For programs like Notre Dame’s, a 4–8 season is a major blow. Not only do the losses hurt, but often, the hit is also felt elsewhere: Recruiting. Given that Notre Dame competes with the nation’s top schools for recruits, a season like the one Brian Kelly’s team suffered through last year is a major red flag for recruits.
Last season, Notre Dame’s defense gave up 27.8 points per game, tying them for 62nd in the country. In truth, the Irish’s defensive numbers were helped out by a monsoon in Raleigh that helped them hold the North Carolina State Wolfpack to only 10 points (a game they lost), a Stanford team without Christian McCafferey who the Irish held to only 17 points (also a game they lost), and a bad Army team that they held to 6 points. Take away those three games and the Irish defense was allowing the other team to score nearly 34 points per game.
However, despite the fact that the Irish struggled on the field in 2016, they didn’t waste much time righting the ship by attracting the nation’s top high school talent.
Currently, the Irish have the 9th-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports.com, but that number is expected to improve with the recent commitment of LB Jack Lamb. Even more refreshing for Irish fans, it seems as if it’s the defense that will be getting the biggest overhaul.
After an abysmal defensive season, the Irish coaching staff is clearly devoting plenty of time and energy in stocking the cupboard with defensive talent. As of now, the Irish have landed six defensive commits (S Derrik Allen, DL Jayson Ademilola, OLB Shayne Simon, LB Jack Lamb, LB/DE Ovie Oghoufo, and DL Ja’Mion Franklin) who were invited to Nike’s “The Opening,” an event where the nation’s top recruits go to showcase their skills and get instruction from some of the country’s best coaches.
The only other school to have more commits at The Opening was Ohio State with 8.
Aside from the six mentioned above, DL Justin Ademilola (the twin brother of Jayson) and LB Matthew Bauer both add to the defensive talent that will be making their way to South Bend in the fall of 2018.
This re-loading certainly has plenty to do with the addition of Mike Elko, who is not only known to run a defensive scheme that allows his players to have success, but is also known to be a great talent developer, as well. A lot of it also has to do with the strength and conditioning program facelift under Matt Balis that has Irish players looking like… well, we’ll let you be the judge.
Linebacker Tevon Coney is just one example of a player who has benefited from Balis’ strength and conditioning program. Balis was hired by the Irish in January.
While Irish fans can certainly get excited about the talent that will be arriving in South Bend in 2018, perhaps the most important reason Mike Elko was hired to coach the Irish on defense was his player development:
Going forward, it will be of paramount importance for the Irish to keep the coaching staff together to develop the product on the field. For now, though, the team seems to be in good hands.