SOUTH BEND - There were no quiet moments between whirs of the fax machine, delivering yet another national letter-of-intent on Wednesday. Brian Kelly already had his feet in 2011. The first-year Notre Dame head football coach used his down time to work rather than celebrate Wednesday, calling top junior prospects around the nation and offering them scholarships. “Really getting them to think, ‘Hey, the culmination of this in the next 365 days is going to be you signing your national letter-of-intent to come to the University of Notre Dame,’ ” Kelly explained of the timing and the strategy. “An absolutely fantastic idea,” CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “The way Brian Kelly handled the last two weeks, you just get the feeling this coach and this staff, given the time to form relationships, are going to deliver a top 10 class next year.” After suffering four defections and battling perceptions of having assembled a coaching staff that might not have the chutzpah to be able to recruit outside the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky comfort zone, the former University of Cincinnati coach almost pulled off a top 10 class this year with a strong finish. The 23-man class did pull six players from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, but also attracted talent from the likes of Utah, Colorado, California, and Hawaii. Lemming’s final ranking for the Irish class was No. 18 nationally, two spots below where deposed coach Charlie Weis’ final complete recruiting class finished last February. Rivals.com gave ND a No. 14 national ranking - up seven spots from where the Web site ranked the Irish in 2009. Kelly didn’t try to spin the class into greatness or slam the recruiting analysts’ rankings. He simply termed it a “good” class by his own measure. “I think you'll see a growth in the recruiting process for us next year,” he said. “But I think it was a good start for us.” Some of the recruits already started last month. The five mid-year enrollees - the most the Irish have taken in a single class since the admissions office opened that door in 2006 - are quarterback Tommy Rees, cornerbacks Spencer Boyd and Lo Wood, safety Chris Badger and wide receiver Tai-ler Jones, the latter of who drew some of the biggest raves Wednesday from Kelly. “With the ball in his hands, he's as explosive a player as there is in the country,” Kelly said of the son of former ND defensive end Andre Jones and godson of former Irish All-American Rocket Ismail. “He's already put on about 10 pounds. You can see the way he can accelerate.” Kelly showed some acceleration of his own, scheduling a big recruiting weekend Jan. 29-31 when the South Bend weather lived down to its reputation, and he came away with six commitments of the seven available players. Three of those players came to the visit already committed to other schools - quarterback Luke Massa (Cincinnati), multiple-position athlete Derek Roback (Toledo) and defensive end Kona Schwenke (BYU). The other three commitments Kelly secured in the final four days of the recruiting cycle were multi-position athlete Danny Spond, offensive tackle Matt James - the second-highest-rated prospect in the class behind fellow lineman Christian Lombard - and defensive end Bruce Heggie, a 6-6, 240-pounder from Mount Dora, Fla., whose only Division I-A offer came from the Irish. “There’s always going to be questions about recruits that don't have the pedigree, but I kind of like that,” Kelly said of Heggie, whose father (Bruce Sr.) played for Florida State. “I certainly don't have the pedigree either.” The one that got away was St. Paul, Minn., offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, who the Irish will now have to play against on an annual basis. The 6-8, 330-pounder, and No. 1 prospect regardless of position per Lemming, chose ND rival USC late on signing day. Even before Henderson made his announcement, Kelly identified defensive ends as the No. 1 need for 2011. Henderson just added an exclamation point to that proclamation. “We've got time,” Kelly said of the advantages he’ll have in 2011 that he didn’t have this year. “Two months is not enough time to get the kind of guy that I want at the University of Notre Dame. You need time to build a relationship. You need time to evaluate transcripts. You need time to make sure that they're the right fit in our community and our campus. And (now) we've got the time to do that.”
- Kelly said Res Life, the university’s disciplinary arm, has dealt with sophomore wide receiver Michael Floyd’s recent underage drinking citation in Minneapolis, but he was hamstrung by university protocol as to what the adjudication entailed. Reading between the lines, Floyd would appear eligible to participate in spring practice. “He’s working out with our team today,” Kelly said with a smile.
- Kelly said starting tight end Kyle Rudolph (shoulder) and quarterback Dayne Crist (knee) are both recovering nicely from their respective surgeries. “We’re really positive on all of the medicals,” Kelly said. “I’ll say this, there were way too many, and we’ve got our hands around it. Right now we only have two current players who are not working out with us, just because of injuries.” Those players are running back Theo Riddick (shoulder) and third-string kicker Brandon Walker (back). As far as Crist is concerned, Kelly said he is so far ahead of schedule, he’ll likely be cleared to do everything in spring practice except have contact. “Nobody will get in his zip code,” Kelly said. “But you’re going to see a lot of him in the spring.”
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