Blake Lueders a Loss for Notre Dame: Brian Kelly's First Class Hangs in Balance

Marc HalstedCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2010

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 27:  Brian Kelly the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats is pictured during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Nippert Stadium on November 27, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter" (from Shakespeare's Henry V)

Blake Lueders rocked the Notre Dame recruiting world Sunday with his decommitment from the Irish and his subsequent shift to Stanford. In a class that needed just one or two more highly ranked players to put it in the top 10, the loss of a four-star defensive lineman looms large for the future of the Fighting Irish recruiting class.

It's recruiting crunch time for Notre Dame and the college football world and new head coach Brian Kelly has encountered his first Gordian Knot.

Charlie Weis left the ND recruiting basket full of four-star players upon his departure and already had the Irish in the Top 20 according to every major recruiting service.

Coach Kelly has retained most of those recruits and since recorded some impressive wins. Just last week Maxpreps listed the Irish Class of 2010 as a sleeper group and one of the best hauls in the nation at No. 6.

With the loss of Lueders, however, all of that is changing as the image of next fall’s freshman class takes on a new persona.

Kelly immediately lost defensive end Chris Martin, rated as high as a Top-10 five-star talent by, and three-star cornerback Toney Hurd Jr. within the first days of the regime change. 

The Irish also lost a key one-on-one battle to UCLA for uber-athlete Anthony Barr last week, missing out on yet another Top-100 player.

On the other hand, the Irish have pilfered the Stanford class over the past few months by convincing Tai-ler Jones, Chris Badger, and Tate Nichols to trade sunny California for mid-winter in northern Indiana. 

Jones has been ranked by ESPN as the top Irish offensive “get” in the 2010 class and both Badger and Nichols represent much-needed potential on the offensive line (Nichols) and at the safety position (Badger).

Kelly also picked up the sleeper of the class in Austin Collinsworth three weeks ago. The son of former NFL wide receiver Cris Collinsworth and rugged young Kentuckian could come in as an intriguing project at either possession receiver or defensive back.

More success for Coach Kelly came with his ability to retain the commitments of a handful of players who were wavering after the departure of Weis.

Four-star North Carolina linebackers Prince Shembo and Kendall Moore have both re-upped with the Irish. Cincinnati quarterback Andrew Hendrix and California bulldozer Cameron Roberson have also restated their loyalty despite rumblings of National Signing Day switches.

But the Lueders loss has hit Kelly and his staff hard.

The No. 12 defensive end in the country is an impressive 6’5", 250-pound specimen. More importantly, Lueders filled a desperate need at defensive end for a Notre Dame depth chart apparently devoid of impact players who can get into opposing backfields and pressure the likes of Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, and Tate Forcier.

What’s worse is that the switch to Stanford marks a loss to a team routinely on the Irish schedule, a loss to the talented recruiting staff of Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh (including former ND coaches Randy Hart and Brian Polian), and a noted flip-flop in the Rivals recruiting rankings as ND fell from No. 12 to 14 and Stanford moved up to the No. 13 slot.

And it gets worse.

Blake Leuders is from Zionsville, Indiana, exactly 134 miles from the Notre Dame campus.

Losing a potential defensive difference-maker is bad. 

Losing a consensus four-star player is really bad. 

Losing a talented player 10 days before National Signing Day to a rival like Stanford is frighteningly bad.

But you absolutely can’t lose the No. 4 in-state talent—especially one that has been committed since June—this late in the recruiting game.

Brian Kelly has a lot of ground to make up before Judgment Day arrives on Feb. 3.

The Irish recruiting staff must pull in a big name like five-star offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson or four-star defensive back Dietrich Riley. They must sign an impact offensive lineman like Matt James or pull off an out-of-nowhere steal like Ego Ferguson or Jordan Hicks.

In addition, the Irish must keep four-star running back and soft verbal Giovanni Bernard away from Oregon State and find a few sleepers along the lines of both the offensive and defensive trenches. 

The loss of Blake Lueders must become a simple footnote in the first weeks of the Brian Kelly era. As the barren recruiting cupboards left behind by Tyrone Willingham in his last two years taught Notre Dame, losses in the first week of February often impact the ability to win in the next few Septembers to come.

Kelly will now have to prove that he's got a little of that Rockne Irish magic coursing through his veins to make the Class of ’10 something that can stock the Notre Dame depth charts with talent and potential.

The Brian Kelly era has reached its first Gordian Knot. 

The future of the Fighting Irish hangs in the balance as the former Assumption College linebacker from small-town Massachusetts stands firm with sword in hand.

It's time for Coach Kelly to strike his first defining blow.


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