Post and Courier
July 24, 2014

Sapakoff: Brian Kelly's Charleston visit part of Notre Dame, ACC win-win

Posted: 05/12/2014 04:42 p.m.


By Gene Sapakoff

Brian Kelly was in his new element Monday, trumpeting Notre Dame's weekend NFL draft bonanza while surrounded by beaming Fighting Irish supporters.

Not in Chicago, or Cleveland. He was a long way from Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Midtown Manhattan or any other blue and gold stronghold.

Kelly was beating the golden drum at the Daniel Island Club before the Notre Dame Club of Charleston. Knute Rockne never slept here.

With Notre Dame sort of in the Atlantic Coast Conference, such visits around the Carolinas and various parts of ACC and SEC territory might become more frequent.

Steve Spurrier, Dabo Swinney and other head coaches with enough recruiting rivals can't be happy about that.

Right?

"Right," Kelly said with a grin.

"But there's enough players for everybody," the 52-year-old coach quickly added. "I don't know that we're going to come in here and upset the balance of power (in South Carolina). It's still Clemson and South Carolina. I think we're going to get a kid that fits Notre Dame, somebody that recognizes that we have a faith-based education, that we're an outstanding academic institution and that wants to shop down that aisle. It doesn't fit everybody."

Notre Dame's halfway-in ACC deal doesn't make sense to everybody, either. But it's a win-win for both parties.

The ACC gets Notre Dame as a full member in almost every sport except football, and for 10 games spread over every two seasons in football. Notre Dame maintains football freedom and gets more security in a rapidly changing college football world.

Plus, extra recruiting credibility in the talent-rich South.



Eight Notre Dame draftees

Win-win exceptions include the reeling Clemson baseball program, which lost a weekend series in South Bend to put its NCAA tournament hopes squarely on the bubble.

But Clemson and other ACC schools will benefit from a needed football schedule boost (Notre Dame plays at Death Valley in 2015).

The football talent comparisons will be fun to watch. While Clemson and South Carolina have recruited at a high level lately, Notre Dame just had eight players drafted with five more signing free agent contracts.

Only LSU (nine) had more players picked in the 2014 NFL draft than Notre Dame (Alabama also had eight). Four Notre Dame players were picked in the first round over the last three years. The Fighting Irish had only four first-round picks over the previous 17 years.

"We don't know if we'll have 13 players every year that sign professional contracts but that should be a benchmark for us," said Kelly, 37-15 in four years in South Bend.

Notre Dame has plucked high school players from South Carolina, including 1988 national championship-winning quarterback Tony Rice (Woodruff), former NFL defensive back Jeff Burris (Rock Hill) and former NFL defensive tackle Lance Legree (St. Stephen).

Kelly recruited current Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (Myrtle Beach High School) and wide receiver Chris Brown (Hanahan High School).



'Big-play' Chris Brown

Golson started for Notre Dame in its BCS National Championship Game loss to Alabama following the 2012 season and is back after missing the 2013 fall semester with an academic suspension. A quarterback competition with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire will last into preseason practices.

"What we have to keep in mind is that (Golson's) first year, he didn't start every game," Kelly said. "We really kept him under wraps in a sense and we played to the strength of our defense. So there is a lot of development going on there."

Brown, a former Hanahan track standout who won the state triple-jump title twice, was the leading receiver in the Blue-Gold game with five catches for 105 yards.

"What I like the most about Chris is that he's physically developing. He's up to almost 195 pounds," Kelly said of the 6-1 Brown, who has 17 college catches. "We know about his elite speed and his consistency in catching the football. He's a big-play guy. I think he's going to be an integral part of what we do offensively."

Brown might not play when Notre Dame is at Clemson in 2015; he's fast enough to consider an early jump to the NFL.

Which probably already has Brian Kelly and Co. poking around South Carolina for replacement prospects.



Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff