Feb. 1, 2017
By John Heisler
Here’s Irish head coach Brian Kelly popping up on the big screen in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex auditorium to introduce another 2017 Irish football signee.
There’s the booming voice of recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, a whirling dervish on this Wednesday as he flits from cell phone to live interview to FaceTime.
Here’s an entire army of Notre Dame social media staffers, pushing out tweets, handling Instagram and lots more.
Sprinkle in the raw emotion of close to two dozen individuals making potential life-changing decisions – and add the exhilaration of a handful of those players making their selections known for the first time on signing day.
It’s a wild and crazy mixture of sound bites, Instagram posts, live video hits from Notre Dame Stadium, and a relatively novel app that allows signees to streamline the paperwork aspect of their letters of intent (coordinator of recruiting Aaryn Kearney estimates about 25 Power 5 schools use the same app) – all wrapped up in a long day at the Gug.
Optimism reigns supreme annually on this first Wednesday in February, maybe even more so in the Notre Dame camp as the Irish take yet another key step toward a comeback in 2017.
The Irish coaches, all in coats and ties, had been jammed into their second-floor conference room since before 7 a.m. – with video cameras recording their every move as they one by one welcomed the latest additions to the Notre Dame roster.
All this technology now has left the fax (facsimile) machine – long a staple of signing day activities – to gather dust in the corner of the recruiting office.
The Irish recruiting staff kept score in the conference room by – one at a time – placing foot-high color photos of the Notre Dame additions on the board as commitments became official. That played out in waves, based mostly on time zones – with the players living on the East Coast kicking off the day.
“You just made us a better team,” said Elston to offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons.
“Coach (Mike) Elko is doing backflips out in the snow right now,” said Elston to Kofi Wardlow of Washington, D.C., who didn’t make his public announcement until later in the afternoon.
There were power cords everywhere at the Gug as Jack Nolan and Pete Byrne manned sets in the equipment room and the tight ends meeting room, all in the complex production of a live seven-hour show for UND.com.
The emotion was obvious in the voices of the young men on the other end of the phone lines, even if they’ve known for days or weeks or even months that they were bound for South Bend.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Elston to Chicago-area tight end Cole Kmet.
“Looking forward to getting you here on campus. You made an excellent decision for your future.”
There’s even a push for future recruiting efforts — with a series of live shots coming from the bowels of Notre Dame Stadium. Tamara Brown and Missy Conboy provided a series of hints of what’s to come across the street as construction workers toiled in the background.
Kearney moved back and forth from behind his desk in the recruiting office – with a board behind him containing the list of pertinent names, with check marks listed next to them as they became official and went “live” within Notre Dame’s various media outlets.
Meanwhile several dozen other media members worked in the Gug auditorium, following Notre Dame’s live show and supplementing their coverage with drop-in interviews with Irish coaches, culminated by Kelly’s final wrap press conference early in the afternoon.
“We’re blessed to have you. You made an awesome decision,” said Elston via speakerphone to receiver Jafar Armstrong from the Kansas City area, with assistants Todd Lyght, Del Alexander, Brian Polian and Chip Long beside him.
When Armstrong (at a little after 8 a.m.) responded, “I’m excited,” there was a sense those words really meant something.
“They’re really streaming in now,” said Elston. “We’re in that Central time zone.”
Elston told quarterback Avery Davis, “It’s official now. We’ve got a great plan for you.” Davis replied, “It means a lot.”
As jazzed as anyone on the phone a little before 9 was Pittsburgh defensive lineman Kurt Hinish, “I just signed, I’m ready to go. I’m exhilarated. Go Irish!”
Polian said to kicker Jonathan Doerer, “It’s a day you’re going to remember forever. Take a breath and enjoy what you’ve accomplished.”
“It’s wild here,” said Elko to a 2018 prospect. “There are maybe 20 people all over with cameras and microphones. We’ve got National Signing Day live from Notre Dame.”
Coaches roamed the hallways, most with cellphones in hand – either speaking into them or texting.
“We want to get you used to calling the Irish on signing day morning,” said Elston to another prospect for a year from now.
In the earliest hours the tweets came flying from the official Notre Dame football account, announcing each individual signee with accompanying video and links, with more from the various Irish coaches and staff members.
“A new year brings great optimism,” noted Kelly live on the UND.com show.
A little after 9 a.m. returning defensive lineman Jerry Tillery stuck his head into the staff room: “Big day, huh?” he offered to Elston, his new position coach. “Well done.”
Running back addition C.J. Holmes tweeted: “Thanking God every day for the opportunity to be a part of the rebirth of something indescribable.”
The other Irish assistants jabbed old-school offensive line coach Harry Hiestand about his first attempt today at FaceTime.
Irish center Sam Mustipher expressed mock amazement: “Coach Hiestand FaceTimed? Are you serious?”
Though several players didn’t announce until later in the day, the Notre Dame staff capped its list just after noon when Hawaii product Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, dealing with the five-hour time difference, confirmed his plans. The Irish coaches were well-prepped for that decision with a blue Hawaiian print shirt and a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in the staff room.
“Lots of good mojo going on,” said Elston.
Kelly noted in another live hit, “It’s all about, ‘Why would I go to Notre Dame?’
“You must understand why you want to be here. That’s got to hit you.
“It’s an on-Broadway show.”
With lots of bells and whistles – and especially technology — to boot.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Irish football program since 1978.