Justin Brent: Committed for Life

Justin Brent, current 4-star Irish commit, and future Notre Dame star.

Justin Brent, current 4-star Irish commit, and future Notre Dame star.

After impressing those at the Rivals camp, and before heading to Oregon for ESPN’s The Opening, Notre Dame in-state commit, Justin Brent, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for the Gold and Blues Brothers.  Check out what this 4-star wide receiver, and future Notre Dame star, had to say.

Jake:  Right off the bat, you committed to Notre Dame.  What was so special about the University that made you pull the trigger so quickly?

Justin:  Well, as you know, I committed before a lot kids.  I took camp visits to Louisville, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and was planning to head to Cincinnati after that.  I had one-on-ones with each head coach and actually ended up committing the day of leaving the Ohio State camp.  Basically, Notre Dame felt like the school I already go to, so it was easy to call it home.  Reminded me a lot of Speedway, actually.

Jake:  Nothing better than committing to Notre Dame after just visiting Ohio State!

Justin:  Haha, exactly!  I’m a huge Tim Tebow fan, so everyone expected the opposite.

Fritz:  Yeah, it’s hard not to like Tebow … great representative of faith.  So, despite ending the recruiting process early, what were your best and worst experiences during the entire process?

Justin:  I’d have to say the worst experiences happen once you commit and you have to tell all of the other colleges that you’re not interested.  That’s definitely the toughest.  One of the coolest parts, though, is when you’re in class and you step out into the hallway and a D1 coach is right there trying to recruit you to their school.

Jake:  Haha, a bit startling, I’m sure…

Justin:  Oh definitely!  And Notre Dame was the first to do everything.  They were the first to visit me, first place I signed an autograph, first college football game, all that!

Jake:  So, did you have any second thoughts on getting a Notre Dame tattoo before even signing your letter of intent?

Justin:  Haha, not at all!  You think about it, but at the end of the day, I’m going to Notre Dame for more than football.  It’s more about the degree coming out.  There’s really not a better place in the country, so there’s truly no reason for me to decommit.  Plus, it’s designed to be able to get filled in if need-be, haha.

Jake:  Well, hopefully that need never arises!Justin Brent tattooFritz:  Smart man … commit to the school rather than other things.  So, how much did the in-state location have to do with your commitment to ND?

Justin:  Another huge factor, for sure.  To be able to head home whenever I need to or be able to have people visit was very important – for my mom, as well as for me.  Her and my little sister will have the toughest time when it’s time for me to leave.  It’s just a blessing because Notre Dame is very straight forward when saying they want the best player in Indiana.  And they felt that that was me before everyone else started to see the same.

Fritz:  Yeah, they seem to do well recruiting in-state talent:  you, Jaylon, Kiel, Day, etc.

Jake:  That first year away is always the toughest.  But, if you stick it through, the reward after the 4-year degree will be well worth it for you and your family.

Justin:  Without a doubt!

Jake:  On your trips to ND, who have you created the strongest bond with?

Justin:  I mean, besides the coaching staff and a lot of the 2013 guys, since I was the second commit, they were the only people I could get to know early on.  The strongest bond had to be with Elijah Hood, though, and it wasn’t from being on campus either.  We actually roomed together in Chicago at the Rivals Top 100 5 Star Challenge.  Definitely became close there.

Jake:  Yeah, he mentioned that.  Said you were going to be a freak for ND!

Justin:  Hahaha, I appreciate that!

Fritz:  Are there any professional players you would say your game is comparable to?

Justin:  I mean, I’d love to leave that to other people to compare.  But, I do train with Tandon Doss from the Baltimore Ravens, and we have become like brothers over the past two years.

Fritz:  Always good when you can train with an NFLer.

Justin:  Yeah, he’s a very cool guy.  His tattoo artist actually did the Notre Dame tattoo we were talking about.

Jake:  Nice!  Also good when you can blaze your own trail.  We want a Justin Brent at ND … not someone we’ve already had.

Justin:  I definitely agree with that!

Jake:  What are you most looking forward to about going to The Opening in Oregon?

Justin:  I mean, it’s just like the Rivals camp:  just having fun with the guys.  No pressure since I’m already committed.

Jake:  Just living the life!  No cares in the world … just traveling to the west coast for some pickup ball.  No big deal!

Fritz:  Exciting to be on ESPN, I’m sure.

Justin:  Haha, it definitely comes with it.  Just another way for people in Indiana and Notre Dame fans to see.

Fritz:  Do you get involved much in the recruiting process, or just let the coaches handle it?

Justin:  I really don’t.  I don’t think I’m good at it, so I try to stay out.  I leave it up to Elijah.  He’s been very successful when it comes to that.

Jake:  No joke.  He’s all over that twitter!

Fritz:  That is understandable.  We have a great coaching staff that does a terrific job recruiting.  By the way, I just checked out Doss’s IU tattoo.  Pretty awesome!  That artist does a great job!

Justin:  Yeah, I’d honestly say he’s the best in Indianapolis, if not all of Indiana.

Jake:  Alright, this question is two-part.  What sort of legacy do you expect the Golden Army to leave upon graduating ND?  And do you have any personal goals while there?

Justin:  I mean, I really couldn’t tell you, but I feel as good as the 2013 class.  We’ve done a really good job coming after that.  And, I really only have one goal besides getting better every day and keeping the same work ethic.  When it comes to my freshman year, I hope to get into the rotation somehow.  I know it’s tough to start your freshman year, but I feel getting into the rotation should be my ultimate goal first and foremost.

Fritz:  Well, if you impress the coaches like you impressed those at the Rivals camp, that won’t be a problem.

Jake:  Great goal, man.  Seems like you’re a driven guy … it’s going to take a lot of drive and dedication to get on the field.  But, I’m telling you, man, from what I’ve seen, you’re certainly capable!

Justin:  Hey, that’s what I’m working toward.

Fritz:  So, are you playing basketball next year?  And chance you’ve spoken with Coach Brey about playing basketball at Notre Dame?

Justin:  I came to the conclusion that I probably won’t be playing basketball next year.  It was tough during the spring, because while I had to train and get ready for the summer circuit and basketball, I was also having workouts.  It was tough juggling everything.  So, it kind of put me in a bad situation as far as playing for next season.  And as far as basketball goes at Notre Dame, before I decided not to play, they were actually considering me.  So, I mean, that’s something that might be talked about when I get there.  But as of right now?  No.

Jake:  It’s certainly possible, but I completely understand focusing on just one sport.  Imagine how much greater you’ll become when you’re practicing and working out for only one.

Justin:  Exactly.  That went into the decision, as well.

Jake:  Alright man.  Is there one last message you’d like to give to ND Nation?  Your “last words” so to speak…

Justin:  Just can’t wait to get there, compete, and get better with the guys every day.  I’m excited to be a part of ND Nation!

Jake:  Well, I think I speak on behalf of Irish fans everywhere when I say we’re excited to have you, too.  Thanks again for the interview!

Justin:  Go Irish!

Advertisements

11 Irish Breakout Candidates – 2013

With the Notre Dame football season approaching, I can’t help but get excited.  There is a healthy balance of young talent to compliment the veterans.  So, here are 11 players who are primed to have breakout years:

11.  Elijah Shumate – With his sophomore season just around the corner, Elijah Shumate is set to have a big year.  With the loss of Zeke Motta to the NFL, someone is going to need to step up and fill the void left.  Shumate can be that man.  Last year, Elijah played primarily in nickel packages but made numerous plays on third downs for the Irish.  If he can learn the nuances of the safety position, he’ll be primed for an even bigger impact this year. Elijah Shumate10.  CJ Prosise – After the transfer of slot wide receiver, Davonte Neal, many Irish fans worried and wondered where the team would find another slot man.  Coach Kelly found his answer on the defensive side of the ball in CJ Prosise.  Prosise was a 3-star recruit that was recruited as a safety.  After all is said and done, Prosise will prove just how little star ratings mean.  He has already received a high amount of praise from the Irish coaching staff and was one of the bright spots in the spring game.  CJ made a few catches and had a long touchdown reception from Malik Zaire.

9.   Corey Robinson – As if it hasn’t been said enough before, being the son of David Robinson is no easy task; those are some big shoes to fill.  Luckily for Notre Dame, Corey Robinson, son of the Admiral, will be stepping into his own shoes on the football field.  Being that Robinson was an early enroll, most fans were looking forward to watching him in the spring game.  Unfortunately for them, he hyper-extended his elbow making a diving one-handed catch in practice.  The Irish faithful will have to wait until this season to see what Robinson has to offer.  Notre Dame is going to be looking for that big time receiving threat that is able to go up and get the ball in the endzone.  Much like Michael Floyd’s role in his early years, Robinson’s size and athleticism gives him the natural ability to go up and compete for it.

8.   KeiVarae Russell – Coming into last season, everyone was questioning the Notre Dame secondary.  After Lo Wood went down, people were really starting to worry.  In stepped freshman KeiVarae Russell who most thought was going to Notre Dame to be a running back.  You can imagine the panic and worry of the Notre Dame fanbase.  Five months later, Russell was named a freshman All-American cornerback.  He has great speed to keep up with the elite receivers and made many big plays throughout last season.  One such play was an interception on a deep pass against USC that helped Notre Dame lock up a spot in the national championship.  With one year under his belt, Russell is only going to get better. russell7.   Greg Bryant – Many times you hear about teams reeling in these elite 5-star recruits, but they don’t see the field for a couple years.  That won’t be the case with freshman running back Greg Bryant.  Bryant was one of the best surprises during the recruiting season.  And during the 2013 football season he could be the same.  While most high schoolers aren’t ready physically to step onto the college football field, look at Greg Bryant on film or in the weight room and you will quickly understand that this kid is ready to be a big time playmaker immediately.  Despite the talent already at the running back position including Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III, etc., Bryant should be getting some carries and chances to show that he can live up to the hype.

6.   DaVaris Daniels – Coming into this season, a small contingent of Notre Dame fans are worried about the receiving corp.  After losing the top receiving threat in tight end Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame will be looking for someone to step up and make big time plays.  This is where DaVaris Daniels will step in.  Daniels showed a great deal of potential last year and I expect him to be in or near the top tier of wide receivers in the country this year.  Daniels was part of a number of big plays for the Irish last year including a nice sideline grab versus Stanford in overtime and a long reception downfield versus Pittsburgh to help setup the game-tying touchdown.  Also, some may have forgotten (or wanted to forget) the national championship because of the lopsided score, but DaVaris reeled in six receptions for 115 yards.  Amazingly, despite his impressive play, he did not record a single touchdown last year.  I have a feeling that will be much different this year.

5.   Jarrett Grace – Replacing an icon is never an easy task, but we will find out if Jarrett Grace is up to the task.  One of the things that made Manti Te’o such a legendary player was his leadership on and off the field.  No one really knows how Grace will be, as he hasn’t had to be a leader thus far at Notre Dame.  But according to some close to the program, Jarrett will exceed all expectations.  After seeing Grace play in the spring game and from hearing the coaches talk of him, it seems like the sky is the limit.

4.   George Atkinson III – George Atkinson III grabbed the attention of Notre Dame fans his freshman year with big kick returns for touchdowns vs. Michigan State and USC.  On his returns, fans could see the top notch speed that Atkinson contained.  Before the season last year, I warned fans of opposing teams that Atkinson is one of the fastest players in college football to which I was constantly mocked.  After long runs versus Navy and Miami last year where he outran the whole defense, people can no longer doubt his top tier speed.  Not to mention George and his brother Josh helped lead the Notre Dame track team to a Big East Title their freshman year.  Atkinson was 8th in the nation last year among running backs averaging 7.08 yards per carry.  GA3 is great outside of the tackles, but the key is to get him to become an elite running back inside the tackles.  If he can do this, look for Notre Dame and Atkinson to have a monster season. George Atkinson III3.   Jaylon Smith – Throughout the NFL draft combine, all the talk was about Manti Te’o and his slow forty time.  Of course, no one wanted to comment about his natural instincts, athleticism, or leadership traits.  Well, if ND went 12-1 with a linebacker that “could only run a 4.7 forty,” then how good are the Irish going to be with freshman linebacker who runs a 4.4 forty?  Jaylon Smith is a freak athlete that is a true leader (as seen during the recruiting process), has good instincts, and can cover a lot of ground.  The thing that impressed me most when watching his high school highlights was watching him drop back into coverage on a receiver, seeing the quarterback roll out, and leaving the receiver while still making it in time to get the sack.  Jaylon may not start game one versus Temple, but I am sure you will see him making a lot of plays this year.

2.   Tommy Rees – Notre Dame football is built on legend and lore, whether it be Rudy or “Win one for the Gipper.”  However, with a great season this year, Tommy Rees could have one of the best stories in Notre Dame history.  The Kelly mantra of “Next Man In” doesn’t ring any truer than for Rees.  Freshman year – Dayne Crist goes down, Rees goes in to win four straight.  Sophomore year – Crist struggles first game of the season, Rees comes in and leads the Irish the rest of the season.  Junior year – Redshirt Freshman QB Everett Golson struggles at times, Tommy comes in to help the Irish beat Purdue, Michigan and leads ND to an overtime victory against Stanford after Golson was injured.  We all know his limitations, but he seems to find ways to help ensure his team wins games.  Sadly, because of his weaknesses and turnovers early in his career, a part of the fanbase has turned on him.  However, I think Tommy will win them back this year with his advanced knowledge of the offense.  Just remember quarterbacks like Quinn and Clausen early in their careers before you try to judge Tommy’s performance.  He is a senior, with a good amount of experience over his three years at ND.  And with the talent that surrounds him, he is set to have a big breakout year for the Irish.

1.   Amir Carlisle – Amir Carlisle transferred from USC to Notre Dame after his freshman year.  The NCAA granted him his hardship waiver that allowed him to play last year.  However, after a setback to an ankle injury, Carlisle eventually sat out his sophomore year.  During his freshman year at USC, Carlisle ran 19 times for 118 yards and had 7 receptions for 41 yards.  Carlisle was said to have been in the thick of the competition to start for USC his sophomore year before he decided to transfer.  What was USC’s loss will be Notre Dame’s gain, in a huge way.  The coaching staff has had nothing but great things to say about Amir this spring and made it seem like he will be a big time playmaker in the Notre Dame offense.  Don’t be surprised to see Carlisle in a role very similar to the one Theo Riddick played last year.  In other words, Carlisle will be in at the running back position for a couple plays then will swap out to the slot wide receiver position.  He has to be on the field at all times.  Notre Dame fans are curious if Amir is injury prone (ankle injury last year and a broken collarbone this spring), or if they were just fluke injuries.  But if he stays healthy, don’t be surprised to hear his name often.Amir Carlisle-Fritz

Elijah Hood: Laying the Wood

5-star commit, Elijah Hood, sporting Irish gear.

5-star commit, Elijah Hood, sporting Irish gear.

Last year, Notre Dame brought in two big-time running backs from the south.  This year, they added another:  Elijah Hood.  Watch film on him and you will quickly understand why he is a 5-star recruit and considered one of the best backs in the country.  Off the field, he has taken over as the leader and top recruiter for the Golden Army ’14.  Luckily, we had a chance to interview this charismatic commit about Notre Dame and the whole recruiting process.

Jake:  Elijah, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to interview with us.  We’ll dive right in.  What were your best and worst experiences during the recruiting process?

Hood:  The best part was definitely the visits.  Every visit was great because the colleges want you so badly that they try and make it as great of an experience as possible for you.  At least all the schools I went to did a really good job.  The worst part, though, is the recruiters constantly bugging you about your decision and when you’ll be narrowing it down and whatnot.

Jake:  I can’t imagine how tiring it must be.  Especially added on top of your busy school and football workload…

Hood:  Yeah, it gets really repetitive.

Jake:  Maybe you should’ve created the #RollToilet video a little earlier to get the message across sooner!

**Next question is from fan, Trevor Leitz, who won our contest**:  After you committed to the Notre Dame family, were you surprised by the amount of support you received from the fans?  And did you receive anything negative from other fanbases?

Hood:  Yeah, my mom knew you guys were crazy about football up here, so I saw the love coming for sure.  As far as negative feedback from other fanbases, not really.  Maybe just some fake girlfriend jokes, but I mean, it’s Notre Dame…it doesn’t get any better!

Elwood:  Hell, even I get fake girlfriend jokes.  She did make the Maxim Top 100 hottest women, though.  Pretty good for someone who isn’t real.

Hood:  Hahaha, no doubt!

Fritz:  Notre Dame fans are certainly one of a kind, that’s for sure.  Anyway, since Coach Kelly has gotten to Notre Dame, he seems to be putting a big emphasis on recruiting in North Carolina.  Do you feel like local opinion has changed for the Irish since so many players (Farley, Harrell, Okwara, Councell, yourself) are coming out of there?

Hood:  I see the influence in Charlotte because that is where most of us are from.  But as a state, I’m not really sure they’ve reached the other parts yet.

Elwood:  Can’t comment on what you don’t know.  I can definitely understand that.  Charlotte puts out a lot of talent, so we’ll take it!

Hood:  I think if some of our guys from NC do well up there, people would definitely start noticing more.

Jake:  Most profiles have you listed at 5’11” 221lbs and running a 4.5.  Would you say those are accurate numbers?

Hood:  I think I’ve lost like 3 pounds due to this southern heat, but yeah, everything else looks good, haha!

Elwood:  Bro, I’m from the deep south, so I feel you on that.  Damn humidity!

Jake:  You’ll pack it back on easily during South Bend’s winters, though.

Hood:  At least I won’t be going to the hottest campus ever…Clemson!

Elwood:  Who at ND did you feel like you created the strongest bond with?  And who in your recruiting class?

Hood:  The strongest bond definitely goes to Coach Alford.  He is the man.  I love that guy!  As far as in my class:  that’s a tough one, but I’m on really good terms with my man, Justin Brent, since rooming with him at the 5* Challenge.  The dude is a beast, too!

Elwood:  Oh, for sure.  He is definitely on the come-up as far as rankings go.

Hood:  For sure!  I saw it live!  He dominates!  Must be all that basketball agility?

Fritz:  And Brent sure does love his Irish.  I believe he recently got an ND tattoo!

Hood:  For real?!?  That is so fire!  I noticed he already had a nice collection going.

Fritz:  Yeah, he is pretty inked up.  So, who is the best player you have seen thus far in the country after being at all those camps?

Hood:  Oh goodness.  That’s way too hard to say.  Everyone was amazing at doing their jobs.

Fritz:  There wasn’t anyone you saw where you said, “I want that kid playing with me at ND?”

Hood:  Man…all of them!  They were all freaks.

Jake:  You seem to be very popular on twitter, and are very vocal about getting top-tier talent around you.  Who are some of the guys you are trying to get on board?

Hood:  Basically anyone that’s interested and has an offer, we’ll go after.  But, more specifically, we need WR and D-linemen the most.  Hopefully Kizer can pull some, too.

Elwood:  Well, ND is definitely in it for a lot of top guys at those positions.

Hood:  We just need to get them on board.  It’s a long journey for most.  And you know how these WRs are…a little touchy from time to time, haha.

Elwood:  For sure.  (Said WR) just got offered, and I know several other highly-rated recruits like ND, too.  (Said ATH) can play WR, as well.  Some serious talent out there at WR!

Hood:  Yeah, they’re all over the place!

Elwood:  So, speaking of other recruits, how often did other players mention “Roll Toilet” to you at the Rivals camp?

Hood:  Hahahahahahahaha, a lot, man.  We had a great time with it.  Everyone there was real cool.

Jake:  I can’t imagine too many people being upset about that.  The ND coaches were probably secretly thrilled, too!

Fritz:  You definitely have to enjoy the whole process and have some fun with it.  Talk about the legacy you want the Golden Army class to leave behind after you all have graduated.

Hood:  We want to be the class that got the ring.

Jake:  Just one?

Hood:  Win one first.  You play to win the game…one season at a time.

Elwood:  I like that.  Throwing some Herm Edwards at us.

Jake:  Any legacy off the field?

Hood:  Roll Toilet = off-the-field-legacy complete.  Haha, just kidding.  Seriously, though.  I’m just going to stay true to myself.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I’m going to aim for greatness and let the cards do what they will.  It’s all in God’s hands.

Jake:  Certainly good goals to have.  Notre Dame has recruited some serious talent in this class and last class to ensure winning the line of scrimmage.  How excited are you to be able to run behind guys like Nelson, Bars, Byrne, and Mustipher?

Hood:  Lineman?  Man, I L-O-V-E linemen!  They are my lifeblood.

Jake:  Their talent makes your job 100 times easier.  Mix that with your talent…yikes, man!

Hood:  I don’t really know them well yet, but I really love my linemen.  They’re the ones who make me look good.  I mean, I’d take a bullet for my line.

Fritz:  For sure.  They free you up to get to that second level, and then you can just let your speed and power take over from there.

Hood:  Second level is all I want.  I don’t want guys like Clowney just running at me without being touched.  That’s a bad day…

Jake:  Already bashing Michigan?  I love it!  Poor Vincent Smith…

Elwood:  I don’t want guys like Clowney running at me…ever.  What college or pro player do you see yourself similar to?  Who do you try to emulate?

Hood:  Gosh, I don’t know.  I just run.  I don’t try to copy; I just try to be great.  I mean, no one’s ever going to be like me but myself, so I don’t want to compare myself to anyone either.  Like, Barry, Herschel, Emmitt…those guys are themselves.

Elwood:  So, instead of being the next “whoever,” you just want to be the first Elijah Hood.  I get ya.

**Next question is from fan, Martin Diaz, who also won our contest**:  What non-football place or thing did you like most about campus?

Hood:  Food.  I love to eat, and they always bring good food to the football recruits.

Jake:  Yeah?  I tell you what, man.  The VIP breakfast before the Spring Game didn’t settle well with me.  Down and out for days…

Hood:  Hahahaha.  I’m just saying, when I started early on, South Carolina had some BBQ that made you want to commit then and there.  It was banging!

Elwood:  South Carolina does have some serious BBQ.

Hood:  So serious!  Clemson threw down, as well.  Man, got me all hungry now!

Elwood:  Ha, anything else you want to add for ND Nation?

Hood:  Hey, y’all pay for my scholarship, I love you!  I’m going to be in South Bend this weekend.  Going to have a blast with the fellas.

Jake:  Can’t wait for you to suit up, Elijah.  Stay safe this summer and good luck this next school year!

Notre Dame: This Is Your Future

Malik Zaire soaks up his moment at this year's Blue Gold Game.

Malik Zaire soaks up his moment at this year’s Blue Gold Game.

We asked the newest member of G&BB, Fritz Hrdlicka, to write something he loves about Notre Dame as his “initiation.”  This is what he came up with:

National Signing Day:  the day college football enthusiasts like myself look forward to most.  I wake up very early in the morning, and the first thing I do is open my computer to get the live updates on who has sent in their letter of intent.  However, I believe I am different from most fans when I analyze my team’s recruiting class.  Most people look to see how many 5-star and 4-star players their team signed, which is great and all, but stars only go so far.  What I noticed this year in the Notre Dame recruiting class were two things:  players of high character and players that had an intense passion and love for the university.

A large contingent of Notre Dame fans out there like to believe that our coaches only recruit kids of high character that do no wrong.  Recently in several offseason incidents, we were reminded that these are college kids, and that not every kid we recruit is perfect.  However, when looking at our most recent class, I am amazed by the maturity and understanding of life that several of these recruits have.
Michael Deeb, for example, “gets it.”  This is a guy that is constantly in the weight room trying to make sure no one is outworking him.  This is a guy that is constantly tweeting to his fellow recruits about working out, getting to Notre Dame, how excited he is about his future, and about how God and his family have played a huge role in making him the person he is today.  I follow around 350 people on twitter and this kid is hands down my favorite to follow.
When I think back to my childhood about classy athletes – guys of character – David Robinson is one of the first guys that comes to mind.  Luckily for us, his son Corey committed to Notre Dame.  At the time, there wasn’t a huge recruitment for Corey, but the Irish coaching staff knew what they were doing when they offered him.  He is going to be a big time playmaker on the field, if not this year, definitely in the future.  If you watched any videos from the spring practices, you know what I mean.  Being a standout player is one thing, but being a standout person is another.  And Corey is both.  Again, you can see the impact his parents had on raising him through his words and through his actions.

Fortunately, I was able to meet Corey before the spring game at the VIP brunch.  You can tell some players don’t necessarily want to be there and are anxious for the meet-and-greet to be over.  However, there are a select few that enjoy the company and conversations of their fans.

Last year at the meet-and-greet, I was really impressed by Amir Carlisle.  He came off very friendly and is a “yes sir, thank you sir” kind of kid.  This year I didn’t get the chance to meet as many players, but the two I did meet that really stood out were Robinson and early enrollee, James Onwualu.  Both were extremely personable and seemed excited to be at Notre Dame.  You could sense that they enjoyed chatting with their fans.

A vital part of the recruiting process this last year was finding kids that have a passion and love for Notre Dame.  The coaches wanted to find leaders, guys that could really hold the class together while inspiring other athletes to explore the option of visiting the campus.  No player did this better than Jaylon Smith.  Jaylon could have been a prima donna and committed to Notre Dame and just gone off to do his own thing if he wanted.  But that isn’t who he is.  Jaylon wanted to try everything he could to bring in every top recruit.  Smith, along with several other early recruits, decided to go with the mantra of “Irish Mob 13” and encouraged many others to join him.  Almost every time a big time recruit was on campus, Smith was there to visit.  Jaylon didn’t have to do that – he didn’t have to spend his time and gas going back to campus to try to help reel in another recruit – but he did.

Who knows how many decisions that may have impacted, but I know I saw several commits say the thing they really liked about the school is “the people.”  In other words, “the people” like Jaylon that will go out of their way to make ND even more special than it already is.

While watching the spring game, there wasn’t a lot that stuck out to me.  I know everyone was talking about Irish Chocolate and his play at quarterback as the play of the game.  For me, my favorite play was watching Early Enroll, Malik Zaire throw his touchdown pass to CJ Prosise.  The touchdown was one thing, but watching an overly-excited Zaire rush down the field to tackle Prosise in celebration took the cake for me.  Remind you, this kid should still have been a senior in high school when the game was played, so you would expect someone to be timid.  Remind you, this is the spring game and most players don’t show that kind of excitement and enthusiasm.  Malik did, and I believe that passion is really going to make him something special.

I tweeted to Trent Dilfer after hearing the news of Golson being dismissed from Notre Dame.  I asked Trent if he thought Malik Zaire could handle starting duties this year at Notre Dame.  Most “celebrities” or ESPN personalities would just ignore a tweet like that.  But Dilfer, the leader of Elite 11, sent a simple reply saying “yes”.

These are just a few examples of how great this recruiting class truly is.  They were a highly-touted class on the field, and I think they are going to be very special to watch off the field.  Since I started following recruiting five years ago, this class really sticks out as different and special.  Could there be slip-ups?  Absolutely.  These are young kids, and young kids make mistakes.  But one thing is for sure, the future for Notre Dame football is very bright!

Go Irish!

Gridiron Redemption for Tommy Ice

Tommy Rees

Tommy Rees will likely see his workload increase due to the suspension of starter Everett Golson.

I admit it…I’m guilty.

I was upset when news broke that Tommy Rees was arrested and charged with four misdemeanors.  Not because the poor kid was humiliated by all major media outlets, but because that poor kid gave all major media outlets a reason to degrade the University of Notre Dame for a week.

I booed as Tommy took the field for the first time this season against Purdue.  I reveled in the hysteria that ensued in the rows in front of and behind me because it made me feel good about my firm stance against him.

I laughed at his 2 yard rushing scamper that ended up being the deciding touchdown against Michigan.

I missed the Stanford game due to a wedding.  And as my buddies and I crowded around my phone at the reception, we all groaned when we saw Tommy enter the game with the time winding down.  I gave him zero credit for marching the team down the field to set up a tying field goal that ultimately sent us to overtime.  I gave him zero credit for his go-ahead touchdown pass to TJ Jones.

And the sad thing is, I’m as guilty as everyone else.

As a fan of the game, it’s easy to be a couch coach.  It’s easy to pick apart each play and player and see that Tommy Rees has very little to offer in the athletic ability department.

And, it’s also easy, at least as of today, to dread the 2013 season…a season that I deemed as “the year” the moment Brian Kelly took over as coach.  It’s easy to hang the cleats up, hang our heads down, and once again, whip out that ever-so-lovely “well, maybe next year is our year” cliché.

But I refuse to be shaken.  I refuse to take part in the hysterics any longer.  I stand firm by my bold, 4-year-old prediction.

In 2013, we will be fine!

I realize that I will receive a lot of flack for this.  I also realize that I could have kept this article within the confines of my own thoughts and let someone else fall on the sword.

But, I can’t stand it anymore.  I’m absolutely sick of the whining and complaining.  I’m tired of this fair-weather fandom.  It’s time to support our team through its darkest days; time to be the best 12th man in the country; and yes, it’s time to willingly hand the reigns over to Tommy Rees.

I know it’s not the ideal situation.  But at Notre Dame, we ought to be used to that by now.  And I’m with all of you.  Tommy isn’t my first (or even second) choice at quarterback.

But, all the pieces of the puzzle have fit perfectly into place for us to go on a run.

Think about it.  Tommy has a full season of experience, albeit not a very satisfying one from a fan’s standpoint.  But, it’s valuable experience nonetheless.  He has a posted record of 14-4 as a starter, and 95% of those games came as a true freshman or sophomore.

The majority of his junior season was spent mentoring another freshman quarterback…one who also clearly had struggles of his own.  As a teacher, I know that one of the best ways for a student to really grasp a concept is to have that student teach it to another student.  Tommy spent all of last season doing just that.

He also spent several minutes throughout the 2012 season on the custodial staff.  He was the Mariano Rivera of the college football world.  And when things got sticky, he pulled out his mop without complaining and got right to work.

As much as it used to pain me to say this, he did in fact, help us march to a BCS championship berth.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve talked with people close to the organization who say that this upcoming season is now in shambles.  That we went from a 12-0 team to a 6-6 team.  That there’s no way we can win valuable games without Everett Golson.

Ouch.

Why did we even hire Brian Kelly to begin with?  I mean, honestly?  You think one of the winningest coaches in all of college football is concerned with the departure of one player?  I understand that that one player carries a vital role within the organization, but let’s be honest here:  if our team automatically goes from winning 12 games to 6 simply because we lost our quarterback, then wouldn’t it be safe to say that Kelly has wasted the last four years of recruiting and coaching?

Relax.

If there’s anything that Tommy proved last year, it’s that he’s more than capable of coming in when tension is high.  Last year’s transition from Tommy Turnover to Tommy Ice may have, in fact, proven to be one of the most critical growth progressions on the team.

And now, with our star starting quarterback off campus for a semester, I’m completely confident in Tommy’s ability to lead.

Two years ago, Tommy Rees threw 14 interceptions in, what seemed like, the most crucial moments.  One year ago, however, coaches praised him for his newly acquired ability to read defenses, something that Everett had a hard time grasping.  What’s more interesting is that two years ago, Tommy posted 2800 passing yards to go along with 20 touchdowns and a 133.4 Passer Rating, all three marks better than Everett did in his first year as a starter.

I realize that he doesn’t have the game-changing ability or ceiling that Everett has.  He doesn’t have the escapability either.  But, he’s a game manager.  And that’s all this team will need this season.

After all, isn’t that all Alabama needed the last two years?  Don’t get me wrong…AJ McCarron’s 30-3 TD/INT ratio is more than impressive.  But he wasn’t known last year for being an elite passer.  He was known for being an elite manager.

I’m not comparing AJ’s ability to Tommy’s by any means.  I realize that the former will likely be suiting up on Sundays and the latter will more than likely be in a suit on Sundays.  But, I am comparing the 2012 Crimson Tide to the 2013 Fighting Irish.

Listen.  We’re going to play a quick game.  I’m going to list some attributes of one of those two teams, and you’re going to say out loud which team first comes to mind.

Ready?

Top-tier defense with a plethora of NFL-ready talent.  Able to stop the run better than anyone else.  Tight in the redzone, and stingy in the endzone.  Big bodies on the line, experienced bruisers in the middle, and quick pickers in the secondary.

A slew of highly-talented running backs.  A position so deep that the 3rd stringer could start at most D-I schools.  Blazing speed mixed with bone-crushing ability.

An experienced offensive line that hardly allows opposing defenses to penetrate.  Creates holes and gaps so wide, Moses would be jealous.  Protects the quarterback better than anyone in the country.

And finally, a signal caller who has all day to pass.  Who is willing and confident to hand the ball off 50 times a game.  One who can read defenses, call the appropriate audibles, and thrive in the tensest moments.

If you said 2012 Alabama, great job!

If you said 2013 Notre Dame, you also win!

If last year proved anything about winning in college football, it showed that it is essential to have a well-rounded team…a tough defense, protection for the quarterback, deep trenches, and clock management by an army of talented running backs.

We have that.

Still.

The pieces are there.  The personnel are there.  The talent and experience is there.  And though our “quarterback of the future” is not, a capable game manager is.

He has nothing to lose at this point.  He has doubters in every corner of the nation.  He’s been booed.  He’s been ridiculed.  Heck, he’s even been arrested.  But, what I do know is that the players love him.  That he’s matured in the last two years.  And that he is going to put every ounce of his ability to leading this team to another championship game.

We may have to live through yet another heart-attack season.  We may not win every game by 28 points like we had hoped.  But, Tommy will rise to the occasion, we will win, and as dedicated domers, we will survive yet another glorious season.

There.  I did it.  I convinced myself that we’ll be fine.  Go Irish!

Jay Hayes: Irish Cinnamon?

Jay Hayes looking stacked in his future ND uniform!

Jay Hayes looking stacked in his future ND uniform!

G&BB had the privilege to sit down this evening with a future Notre Dame star.  With his comical stance on life and his everlasting dreams, we’re extremely excited to introduce you to 4-star DT, Jay Hayes.  Though the interview looks long, it’s an easy read thanks to his positive outlook and classy responses.  Enjoy, ND Nation!

Jake:  What can Notre Dame Nation expect out of you as a player and as a man?

Jay:  Notre Dame can definitely expect a player who will reach his maximum potential, if not exceed it.  I will also promote and advertise great character on and off the field as a student-athlete for the university.  My play and sense of style will have fans excited and grateful to be apart of this program.

Jake:  People are already calling you the next Big Lou.  Between your April Fools joke on Instagram and your rising popularity within the fanbase, how does the comparison with someone like Nix make you feel?

Jay:  It can definitely create huge expectations!  However, I’m willing to surpass his comical personality (I THINK I’M FUNNIER)!  And, as far as play, it definitely has me striving to allow my performance on the field to leave a large mark on the history of Notre Dame Football like he has.

Jake:  That’s great!  If you could convince Nix to stay one more season after this, the media would go nuts with you two together, I’m sure!

Jay:  They definitely will.  But, by hearing his story, I believe he will pursue the NFL.  But trust me, I DEFINITELY WANT TO PLAY WITH LOU.  Irish Chocolate 2.0 (points to myself).

Jake:  I love it!  I think we could definitely get that going once you step foot onto campus.

Jay:  Yessir!  I just have to make a huge impact on the field, which I will do!  If I continue to work as hard as my body will let me, we could get t-shirts printed.  That’d be sick!

Jake:  You prove it on the field, we’ll make it work…that’s G&BB’s promise to you!

Jay:  That’s the goal!  LET’S WIN!!

Jake:  The 2014 class is already shaping up to be one of the best, yet again.  What do you think needs to happen in order for that to continue to happen?  And have the commits already decided on a vocal leader to help recruit?  We noticed Elijah Hood got right to work on Twitter and Facebook…

Jay:  Yeah, I feel as if we all need to be contributing to the recruiting of other student-athletes.  I feel as if it would mean more to a player if a group as a whole approached and contacted that recruit and told him that it would be a pleasure to get the chance to play with him.  So, we all basically need to be on the same level of communication of getting the essential, must-get recruits.

Jake:  Last class, Jaylon Smith committed early, and went on a recruiting rampage.  A lot of people claim he was a main reason the 2013 class was so tight-knit and elite.  Are you willing to fill that role for this class?

Jay:  Yeah, that is definitely great for Jaylon, and I’m glad he has held a class together.  But yeah, I can definitely contribute to recruiting and bringing a class together.  When it comes to elite and top prospect guys, though, we as a group will have to illustrate our genuine interest in that player.

Jake:  Exactly!  The thing that separates ND from the rest is our strict policies and high academic standards.  We don’t recruit just anyone.  With that being said, what was the best and worst part of the whole recruiting process?

Jay:  Yeah, ND has loosened up these past two years on letting certain student-athletes enter the school.  Prior to that, if you really didn’t have good grades or SATs, you wouldn’t even be considered.  Which, I think, explains the past couple decades.  The best part of the whole process, though, would probably be getting to know some of the fans…knowing that they truly care about me as an individual.

Jake:  We definitely have one of the most passionate fanbases, that’s for sure.

Jay:  The worst part would be the useless waste of paper, in reference to all the mail being sent to my house and school on a daily basis.  Hahaha!

Jake:  Ha!  Aren’t you glad that new rule about unlimited texting to the recruits was overturned?  That would be INSANE for a 17 year old kid to deal with!

Jay:  Oh yeah.  I mean, it definitely can get overwhelming for one.  But certain recruits act as if they’re already Hollywood.  The recruiting process can lure a 17 year old kid into thinking he’s 26.

Jake:  Oh, absolutely.  And that’s where the trouble (and violations) begins, too.  So, you attend a high school close to where Ishaq Williams did.  How has Ishaq’s decision to attend Notre Dame influenced you?

Jay:  I’ve always heard of Ishaq around NYC.  But unfortunately and surprisingly, there was never a personal relationship between us.  One obviously should not disregard the fact that I admired his decision once I heard he’d be attending ND, though.  The rarity of a Brooklyn kid from the inner city who has an opportunity to attend Notre Dame gets no bigger.

Jake:  Once in a lifetime, man…you’re going to make a lot of people proud!

Jay:  Yessir!  I’m carrying NYC with pride.  Most importantly, though, I can’t let my family down.  And I definitely won’t!  Especially once I get that degree that says “UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME.”

Jake:  40 year decision…

Jay:  Man, exactly.  It can’t be rephrased any better!  Wait, yes it can.  41 year decision…hahahaha!

Jake:  We’ll just say “lifetime decision” and call it good, ha!  Has there ever been a time in your life where you had to overcome a major obstacle?

Jay:  Yes, the act of quitting my little league football team.  Like, I just wasn’t the same after that, knowing that I’d become a quitter.  It was someone I had to live with and it literally killed me inside.

Jake:  What came of that?  Clearly, you didn’t stay away too long…

Jay:  Well, now I look back at that moment when times get hard and say to myself, “I can’t let myself down, and more importantly, the team.”  I find it crazy how little moments in life that people look past can actually have a bigger meaning and serve as motivation to a much larger struggle that one may endure now or in the near future.

Jake:  The good thing about Notre Dame’s coaching staff is how much they instill camaraderie into the players.  There’s such a huge support system there, and with the lesson you learned from that little league experience, the future is extremely bright for you there!

Jay:  I really appreciate it, man.  I’m taking things step by step.

Jake:  A couple more questions.  Thanks so far.  You’ve had some great responses!

Jay:  Anytime.  I’m not one of those dudes who are like, “Yeah, things are great.”  “Yeah, I like football, ‘cause it’s cool.”  “Yeah, I like the process.”  Talk about boo to the bland!

Jake:  Haha, which is why ND recruits guys like you who are well-spoken!  So, most recruiting sites have you at 6’5” 270lbs…sound about right?

Jay:  Yeah, just about!

Jake:  Run me through a typical day for you…school, workout, practice, diet, etc.

Jay:  Ok.  I’ll start off a day by waking up and eating a bowl of………….IRISH CHOCOLATE 2.0 CRUNCH (FYI, that’s a new cereal that came out)!  Stretching in the morning is a must.  Then, I head on the bus towards my school.  I go through an extreme workload from classes.  Then, I’ll eat lunch which usually I stack up on egg whites and a salad with a ton of turkey and watered down with some cranberry juice.  Then after school, you will catch me in the weight room competing amongst my peers.  After that are team meetings, and then off to practice.  I take the bus home, get to my homework done, and Facebook chat with Jake.  Hahahaha!

Jake:  Whoa whoa whoa.  I don’t think I’m quite ready for this sort of daily commitment, dude.  I’m a married man!

Jay:  Hahahaha.  Sorry!  Also, my Spanish teacher is a headache.  SMH!

Jake:  Ah, no te gusta?

Jay:  Si!  I swear he is bipolar!

Jake:  (FYI, I had to look that up on google translate…)

Jay:  Hahahahaha, hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

Jake:  That’s right!  Alright, what sort of legacy do you and your teammates want to leave behind at Notre Dame?

Jay:  I don’t want to generalize for the whole class, but who cares, haha.

Jake:  Well, I’m sure y’all have some similar thoughts in common…like, you know…a couple championship rings?

Jay:  Well, I feel as if we all want to succeed at ND on and off the field, and leave a bigger legacy than previous classes.  And we definitely desire a few BCS titles under our belt!

Jake:  Beautiful!  Any last words for ND Nation?

Jay:  #GoIrish!  IRISH CHOCLATE 2.0.  Wait…nevermind, scratch that!  How about IRISH CINNAMON?  ND Nation, help me decide!

Jake:  I like that.  Start your OWN legacy!  Once you get on the field, we’ll get that going.

Jay:  Just have to keep working hard.  Thanks again for the interview!

Restocking the Shelves

Irish Mob '13 courtesy of Turning Point.

Irish Mob ’13 courtesy of Turning Point.

The spotlight never dims, even when the Irish are in the midst of their darkest performances.  The vultures, the critics scratch and claw their own mundane path to relevancy at the expense of Notre Dame’s famed football program.

And that program that is so rich in tradition, so vibrant in story, so expectant in opportunity, never falters.  They never waver.

Why?

Because they will always restock their shelves.  At the end of every season, elite talent is chosen from a very select pool of educated, articulate, and esteemed high school athletes.

There’s no secret to having a stout recruiting season.  You win, they come.  Plain and simple.  But for close to a quarter century, Notre Dame has not won.  They have not produced.  They’ve been hyped by every media outlet before every season, only to underperform and disappoint.

And the world loves it.

In fact, I had the pleasure of “discussing” Notre Dame’s irrelevancy before this season began with a fan of a team who has won half a championship since the 1940’s.  Little did he know, the Irish would go on to an undefeated regular season (including a win under the lights against his beloved Wolverines), a national championship birth … and a top 3 recruiting class.

You win, they come.

But, with Notre Dame, they’ve always come.  The tradition, the gold helmets, the magical campus has always attracted talent.  So, what’s so different about this 2013 class?

Mob mentality.

These recruits get it.  They fight, and claw, and bleed for each other … and they haven’t even played a down of football on Kelly’s grass.

3-star linebacker commit, Mike Deeb understands the importance of camaraderie at this level.  He understands that championships don’t come with mere talent, but with talent doused in compatibility and character.

“We all get along very well and take pride in continuing excellence at Notre Dame,” Deeb said.  “This class is full of highly-talented and solid-character guys.”

Everyone knows that the Irish have always recruited well.  But that ability hasn’t always equated to wins.  However, the brotherhood that was formed on February 6th, 2013 (National Signing Day) is changing the culture at Notre Dame.  If taken onto the field, it will be near impossible to stop.

“We’re all very close.  None of us plan on losing at all while we’re there,” 4-star linebacker commit, Doug Randolph, said.  “It’s unlikely, and we’ll learn valuable lessons from each loss, but we don’t plan on having any.”

4-star offensive line commit, John Montelus, wants nothing less from one of the best classes in Notre Dame history, either.  “We plan to leave Notre Dame as the best team ever.”

Deeb agrees and declares that “the goal will be to remain with the #1 graduation rate in the country while bringing championships back to Notre Dame.”

It’s that outlook that knits a team together.  And not just for one year of relevance either … but several.  Anyone who thinks the Irish had a fluke season can join my Michigan buddy at the dinner table to enjoy a nice meal of fried crow.

And eat as much as you can, too, because the Irish are back; and they’re going to be cleaning the table and sweeping the floor for many years to come.

The major media outlets all agreed that Notre Dame recruited a top 3 class this year … the talent is there once again.

But more importantly, the camaraderie is back, and it’s walking hand-in-hand with Notre Dame’s relevancy.  Kumbaya, my friends … kumbaya.

“We just see ourselves as one big family.  We’re always in touch,” said Montelus.  “So, needless to say, we’re pretty excited to get up there this summer.”

ND Nation is excited, too, John.  And the entire world will be watching … waiting for you to fall once more.  America loves to see the good guys take a knock to the chin.  They love seeing champions relent.

But, let that spotlight shine bright.  Because the world needs to see that this time, despite the obstacles, despite the constant condemnation, the Irish will not fall.  They have that mob mentality, that brotherhood, and they will most certainly never surrender without a fight…

Congratulations to the incoming freshmen who are about to extend the vibrant history of Notre Dame football.