Notebook: Notre Dame football June surprises, portal problems and Kelly Cares Football 101

Eric Hansen | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider


Over the next few days, Kendall Abdur-Rahman will take his first college class, play a completely different position than the one that first put him on the college football recruiting radar, and try to make the three-star prospect rating attached to him obsolete as soon as possible.

The guy who’s not betting against all that happening? Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly.

“Invariably, there’s always one of those guys that nobody ever talks about that comes in and plays for us (right away),” Kelly said Tuesday night on WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show.

“Abdur-Rahman is a player that has a skill set that we think, you know, let’s get him out there and see what he can do.”

The 6-foot, 185-pound high school quarterback, future college wide receiver and former Illinois all-state defensive back is one of 12 scholarship freshmen, along with notable walk-on kicker Harrison Leonard, who get their first taste of ND football this weekend and who begin summer school on Monday.

The record 10 early enrollees from that freshman class, as well as the holdovers from last year’s 12-1 College Football Playoff team, were all at Notre Dame Stadium Tuesday night helping with the 11th rendition of the Kelly Cares Foundation’s Football 101 event.

Billed as an inside look at Notre Dame football for women only, the event predates the 10th-year Irish coach’s arrival at ND and has grown in popularity and impact annually.

Kelly, who started Kelly Cares with wife Paqui, said one of the beneficiaries of this year’s event is the Boling Vision Center’s Kindness To Prevent Blindness program.

“We’re cutting them a check for $10,000,” said Kelly, whose foundation has given back more than $5 million to all kinds of programs, individuals and medical research projects since its inception. “They run a mobile unit that helps underprivileged kids in the community that can’t afford vision testing.”

Abdur-Rahman, from Edwardsville, Ill., figures to be around for next year’s event. For now he’ll try to beat a numbers game of 11 other wide receivers being on the Irish roster, only one of whom (Cam Hart) is also a freshman.

“You always look for those impact guys that are skilled or have speed,” Kelly said.

The highest-rated player in the class, five-star safety Kyle Hamilton, has both and arrives Friday. Kelly is eager to get a look at the 6-3, 205-pound Atlanta product.

Another player who came to mind among the June arrivals that Kelly is excited to assess in person is defensive end Isaiah Foskey, a 6-5, 250-pound pass-rusher from Antioch, Calif.

“A lot of guys have the skill level to play (early),” Kelly said. “A lot of it just comes down to their ability to transition.”

Portal potty?

The still relatively new transfer portal, celebrated as a step toward college football free agency for advocates of it, is starting to show some warts as well — including more than half of the players currently in the portal have no apparent landing spot.

And the schools they’re transferring from don’t have to take them back if they don’t want to.

For Notre Dame, one hindrance in the portal concept is that there’s no transcript info — just height, weight and class.

For Kelly personally, the most serious flaw is the seeming inconsistency with which waivers for no-waiting transfers are granted and denied.

“The easiest way is to say everybody can transfer and it’s unlimited,” Kelly said, “and it doesn’t matter if your mom is sick or somebody calls you a bad name. Everybody can transfer. Or everybody has to have residency (and sit out a year), which was the old rule.

“What we’ve done is we’ve kind of muddled that to where it matters how you handle yourself and who represents you. Now look, these are academic institutions, and it would make sense to attach some kind of academic enhancement to this.

“Maybe I’m not the guy to draw these rules up, but clearly something’s going to have to come along that kind of gets this thing back on track.”

On the mend

Two young defensive linemen who faced serious comebacks from leg injuries appear to be doing just that, per Kelly. Coming back.

Sophomore Ja’mion Franklin has recently been fully cleared “for everything without limitations.” That’s just under nine months after suffering a quadriceps tear in a Sept. 29 win at Wake Forest. Franklin was able to take a redshirt year in 2018.

Meanwhile, early enrolled freshman Hunter Spears has been cleared for modified workouts, with the expectation that he’ll be fully cleared for all football activities in the next couple of weeks.

Spears suffered an ACL tear in his left knee in November, the second time in a 19-month span in which he sustained the same injury to the same knee.

Remembering why

The inspiration for the Kelly Cares Foundation remains Paqui Kelly’s journey as a two-time breast cancer survivor.

On Tuesday night, Brian Kelly recalled contemplating stepping away from his coaching career after the first diagnosis in 2002, when the coach was at Division II power Grand Valley State and Paqui had three young children to deal with in the equation.

“We had that conversation, and her first response was, ‘I don’t need you to be sitting around the house waiting for me to do something.’ ” Brian Kelly related. “ ’I need my own space to handle this. Go do your deal and take care of yourself. I’ll take care of myself.

“ ‘I’ll need you. I’ll call you, but you’ve got to go and function and provide and do your job, and be whole yourself, because there’s no way you’re going to be able to support me if you’re sitting around waiting for me to do something.’ ”

Brian Kelly said his recruiting trips at the time were generally all within a two-hour drive of campus, so it wasn’t a challenge to get home every night.

“It would have been a lot different if I had been at an institution that required me to be away from home, on an airplane. It would have been different had I been at Notre Dame. I think that lends itself to a whole different kind of worry.

“I can’t really wrap my head around that scenario versus the one I was confronted with.”

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly signs Mary Jo Thurston’s shirt during the Kelly Cares Foundation’s Football 101 program Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame nose guard Kurt Hinish coaches Susie Dennis as she tackles a dummy during the Kelly Cares Foundation’s Football 101 event, Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium.