Douglas County (Kan.) for one count of aggravated robbery. An attorney for Martin told the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal World he was in plea negotiations with Douglas County prosecutors.

More senior moments

Because Notre Dame lists players by academic class rather than eligibility, Senior Day isn’t as clear cut as it might be at most of the other FBS schools.

There are always fifth-year seniors/grad students mixed in that have already participated in one Senior Day. There are six such players this season — the last six on the roster who were signed by Charlie Weis (Chris Watt, Zach Martin, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Nick Tausch and Tyler Stockton).

There is also a group of seniors who retain a fifth-year option of which there are nine in the 2010 class. Not all nine will necessarily be invited back and some may not return even if they are invited back.

The 10 are Austin Collinsworth, Bruce Heggie, Andrew Hendrix, Christian Lombard, Luke Massa, Kendall Moore, Louis Nix, Justin Utupo, Lo Wood and Alex Welch. Nix has hinted in the past he likely would enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

Good bye (week)

Kelly, 14-2 in his career coming out of a bye week, elected not to hold any practices last week during the team’s second bye week of the season, his reasoning being that giving his battered team a chance to heal outweighed whatever benefits extra practices might bring.

Instead the players conditioned and lifted weights — and convalesced if applicable.

“I think the week off proved to be effective for us,” Kelly said. “I thought we had a great day (Monday). We scrimmaged the guys a little bit. We got some work together, 11-on-11, which we normally don't have, especially in a game week. We didn't tackle and bring the backs down, but (had) some good action.

“I thought the legs were fresh. I thought if there was any rust off the guys, we got them out there moving. Those guys that are banged up got in there and competed. We are like everybody else in college football at this point in the year. We have got guys that are just fighting through it right now.”

Kelly said he doesn’t think any of the players who recently missed time because of injuries will be unavailable for the BYU game.

Outside linebacker Ishaq Williams, though, may be the most iffy. Williams suffered a knee injury Oct. 26 against Air Force and hasn’t played since.

“I think Ishaq is going to be a day-to-day situation,” Kelly said. “He practiced. I thought he was a little tentative (Monday), but I think he's going to get better.”

Defensive linemen Schwenke, Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones — all coming back from ankle injuries — held up well in practice, per Kelly.

“Nobody took a step back from (Monday’s) pretty rigorous practice,” Kelly said. “We were almost two hours out there, which is long, and it was a physical practice.”

Battle of tempos?

From a pace standpoint, BYU’s spread offense may conjure up images of what Notre Dame fans thought Kelly was bringing to ND four season ago.

The Cougars average 82.8 offensive plays per game, eighth most in the nation. Texas Tech leads the nation at 90.8 offensive plays per game. The only team in the top 10 the Irish have played is Arizona State, which is ninth at 82.0. The Irish beat the Sun. Devils, 37-34, on Oct. 5.

BYU is the only school in the top 10 that also allows its opponents to run more than 80 plays a game.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, averages 63.0 offensive plays per game — the ninth-fewest in the 123-team FBS. American Athletic Conference doormat South Florida runs the fewest offensive plays per game (57.5), but top-ranked Alabama (62.0) and LSU (58.6) also find themselves in the top 10.

ND’s plays-per-game is its lowest under Kelly, who was at 68.8 last season, 69.7 in 2011, 68.8 in 2010 and 71.9 in his final season at Cincinnati (2009).

More concerning than pace, Kelly said, is the man who runs the BYU offense — 23-year-old sophomore Taysom Hill.

Hill ranks No. 2 in the nation with 44 plays of 10 rushing yards or more and is tied for eighth with four plays of 40-plus yards. He’s eighth in the country with an average of 333.5 yards per game of total offense. And with 1,292 rushing yards in less than a season and a half (Hill was injured much of 2012), he’s a cinch to break Eldon Fortie’s school record of 1,624, perhaps yet this season.

The key stat on Hill, though, is his passing. He has averaged a 38.7 percent completion rate in BYU’s three losses. In the seven wins, he is completing at 60.4 percent.

Notre Dame's Kona Schwenke originally committed to BYU before committing to the Irish in 2010. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN