Depth, potential surprises mark ND's class

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
5:30
PM ET
Following his introduction of the then-22 players entering the Notre Dame football program Wednesday, coach Brian Kelly left a cliffhanger that will not be fully answered until later in the evening.

"We feel like there's still some work to be done," Kelly said. "The day is not over yet. Stay tuned."

Whereas last year's national signing day for the Irish was marked by a notable defection, this year's -- already considered the best in Kelly's four years at Notre Dame -- could become even better when all is said and done.

[+] EnlargeJaylon Smith
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comFive-star linebacker Jaylon Smith leads a Notre Dame recruiting class which may yet grow bigger.
Kelly welcomed 22 players during a Wednesday afternoon news conference, and he added one more a few hours later when ESPN 150 athlete Tarean Folston signed his national letter of intent. At 8 p.m. ET tonight, Placer (Calif.) High's Eddie Vanderdoes, the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle prospect, will announce his decision, with Notre Dame right in the thick of things.

Deontay Greenberry's 2012 signing day defection to Houston this is not, but it could instead mark an even greater jolt to a class currently ranked fourth nationally following a season that ended in the Discover BCS National Championship.

"I love agreeing with experts," Kelly said, when told this was considered to be his best class. "It's a recruiting class that -- you know, when you're looking at it from my perspective, it meets the time and place as to where we are right now. We're a team that has gone from unranked to top-10 ranking, top-five ranking, at times we're the No. 1 team in the country, and I think your class begins to reflect that as you move forward."

The upcoming season should mark the first time during Kelly's Notre Dame tenure that he will be able to play a full season with 85 scholarship players, something the team was hamstrung by in its preparation for Alabama in the title game.

Kelly and his staff bolstered that depth significantly up front, where they added five offensive linemen to a position group that Kelly said was down to five fully functional bodies by the end of the regular season, limiting live action in practice.

While some of his earlier classes were built on the selling of opportunity on a re-building program, Kelly this year faced the challenge of convincing elite prospects that they could add value to the depth of a potential championship-caliber unit.

"Then they're not elite players if they're afraid of competition," Kelly said. "Those that back off and say, 'Well, you've got two of these guys and you've got three of those' -- now, sometimes that makes a difference, granted; I understand that. But by and large, we've made the case in recruiting where we see you, and we're honest with them.

"Here's where we see you're at and this is where you're going to be, and if you do this, you're going to get your playing time. So I think from our end, the elite players have that confidence, that no matter who's in front of me, I'm going to beat them out."

Matt Fortuna | email

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