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Nick Martin, C
The younger brother of starting left tackle Zack Martin, Nick is stepping into former center Braxston Cave's vacant starting position. The 6'5", 295-pound Indianapolis native won the starting job over fellow junior Matt Hegarty and will be one of two first-year starters along the offensive line.
Kelly was been keen to sing Martin's praises, stating that Martin is "extremely conscientious" and is "not a guy who makes mistakes," via Jim Johnston of WNDU.com.
Sheldon Day, DE
A freshman starter during the Irish's march to the national championship last season, Day is entering his sophomore season as the unsung hero along a star-studded defensive line. Often overshadowed by preseason All-Americans Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III, Day has undoubtedly earned Kelly's respect, via LaMond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times.
"I know all the talk is about Nix and Tuitt, but I tell you, Sheldon Day, just watch the film," Kelly said. "His first-step quickness. He's an impressive football player. I wouldn't trade him for anybody on our football team. He is as impressive of a player as we have on defense."
Matthias Farley, S
Two years ago, Farley was a freshman receiver fighting to climb his way up the depth chart. Now, he's the veteran leader of the Irish secondary.
The Charlotte, N.C., native learned from former safety Zeke Motta—now a safety with the Atlanta Falcons—and will be called upon to provide the type of leadership Motta did during last season in which the secondary was extremely raw and inexperienced.
Jaylon Smith, LB
Each recruiting class has an undeniable "gem." And in the case of Notre Dame, the gem of the 2013 class was Smith, a 5-star prospect, per 247 Sports.
The nearby product—Smith hails from Fort Wayne, Ind., roughly 90 miles southeast of campus—has made a serious push for starting duties, especially with incumbent drop linebacker Danny Spond having given up the game of football due to medical hardship.
Smith's arrival was even seen as a signal that Notre Dame is "back," via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports.
"And then there was the day Jaylon Smith committed," Kelly said. "When Jaylon came back from Ohio State and said no to Ohio State, that was big. Because you've got Urban there. The glitter is still on. It's Ohio State and it's Urban Meyer and he's the hottest thing out there and Jaylon said, 'No, I want to come to Notre Dame.'
"That might have been the time I looked out there and said, 'we're going to be all right.'"