Benefits of head start on football, academics at Notre Dame tend to be deferred

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The largest class to date of football early enrollees begins spring semester classes on Tuesday, a development Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly fully embraces.

The reality for those 10 players, though, is that the academic/athletic head start the school has been granting since former Irish coach Charlie Weis kicked down that door in 2006 has largely translated into benefits that are more likely to be deferred than immediate.

Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Aaron Banks’ ability to step into the ND starting lineup at left guard in 2018 as a true sophomore, for instance, wouldn’t have been possible, Kelly professes, without early enrollment in 2017.

“That semester is really like a full year for some of these guys,” Kelly said last month of Banks.

But parlaying the jump start into a starring or even a regular starting role as a true freshman would be practically ground-breaking.

Only four of the 52 early enrollees in the previous 12 classes started as many as six games in their respective freshman seasons — quarterback Jimmy Clausen (nine in 2007), safety Devin Studstill (nine in 2016), wide receiver T.J. Jones (seven in 2010) and defensive end Aaron Lynch (six in 2011).

And the number of those who started at least one game is a still-modest 15 —16 if you count Kyle Brindza kicking off regularly as a freshman. Nickel back Houston Griffith, with one start in 2018, joined that group, from the seven early enrollees last January.

Of the seven who enrolled early last January, only linebacker Bo Bauer saw action in all 13 games in 2018, playing primarily on special teams. Griffith played in 11. Center Luke Jones, wide receiver Micah Jones, linebacker Jack Lamb, tight end George Takacs and running back Jahmir Smith all redshirted.

Smith was the only one of the five redshirts who saw game action — logging playing time in two games.

This year’s early enrollee group comprises offensive linemen Zeke Correll, Quinn Carroll, Andrew Kristofic and John Olmstead; defensive linemen Hunter Spears, NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Jacob Lacey; running back Kyren Williams; punter Jay Bramblett and linebacker Jack Kiser.

As far as happily ever after, the early enrollees actually have a slightly higher transfer rate during the Kelly Era (29 percent) than the overall transfer rate of Kelly Era recruits (24 percent). Both figures count dismissed wide receiver Kevin Stepherson as an impending transfer, though he hasn’t found a landing spot and might not ever.

More fun with numbers

Notre Dame is one of the few FBS schools that insists on listing its players on the roster by academic year in school rather than by year of eligibility.

For those on the outside looking in, it’s often confusing, especially when they assume a “senior” is in his final year of eligibility.

For even those on the inside, it skews just how young the Irish roster typically is, including in 2019.

Currently there are 89 players on the 2019 roster, factoring in the 21 December signees. That’s four over the NCAA limit that has to be satisfied by the first day of fall-semester classes. Forty-six percent of those players will have freshman eligibility in 2019, 65 percent freshman or sophomore eligibility.

Should the Irish add defensive end Isaiah Foskey and linebacker Asa Turner in the February signing period and the corresponding attrition to get to 85 comes from the upper classes, those percentages swell to 51 and 71, respectively.

• Quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s grad transfer to UCF and Avery Davis remaining at running back means Brady Quinn, Evan Sharpley and Tommy Rees remain the answer to a trivia question.

Not counting current Irish QBs Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec and June arrival Brendon Clark, Notre Dame has signed 25 quarterbacks in the post-Lou Holtz Era, starting with Zak Kustok.

Of those 25, Quinn, Sharpley and Rees are the only three who completed their college eligibility at Notre Dame as quarterbacks. The other 22 either transferred, changed positions or left school early (DeShone Kizer and Jimmy Clausen).

• In 2018, the University of Connecticut set an NCAA record for defensive futility, allowing 617.4 yards per game. That’s almost 60 yards more a game than the old mark held until recently by the first Kansas team (2015) after Charlie Weis was fired as the Jayhawks’ coach.

How does this tie into Notre Dame?

Well roughly nine years and a month ago, Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly to succeed Weis as ND’s head football coach. The fork in the road the Irish didn’t take was Randy Edsall, currently UConn’s head coach.

Edsall went 8-5 at UConn in 2010, the same record Kelly had in year 1 at ND. Edsall then moved onto Maryland, where he was fired six games into season 5, with a 22-34 mark. Since succeeding former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco at UConn in Edsall’s second tour of duty as the Huskies’ head coach, he is 4-20.

Running back Kyren Williams (right), here shaking hands with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly after the ND-Stanford game on Sept. 29, is one of 10 football early enrollees who begin classes at ND on Tuesday.

A year-by-year breakdown of the football early enrollees at Notre Dame since the school began allowing early enrollment in January of 2006:

2019 (10)

P Jay Bramblett

OT Quinn Carroll

OG/C Zeke Correll

LB Jack Kiser

OT Andrew Kristofic

DT Jacob Lacey

OG John Olmstead

DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah

DT Hunter Spears

RB Kyren Williams

2018 (7)

LB Bo Bauer

DB Houston Griffith

WR Micah Jones

LB Jack Lamb

LB Ovie Oghoufo

RB Jahmir Smith

TE George Takacs

2017 (5)

OT Aaron Banks

OG Robert Hainsey

RB CJ Holmes

S Isaiah Robertson

TE Brock Wright

2016 (5)

DE/OLB Daelin Hayes

DE Khalid Kareem

SS Spencer Perry

WR Kevin Stepherson

FS Devin Studstill

2015 (4)

LB Te’von Coney

DT Micah Dew-Treadway

OL Tristen Hoge

DL Jerry Tillery

2014 (2)

WR Justin Brent

DE Andrew Trumbetti

2013 (5)

OL Steve Elmer

TE Mike Heuerman

WR James Onwualu

WR Corey Robinson  

QB Malik Zaire

2012 (3)

DT Sheldon Day  

QB Gunner Kiel

CB Tee Shepard

2011 (5)

K/P Kyle Brindza  

DE Brad Carrico

QB Everett Golson  

DE Aaron Lynch  

DE/OLB Ishaq Williams

2010 (5)

SS Chris Badger

CB Spencer Boyd

WR Tai-ler Jones

QB Tommy Rees  

CB Lo Wood

2009 (3)

CB E.J. Banks

SS Zeke Motta

DL Tyler Stockton

2008 (2)

DL Sean Cwynar

OL Trevor Robinson

2007 (3)

RB Armando Allen

QB Jimmy Clausen

CB Gary Gray

2006 (3)

RB James Aldridge

OL Chris Stewart

WR George West