August is not exactly the busiest time of year for college football recruiting. Two-a-days and the preparation before the season is really just the calm before the storm though.
So while we're stuck in the calm, why not take some time to look at where things stand with 2015 recruiting class and a take a peek at what lies ahead in 2016? This is as good a time as any to do so and Irish Sports Daily's Christian McCollum is going to help OFD with the task.
Christian has covered Notre Dame football as a beat writer and now is in his fifth year covering recruiting for ISD. He's as plugged into Irish recruiting as anyone in the industry and I got the chance to ask him some questions about quarterback recruiting, some names to watch out for in 2016, how recruits have reacted to Notre Dame's deal with Under Armour and more.
I'll shut up now and get to the questions.
OFD: Notre Dame currently has a really nice foundation for the 2015 recruiting class in terms of overall numbers with the 17 players that have already committed. With the losses of Tony Springmann to injury, Will Mahone to legal issues, and Nile Sykes transferring opening up some scholarships, how many more players do you think the Irish are looking to take in this recruiting class?
Christian McCollum: The Springmann injury is the latest news to hit and that has to open up a scholarship. Figuring out the exact number is always tricky when it comes to Notre Dame recruiting because there's more uncertainty when it comes to fifth-year players than most other schools. Throw in the inevitable cases of transfers, injuries, guys leaving early to the NFL and it's always difficult to get an exact number of how many more scholarships are available in the current recruiting cycle and that doesn't even include the possibility of decommitments from the current class. But we think the Irish will end up signing somewhere between 22 and 24 prospects in February, so that would leave anywhere from five to seven more commitments.
OFD: Other than offensive line, do you think they are done taking commitments at any other positions? Do you think they would still take a player at defensive tackle or cornerback?
CM: I don't see Notre Dame taking a quarterback this cycle. That could change once the coaching carousel gets going and Notre Dame could definitely grab the attention of some top quarterbacks if Everett Golson lights it up the way many believe he will. But one person I trust who has a connection with multiple quarterbacks in the current cycle was told Notre Dame will pass at the position this year. I also see them passing at tight end this year. I do think they would welcome an edge player on the defensive line and possibly a defensive tackle if it was truly an elite prospect. They'd definitely love to add a cornerback like Ykili Ross or Iman Marshall. Of that group, I'd see Ross as the only realistic option at this point.
OFD: For the 2014 class, the coaching staff sent out some offers and ended up landing some players like Jhonny Williams, Kolin Hill, and Pete Mokwuah later in the process after watching some senior film. Are there any players that are on the radar for potential offers this fall for the 2015 class or are the Irish going to hold out for elite targets to fill out the class?
CM: With 17 commitments already, I don't think you'll see many more offers go out in the Class of 2015, at least not soon. As some of those elite targets end up elsewhere or eliminate the Irish and the options become thinner, I'm sure we'll see some more offers go out at the end of the process. As for who that may be, it's virtually impossible to say at this point. Some of the later defensive offers had to do with Brian VanGorder coming on in December, but at this point last year, I wouldn't have even been able to guess guys like Williams and Hill would have ended up on Notre Dame's board.
OFD: If the Irish get off to a great start this football season, are there any players that you know of that they might be able to get back in on for 2015 that they currently are on the fringe for?
CM: I think getting off to a fast start will be crucial for Notre Dame to make a strong impact on many of their remaining top targets in the 2015 class. The top guys like Soso Jamabo, Equanimeous St. Brown, John Humphrey, Te'von Coney, Asmar Bilal, Ross and Marshall want to have the chance to play for national championships. They're all already interested in Notre Dame, so I'd hesitate to say the Irish are on the fringe with all of these guys, but winning always gives a school more to sell.
OFD: Unless someone pops up out of nowhere as an option at quarterback for 2015, do you think Notre Dame will take two quarterbacks in 2016? If they get a commitment from an elite player like Malik Henry, do you think that might influence them to only take one at the position?
CM: It's rare for a program to bring in multiple quarterbacks in one class, especially elite-level prospects, which is what Notre Dame is looking for. It's not that kids are afraid to compete, but they know the reality of depth charts and the fact that they're going to have to compete with guys ahead of them and the kids who come behind them. It's a lot more attractive to pick a school that makes it clear that you're their guy. I think if they were able to land one of their current top prospects - Henry, Shea Patterson, Jawon Pass or Dwayne Haskins - the Irish would like feel good about the spot, especially if it's Henry or Patterson.
OFD: Who are some of the names for 2016 that Irish fans should start looking out for in recruiting?
CM: The quarterbacks mentioned above along with running backs Robert Washington and Kareem Walker. At receiver, keep an eye on Midwestern guys like Austin Mack and Desmond Fitzpatrick. Ohio tight ends Jake Hausmann and Luke Farrell are top guys who have already been on campus. Another pair of Ohio prospects, offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer could very well end up being building blocks of the class. Defensively, the names to know included DE Josh King, DE Auston Robertson, LB Caleb Kelly and CB Trayvon Mullen.
OFD: Notre Dame has had some pretty bad luck in recruiting California recently and that's with offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, a traditionally strong recruiter, having the west coast as his recruiting territory. Now quarterback coach Matt LaFleur has taken over the recruiting responsibilities for California. Has there been a good response from recruits in California regarding LaFleur so far? From what you have heard about him as a recruiter in the short time he has been at Notre Dame, does he have a chance to be a recruiter at a similar level to Kerry Cooks and Tony Alford?
CM: Not sure if LaFleur will be able to match what Alford has done since his arrival in South Bend or the string Cooks has been on recently, but so far, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive for LaFleur. He's a young, likeable guy who does a good job of establishing a rapport with kids. Not surprisingly, many of the kids are impressed by the fact that he coached RG3 with the Redskins. I think you'll see LaFleur make an impact on the offensive side of the ball especially.
OFD: The switch to Under Armour and the implementation of FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium are a very big deal to Notre Dame fans. Have you heard any reaction, positive or negative, to either of those things from recruits?
CM: I've been shocked with the amount of times I've heard recruits mention the switch to Under Armour and I've been shocked with how high it seems to be on their list. It's one of the first things many kids mention when I ask what they know about Notre Dame. I've truly been stunned by how much kids actually pay attention to stuff like that. I haven't heard anything negative about it from the kids and they haven't even really released the new gear yet. From what I've been told, I expect recruits to mention it even more once they get a chance to see it all. The FieldTurf hasn't really been mentioned much.
(Author's note: I asked Christian a follow up question about whether recruits mentioned Adidas or not prior to the Under Armour deal and he said they didn't.)
OFD: In the time that you have covered Notre Dame recruiting, who are your favorite players that you communicated with that ended up committing to Notre Dame? What about players that ended up choosing other schools?
CM: I'll give you one kid from each class who I really enjoyed talking to for a variety of reasons for each.
2011: Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, Former USC turned ND RB/WR Amir Carlisle
2012: Notre Dame OL Mark Harrell, Cal WR Bryce Treggs
2013: Notre Dame WR turned LB James Onwualu, Florida St. RB Ryan Green
2014: Notre Dame DL Jay Hayes, Stanford OL Reilly Gibbons
OFD: You and the rest of the staff at ISD do an outstanding job of covering recruiting and Notre Dame football in general. The most impressive thing you guys do is put together ISD Intel every Friday where there is a ton of recruiting info and other news about the team. It seems like it would be exhausting for you and everyone else to put together every week. Do you guys start putting it together right after the previous one is put up? What's the process like in deciding what kind of information gets shared during the week and what gets held back to include in Intel?
CM: Haha. Intel literally runs my week. It's an exhausting process and it can be a stressful one. There have been many times when I've been worried about if we're going to be able to pull it off, but whether it's early in the week or late Thursday, we've always managed to do it. As for the process, yes, it's something that we're thinking ahead to as soon as we've published the current week's and sometimes even before that if we don't quite have something nailed down in time for that week's Intel.
As for deciding what gets held back and what doesn't, it's a balancing act. First, we don't want to hold back too much from the reader for too long, so if there's something that's rock-solid news, we're going to get that out there as soon as we can. We may try to get a different angle or some context for Intel, but we don't want to hold back too long. A lot of stuff from Intel is a tidbit here or a tidbit there that we're hearing that is interesting, but not enough for a standalone story. A lot of times though Intel actually helps us obtain stuff because it gives us a forum for sources who will tell us something knowing that it's going to go into Intel with anonymity.
Short answer though, yes, the upcoming Intel is almost always taking up a major portion of my thinking at all times.