NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL: Irish address needs during Early Signing Period

FRAN RUCHALSKI | PHAROS-TRIBUNEPioneer quarterback Jack Kiser (4) takes the ball into the end zone for another score in the third quarter of a game against Lewis Cass Aug. 17. Kiser, who won Indiana's Mr. Football honors on Dec. 12, signed his letter of intent to play linebacker for the University of Notre Dame Wednesday.

SOUTH BEND — Rule number one of Fight Club is don’t talk about Fight Club. That’s also rule number two of the club as well.

All Notre Dame wanted to talk about Wednesday, however, was “Fight Club 19.” That is what they’re calling their latest recruiting class after the Early Signing Period Wednesday. The Fighting Irish finished the early period with the No. 12 overall class in the country, per 247 Sports.

“It’s been a busy three weeks with the balancing of CFP preparation and recruiting. We were on the awards show tour, and had our banquet itself,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “We were able to put all of those things together and put together what I think is an outstanding class.”

The highest-ranked player the Irish landed on the early signing day was Kyle Hamilton, a four-star safety from Atlanta, GA. Hamilton rose through the ranks in the past four years to become one of the top defensive back prospects in the country.

“We just loved his versatility and his no nonsense approach. He wasn’t loving the recruiting process, he was just looking for the right fit. He sent all the right messages,” Kelly said. “We loved his film and we loved the fact that he fit. We can’t control the star rating, but what we can control is out evaluation of him, and we really loved the way he played the game.”

A point of emphasis for Notre Dame was building it’s offensive and defensive lines. They had four offensive linemen – Andrew Kristofic (Gibsonia, PA), Quinn Carroll (Edina, MN), Jon Olmstead (North Brunswick, NJ) and Zeke Correll (Cincinnati, OH) — sign on Wednesday. Kelly said he envisions Kristofic and Carroll playing tackle, Olmstead at guard and Correll potentially playing center.

The Irish also signed four defensive linemen, as Hunter Spears (Garland, Texas), Howard Cross (Paramus, NJ), Jacob Lacey (Bowling Green, KY) and NaNa Osafo-Mensah (Forth Worth, Texas) all made their intentions to play in South Bend official.

“Offensive line and defensive line were the immediate focus,” Kelly said. “Then we were looking for length and athleticism on defense. And from an offensive standpoint, continue to build the speed on the perimeter.”

Two of the 22 players to commit Wednesday are from the Hoosier state. Recent Mr. Football winner Jack Kiser (Pioneer) was the second person to send his letter of intent in at 7:04 a.m. Kiser will be heading to the Fighting Irish as a linebacker.

The other in-state player to sign was South Bend St. Joseph’s Conor Ratigan, who will be attending Notre Dame as a preferred walk-on. Ratigan joins former Penn High School and current Irish freshman defensive back Paul Moala as players from the South Bend area to commit to the hometown team.

Notre Dame has seven players from Indiana on its roster this year, which recruiting director Brian Polian says is a reflection of the work his father, Bill — among others — did when he was the general manager and president of the Indianapolis Colts.

“I don’t know if it’s underrated because I can’t speak to how other people view it. I can say that high school football in the state of Indiana, in general, has grown leaps and bounds in the past 10 to 15 years,” Polian said. “Selfishly, I’d like to think the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, my father, when they started to get good and they built Lucas Oil (Stadium). They embraced high school football in the state.

“I think there was a time maybe 25 years ago where you would’ve called Indiana a basketball state. And I think, to a certain degree, that’s changing.”

The early signing period allows some athletes to enroll in classes at Notre Dame in January. In total, the Irish have 10 athletes who will report to the team in January as opposed to when the majority of signees arrive on campus in May.

“When we first got here, mid-year enrollees were not even part of the philosophy. We now have 10,” Kelly said. “That takes an incredible amount of work from our admissions, to our counselors, in terms of communication.”

“Seven of the mid-years are going to play on the line of scrimmage. As a young player, the closer you get to the football, the harder it is to play young. For them to be mid-years, that gives them a chance,” Polian added. “It’s six extra months, it’s 15 more practices. That’s really important for us moving forward.”

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN

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