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February recruiting drama a Notre Dame worry of the past

Isaiah Foskey recruitment

CONCORD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 6: De La Salle defensive end Isaiah Foskey is congratulated after the national signing day ceremony for football players at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Foskey signed with Notre Dame while teammate linebacker Henry To’oto’o, right, signed with Tennessee. Both are four-star players. (Ray Chavez/Media News Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Notre Dame may not always have a silent National Signing Day, as is expected tomorrow, but if that becomes the usual, no one should be surprised.

“This is two years in a row now that this quote-unquote early signing day — this is the signing day for us, so I don’t know why we continue to call it an early signing day,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December. “It is the signing day and it will be moving forward.”

Notre Dame pulled in 18 prospects during the Early Signing Period, since reduced to 17, and no more are expected to join them this week. A year ago, the Irish added only defensive end Isaiah Foskey in February, and he reportedly quietly signed on the dotted line in December, keeping his official decision private in order to enjoy a signing ceremony with his teammates in February (pictured above).

“There are some challenges there,” Kelly said of emphasizing December. “But nothing that has really kept us from keeping our staff out of here in July and giving them a great break. It’s worked out quite well to have these guys all sign here in December.”

In the early signing period’s first year, the recruiting class of 2018, the rising juniors, Notre Dame pulled in 21 recruits in December, including the 11th-hour decision from receiver Braden Lenzy. Six more then followed in February, including three de-commitments from elsewhere (offensive lineman Luke Jones — Arkansas; cornerback DJ Brown — Virginia; running back C’Bo Flemister — Georgia Tech). The trend line is clear: The days of February fretting are already far in the past.

On the surface, the drawback is managing the roster, filling it past capacity before all decisions regarding the NFL draft have been made. When the Irish exited the Early Signing Period, the roster stood at 90 expected fall scholarships, not an absurd number, but one that could have created some summer storylines.

“This is the one thing I don’t like about the new calendar, that we’re signing a class before underclassmen have to officially declare,” Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said. “Or before the semester ends, for that point. Trying to figure out, is there going to be movement on our roster.”

Since then, tight end Cole Kmet and running back Tony Jones entered the draft, presumably neither of which surprised the Irish coaching staff. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec transferred to Boston College, and incoming freshman cornerback Landen Bartleson lost his chance to join the program due to charges of burglary.

Those latter two moves may not have been as expected as the draft declarations, but they fit the parameters of usual attrition. In the broader picture, they were not shocks, bringing the roster count to 86. How Notre Dame gets to 85 — or even 83 to accommodate former walk-ons currently on springtime scholarship Mick Assaf and Colin Grunhard — is a mere formality at this point, though also not one worth further speculation.

“Sometimes that conversation is a little irresponsible, because there are people reading that, that are wondering, is my son the one that’s going to go,” Polian said. “We think long and hard about this and we have plans and we know what we’re doing.”

An extra five weeks of that unnecessary conversation may be the only downside to the expedited recruiting calendar. Well, that and this week not drawing the hyper-attention of decades past.

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