Notre Dame Football: Coach Kelly's Biggest National Signing Day Battles

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2014

Notre Dame Football: Coach Kelly's Biggest National Signing Day Battles

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    If it feels like Notre Dame got started late in recruiting cornerback Terrence Alexander, it's because everybody got started late in recruiting Alexander. The John Curtis Christian School prospect didn't officially begin the recruiting process until after his team won their second-straight state championship. 

    But once Irish assistant Kerry Cooks had the chance to connect with Alexander, the admiration was mutual and the Irish rocketed up the 5'10", 180-pounder's board. Alexander and his family took an official visit to Notre Dame earlier in January, one of just three visits scheduled for the cornerback. 

    While Ole Miss is still in the conversation, Brian Kelly will battle David Shaw for Alexander's pledge on signing day. Alexander just received word that he's been admitted to Stanford, leading some to believe that the Cardinal could lead.

    But Kelly and Cooks visited New Orleans earlier this week to meet with Alexander and his family, stressing the fit in the Irish defense as a field cornerback that can both cover and come up and tackle. Even if he's smaller than the prototype for the Irish defense, the Irish would welcome another cornerback to join Nick Watkins in the 2014 class.  

Safety / Wide Receiver John "JuJu" Smith

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    Once again, Notre Dame is going head-to-head with USC for an elite athlete from Southern California. Last year, Brian Kelly snatched Max Redfield from the Trojans, bringing the 5-star talent to South Bend. This year, the battle wages for Smith, who could play on either side of the ball for the Irish.

    Smith heard the very best sales pitch from Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock this week, with the Irish saving their in-home visit for the end of the recruiting cycle. It's likely another Trojans-Irish battle, though Oregon and UCLA are pushing for the Long Beach Poly prospect as well. 

    Where does Smith end up if he does come to South Bend? That's still up in the air. With the depth chart at both safety and wide receiver not lacking for numbers, Smith's going to have a chance to play for both Denbrock and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder before making a decision, according to 

    Smith will announce his college decision live on ESPN on signing day. 


Defensive Tackle Daniel Cage

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    After Notre Dame lost Matt Dickerson, the Irish coaching staff rebuilt their recruiting board and took another look at the defensive tackle position. One of their first targets was Daniel Cage. 

    While Michigan State is the favorite to land the 6'3", 295-pounder, Cage is giving the Irish a true look (subscription required), taking his official visit to Notre Dame before heading to Missouri for the weekend, according to's Steve Wiltfong.  

    The Cincinnati native would join recent commit Pete Mokwuah at defensive tackle, giving new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder another piece in a reloaded front seven.  

    "They'd like to add another one, but I like the six they've got in the boat, but a seventh would add more depth," Wiltfong said of the Irish efforts along the defensive line.


Defensive Tackle Courtney Garnett

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    After walking away from a commitment to Texas, New Orleans prospect Courtney Garnett is new on the Irish's radar. The 6'2", 280-pound defensive tackle is a relatively new target for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, and Garnett likes what Notre Dame and defensive line coach Mike Elston are selling with the 3-star defensive tackle down to just Oklahoma and the Irish with less than a week to go.

    Late Thursday night, news broke that Garnett gave Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops a verbal commitment during an in-home visit. But Garnett is still set for his official visit to South Bend over the weekend, allowing Stoops and Kelly to continue battling after splitting home-and-home series the past two years. 

    Landing Cage or Garnett would be a great final pickup in the front seven, adding another body to a strong haul up front. While Garnett might be a bit undersized for what the Irish are trying to do, the 3-star prospect would help fill a position of need. 

Wide Receiver / Cornerback Michiah Quick

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    Notre Dame has been snakebitten when it comes to landing top football talent from Fresno. After missing out on Deontay Greenberry on signing day in 2012 and having Tee Shepard leave South Bend before ever playing a game, the Irish are hoping that Michiah Quick is the player that reverses the curse. 

    Quick is the last offensive skill player on the board for the Irish, and the 6'0", 170-pound receiver becomes even more important now that the Irish and Isaiah McKenzie mutually agreed to part ways.

    While some schools see Quick as a shutdown cornerback, the Irish staff believe he's the type of elite game-breaker the Irish are looking for on the edge of their offense. One of the fastest guys at The Opening this summer, he'd immediately upgrade the athleticism at a position that lacks proven playmakers with TJ Jones graduating. 

    Once again, this looks like it's going to be an Oklahoma-Notre Dame battle with the Irish fighting uphill, as Norman is a far more comfortable place for Quick. Fellow Northern California prospect Joe Mixon has already pledged to the Sooners. Former Fresno athletes Hatari Byrd and L.J. Moore are already at Oklahoma as well. 

    But Quick doesn't seem to fit the familiar Fresno mold, leaving hope that there's a chance he'll want to blaze his own trail (subscription required)

    "He wants to be a regular kid and that's what makes the difference," high school coach Tony Perry told "He wants to be a regular student. If you didn’t know he played football, you wouldn't know how good he is at it."