-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
The Fighting Irish have offered a national brand on the recruiting trail for the entirety of their football playing existence, and that is no more apparent than in the 2012 signing class. It took 14 different states to fill out a modest 17-man class as Brian Kelly pulled exactly one prospect from 12 different states. Only two states — Indiana (3) and North Carolina (2), which had talented senior classes — sent more than one player to South Bend.
Uncharacteristically, Indiana served up the nation's No. 2 quarterback as well as a near top-100 defensive lineman. Otherwise, Kelly attacked every region of the country. California, Washington, Arizona and Nevada sent players to South Bend from the West, while Illinois and Ohio delivered one Midwest prospect each. He went into South Carolina, Florida and Virginia in the Southeast as well as New York and New Jersey in the Northeast to get talent. Texas also sent one recruit to Notre Dame as well.
Areas of Focus:
This class, just like the 2012 Notre Dame football season, all begins with the quarterback position. Brian Kelly pulled quite an upset when former Indiana and LSU commitment Gunner Kiel enrolled in classes at Notre Dame. The nation's No. 2 quarterback in the nation has all the physical tools to compete for playing time right away but will have to overcome the stigma that comes along with committing to three different teams. Analysts across the country will be tougher on Kiel due to his lack of decisiveness throughout the recruitment process. Irish fans certainly know what Les Miles thinks of the young signal- caller from Indiana. He finished with 7,175 yards in his Columbus East career.
A pair apiece of running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen round out a smallish offensive class. Kei'Varae Russell leads the the running game after three straight 1,000-yard seasons at Mariner High. He scored 48 times on the ground over that span. Justin Ferguson is the top-rated pass-catcher and brings the Florida speed to South Bend. The interesting development will be where AC100 talent Davonte Neal lands. The uber-talented but much-maligned athlete could play a variety of positions on the next level and would boost either the running or passing game should he land on offense.
Nationally ranked Ronnie Stanley is the top blocker in this class and comes to South Bend from power program Bishop Gorman.
If Neal lands on defense, as a cornerback, this would be one of the deepest and most talented secondary classes in the nation. Without Neal, this is a five-man group that features AC100 talent Tee Shepard and nationally rated star safety Elijah Shumate. Shepard has enrolled early and needs to get up to speed quickly as he sat out his senior season after transferring, but he was on the roster for Washington Union's third straight state title. Shumate played at prep powerhouse Don Bosco Prep in the Garden State and excelled at both running back (14 touchdowns on 60 carries) and safety.
Kelly recruited one of the best defensive lines in the nation last season and it showed in the bowl game. Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day, both of whom were at one point in the AC100, only add depth to an already stellar defensive front. Jones checks in at 6-6 and 298 pounds but has some work to develop after playing in the not-so-difficult New York prep ranks. Day is a 6-2, 275-pound tweener who was the runner-up for Indiana's Mr. Football award in 2011.
This is not a deep class, but with the amount of talent returning to South Bend, Kelly didn't need one. The secondary and quarterback positions were totally stabilized, while the defensive line got even deeper. Look for offensive line and linebacker to be a big area of focus next cycle.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 2, TE: 0, OL: 2, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 2, LB: 1, DB: 5, K/P/LS: 1
Other National Signees:
101. Jarron Jones, DL (6-6, 298), Rochester (N.Y.) Aquinas Institute
116. Sheldon Day, DL (6-2, 275), Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central
117. Elijah Shumate, DB (6-1, 205), East Orange (N.J.) Don Bosco
167. Kei'Varae Russell, RB (6, 177), Everett (Wash.) Mariner
172. Ronnie Stanley, OL (6-6, 285), Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman
186. Justin Ferguson, WR (6-2, 205), Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan
Gunner Kiel, QB (6-4, 220), Columbus (Ohio) East
Sheldon Day, DL (6-2, 275), Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central
Tee Shepard, DB (6-1, 175), Fresno (Calif.) Washington Union
Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4