Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F ifteen years have passed, amaz- ingly, since February 2005, when former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis took an hour break from his Super Bowl prep as the New Eng- land Patriots' offensive coordinator to reveal his first Irish recruiting class, via video, from underneath a portable tent and out of the rain in Jacksonville, Fla. The 15-man group Weis introduced that day — a class Rivals ranked 33rd — was highlighted by only two four- star players: wide receiver D.J. Hord and tight end Joey Hiben. Recognizing the urgency to fortify his roster, Weis immediately began a campaign that would allow his pro- gram to adopt an early January enroll- ment opportunity for future incoming football freshmen who had gradu- ated early from high school, a practice Notre Dame administrators resisted but many other top football programs were already routinely using. Weis got his wish, and early ad- missions were first approved in 2006 when running back James Aldridge, offensive guard Chris Stewart and wide receiver George West enrolled that January. Fifteen years later — and including the eight early fresh- man enrollees in the 2020 recruiting class — 70 Irish players have now taken the January enrollment option. This year 's group, regrettably, wasn't provided much benefit from the extra semester when COVID-19 forced the closure of campus and the cancellation of spring football in mid-March. Weis brought in 11 early enrolled freshmen within his four recruiting classes after the option was pro- vided. His successor, Brian Kelly, has welcomed 59 during his 11 recruiting cycles. The theory of an incoming freshman finding quick football success because of a January head start — which pro- vides an extra spring football season — has been beneficial for some Irish, but perhaps not as many as expected. Few of these Notre Dame players parlayed early admission into an im- pactful season as a true freshman, many eventually transferred, and only a couple so far enjoyed any sus- tained NFL success. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery re- mains the lone early-enrolled player (in 2015) to become a first-round NFL Draft pick. Here's our All-Early Enrollee Team through 15 recruiting cycles. The "notes" section highlights players who parlayed a January arrival into an impactful freshman season. An asterisk denotes a Weis-era player. OFFENSE (Skill) QB: Tommy Rees (2010) RB: Armando Allen (2007) RB: James Aldridge (2006) WR: TJ Jones (2010) WR: Corey Robinson (2013) TE: Brock Wright (2017) Notes: As a true freshman, Rees be- came the starter when Dayne Crist was injured, and threw for 1,106 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions … Jimmy Clausen, who became the face of Irish early enrollment in 2007, is a legit honorable mention but had only seven touchdown passes and six inter- ceptions on a 3-9 team … During their freshman seasons, Allen compiled 472 scrimmage yards and one touchdown, while Jones had 23 receptions for 306 yards and three touchdowns … Rob- inson recorded nine receptions for 157 yards and one score. OFFENSE (Line) OG: Aaron Banks (2017) OT: Robert Hainsey (2017) OT: Steve Elmer (2013) OG: Trevor Robinson* (2008) OG: Chris Stewart* (2006) Notes: Robinson appeared in 11 games as a true freshman and par- layed his time at Notre Dame into a five-year NFL career … Hainsey, a current two-time captain was a co- starter at right tackle on a unit that won the Joe Moore Award. DEFENSE (Front Seven) DE: Khalid Kareem (2016) DE: Daelin Hayes (2016) DT: Sheldon Day (2012) DT: Jerry Tillery (2015) LB: Ishaq Williams (2011) LB: James Onwualu (2013) LB: Te'von Coney (2015) Notes: With 23 tackles on the 12-1 team in 2012, Day leads this group in production as an early entrant … Co- ney had 13, while Tillery and Hayes each had 12 stops … Williams and Onwualu (who enrolled as a wide- out) both started their careers with six tackles as rookies. DEFENSE (Secondary) S: Zeke Motta* (2009) S: Devin Studstill (2016) CB: Gary Gray* (2007) CB: Lo Wood (2010) Notes: Before seeing his playing time slip later in his career, Studstill re- coded 38 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble during a trying 4-8 sea- son … Motta had 12 tackles and Wood three during their rookie seasons. SPECIALISTS PK: Kyle Brindza (2011) P: Jay Bramblett (2019) Notes: The only two kickers to enroll early made for a short candidate list but still provided two quality players … Brindza became the Irish kickoff spe- cialist in all 13 games as a freshman, forcing opponents into 12 touchbacks on 71 attempts … Bramblett's 39.4-yard punting average as a true freshman in 2019 placed him 89th in the country. ✦ A Look Back At 15 Years Of Early Irish Enrollment UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis fought for the ability for football freshmen to enroll early, a practice school administrators initially resisted before allowing with the class of 2006. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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