After their 4-8 debacle this fall, Notre Dame was eager to look ahead to 2017. With Signing Day now history and the roster for next year set, everyone associated with the program can put their focus on the upcoming season.
On Wednesday, the Irish staff signed high school stars that hail from California, Connecticut, and 19 points in between. Here are five things that can be gleaned from Notre Dame following National Signing Day.
1. The New Staff Worked Very Hard Right to the End
The dismal season that resulted in a a head coach on the hot seat which in turn resulted in the gutting of the coaching staff made life very difficult. As the season wore on, de-commitments started piling up, leaving the Irish staff with plenty of holes to fill at the end, especially on defense. Many of those were plugged in the last week with ND adding safety Jordan Genmark-Heath, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kofi Wardlow, and Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah to the defensive fold and Jafar Armstrong filling an open wide receiver spot. These may not be five-star (or even four-star) prospects, but they give Notre Dame options at positions where they were thin. The new assistant coaches did a great job in the final stages in identifying new prospects, generating interest in Notre Dame, and getting letters of intent signed.
2. There is a Change in Defensive Philosophy
At one point in the recruiting cycle, Notre Dame had three linebackers committed and was willing to take another if he was an elite talent. When Pete Werner de-committed, the expectation was that the Irish would have to add another true second-level player. But new defensive coordinator Mike Elko had a different view. In his 4-2-5 scheme, the Irish will not need as many true linebackers and the recruiting focus shifted to more hybrid safety/linebacker prospects, a position Elko calls the rover. Late additions Genmark-Heath and Owusu-Karamoah are both that type of athlete.
3. Harry Hiestand Can Recruit Offensive Linemen
This is obviously something that Notre Dame fans already knew, but the point was re-emphasized this recruiting season. Notre Dame received commitments from touted prospects Dillan Gibbons, Josh Lugg and Robert Hainsey before the season started and then held their pledges firm throughout the year. Late in the process, when it became apparent that five-star tackle Foster Sarrell was likely to wind up elsewhere, Hiestand and the rest of the staff made a push for Aaron Banks, a four-star from California. The fact that Notre Dame was able to get Banks to choose the Irish after such a down season over schools like Michigan, Tennessee, and Oregon is a testament to Hiestand’s impressive reputation.
4. The Irish Did Miss in Some Key Areas
Early in the fall, Notre Dame had two cornerbacks committed and California star Thomas Graham appeared to be leaning their way. When all the papers were signed, the Irish ended up with no corners at all. Staying in the secondary, as mentioned Notre Dame did very well at the strong safety/rover spot, but are short once again at free safety. Illinois product Isaiah Robertson is pegged for that position, but he may grow out of that spot down the road. Kofi Wardlow was the only true pass-rushing end in the class and the 247Sports Composite ranks him as the No. 1039 player in the country. These are all spots where ND struggled this past season and they would have been aided by guys that could make an immediate impact.
5. Midwest Blues
The Irish signed Cole Kmet and Isaiah Robertson out of the state of Illinois, but Notre Dame didn’t land a single recruit from Ohio, Michigan or their home state of Indiana. The last time that happened was 1999. In truth, it was not a banner year for Midwest recruiting as only four of 247Sports' Top 100 prospects played high school football in those three states. But the influence of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Urban Meyer at Ohio State has been felt. Both coaches certainly recruit nationally, but they also have gotten who they wanted out of their home states. And this will continue to be a challenge for Notre Dame moving forward.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.