Notre Dame went to its first national title game since 1989 with the nation’s second ranked defense surrendering just 12.8 points per game and a 12-0 mark. Controversy aside, linebacker Manti T’eo and his monumental year were big reasons for the team's success, and finding his replacement was not going to be easy for Kelly and his staff.
Notre Dame might have found such a player in linebacker Jaylon Smith from nearby Fort Wayne, IN. The five-star, 6-foot-3, 219-pound recruit received the 2012 Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, and was named Indiana Mr. Football. Smith also played running back, and helped Bishop Luers High School capture four-straight state championships.
Fellow linebacker Michael Deeb out of American Heritage in Plantation, FL, will join Smith. At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Deeb made 95 tackles and recorded four sacks and an interception as a senior.
Deeb’s teammate at American Heritage, running back Greg Bryant, also committed to the Irish. Bryant’s 1,447 yards and 17 touchdowns guided his school to a state title in 2012. Bryant was also named the Associated Press first-team running back in Florida’s 3A class. He should strengthen a Notre Dame backfield that was 38th in the country in rushing yards per game.
Much of Notre Dame’s work was done before Wednesday’s big day. Kelly snagged several early enrollees in quarterback Malik Zaire, and wide receivers Corey Robinson and James Onwualu. Out of San Antonio, the 6-foot-5 Robinson has 67 receptions for 1,414 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior. Onwualu played running back, receiver, and defensive back for Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn., and is considered one of the best athletes in this class.
A lefty, the multi-threat Zaire could be a clone of current starter Everett Golson. Zaire scored 33 touchdowns as a senior with 1,990 passing and 1,120 rushing yards for Archbishop Alter High School of Ohio.
Notre Dame is also still in the running for top defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who has reportedly narrowed his choices down to the Irish and UCLA.