Brian Kelly's First Test at Notre Dame: Finishing Weis' Recruiting Big Board

Dan Scofield@BleedingGoldAnalyst IDecember 14, 2009

Now that the phones have been hung up, the pens set down, and the papers filed away, Brian Kelly was able to sit down in his new office and do what he does best—be a head football coach.

Kelly got his dream. Now, he must somehow turn that dream back into an elite football program.

On Sunday, Kelly took his first dip into the national recruiting scene, behind the phone as "Mr. Notre Dame" for the first time. His morning consisted of calling recruits and getting to know his inherited class of 18 verbal commitments.

Looming ahead, on December 21, is the final dead period for recruiting until National Signing Day on February 3. Outsiders might think the Irish are in trouble in regards to their recruiting class thanks to the firing of Charlie Weis and bringing in a new leader, only allowing two months in order to form relationships with committed and uncommitted recruits across the nation.

In what was the start of his failure, Weis received the keys in 2005 to his office a month late due to coming to South Bend after the Patriots' Super Bowl visit. This left Notre Dame with crucial holes in that years' recruiting class, unbalancing the depth, talent, and experience during Weis' tenure.

Kelly, learning a lesson from Weis' decision, left Cincinnati as soon as he could, only to get started on the recruiting trail. Because of this, the Irish will end up with a solid class, with potential to be a top-10 class by the beginning of February.

In most cases, de-commitments would be numerous and soft verbals would be listed down the board. However, thanks to Weis' final efforts, a class with a strong sense of unity, and the hot name of Brian Kelly in the college football world, the Irish are more focused on luring in the top prospects left on the big board rather than keeping the 18 together.

Despite one de-commitment from defensive end Chris Martin (verbal to Cal), the Irish received good news just a few hours later after the top defensive recruit left on Notre Dame's board, defensive tackle Louis Nix, gave his verbal to the university even though a coach was yet to be named.

Still sitting in the top 15 on both Rivals and Scout in the team recruiting rankings, Kelly must turn his focus to the likes of OL Seantrel Henderson, ATH Corey Cooper, OT Matt James, ATH Anthony Barr, and DE Ego Ferguson, and at least a half-dozen other prospects.

Henderson, the No.1 recruit in the nation, would be a huge get for Kelly if he can finish what Weis and his staff started. By getting Henderson to sign his name on the dotted line, he would get a starter at left tackle for next season along with proof that Kelly is going to be a factor on the national recruiting stage.

Another must-get for the Irish is Anthony Barr. He has too many Notre Dame connections to pass up, being the son of Tony Brooks and the nephew of Reggie Brooks. Losing Barr to UCLA would raise some flags by the Notre Dame community, especially given the potential they would be losing to the Bruins.

Matt James, an offensive tackle out of Cincinnati, had named his leaders as the Irish and the Bearcats just a few weeks ago. Now with Kelly in South Bend, there is no reason for him not to be in blue and gold come next year.

For Kelly, closing this year's recruiting class will be his first major test.

By keeping the closely-knit group already committed together and adding a few other elite names, the Irish could find themselves sitting in the top-10 and off to a great start in the Kelly era of Notre Dame football.