Feb. 3, 2016
By John Heisler
The Guglielmino Athletics Complex, home of the University of Notre Dame football program, certainly is no stranger to regular, sustained and even frenetic activity.
And, yet, maybe there’s been no day to rival the sheer volume of communications of all sorts and sizes that emanated from the Gug Wednesday on National Signing Day for college football programs. Recruiting chatter pent up for a year flew fast and furious starting at the crack of dawn.
Many of these high school seniors who officially signed and submitted their national letters of intent Wednesday had been committed for weeks, if not months, and even-in the case of Ohio offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer (he declared for the Irish in the fall of 2014)–for more than a year. With six players enrolling at Notre Dame in January and 18 committing on Wednesday, the Irish have added 24 student-athletes for the 2016 season over the last month.
But, with all college coaches and other University personnel prohibited from commenting about prospects until they actually sign, the comments flew like wildfire once the paperwork arrived via email.
Wednesday marked a complete flip from the old days when letters of intent arrived through the facsimile (fax) machine, as in 2016 all letters came via email. The signs on the board in the recruiting office read, “#S16NINGIRISH” and “FAX FREE ZONE.”
How much activity happened at the Gug? An usher stationed on the second floor to keep order told the story.
By 7 a.m. EST players living in the eastern time zone began sending their paperwork-and that prompted the party to begin in the Notre Dame football staff meeting room, festooned with balloons, a Heisman Trophy, helmets, mannequins in full uniform, a framed “Recruit Like A Champion Today” sign, plus plenty of bagels, coffee, juice and other breakfast items for fuel.
The players called into a speakerphone in the staff meeting room, and that set off a long series of mini-celebrations as each addition officially became part of the family.
The Notre Dame football talk flew everywhere:
— Multiple Irish assistant coaches checked in with the players (a few of whom sounded barely awake, not surprising given the early hour).
— Assistant head coach Mike Denbrock chatted in the hallway on his cell with several potential 2017 prospects. “A year from now this is going to be you,” he said.
— Recruiting coordinator Mike Elston flitted back and forth between the staff room and the recruiting office (where the emails came in), with a cell in one hand and a walkie-talkie in another. He functioned as a veritable air traffic controller for the day.
— “Welcome to the family. Enjoy the day.”
— Several dozen media sat in the auditorium, watching the live streaming video feed on UND.com and quizzing the Irish coaches off and on as the day unfolded.
— “Enjoy it-can’t wait to get you up here.”
— The Irish officially filled out their offensive line quickly with Kraemer (Cincinnati, Ohio), Parker Boudreaux (Winter Garden, Florida) and Liam Eichenberg (Cleveland, Ohio) ranking as three of the first four players to call and send their materials. The coaches kidded Boudreaux, “You may be the only guy in America who is not happy to have this (process) over.”
— Head coach Brian Kelly monitored the proceedings in between interview opportunities. “Clearly, you are coming here for different reasons,” he said on ESPNU. “It’s important for us to be transparent. It’s about shopping down a different aisle.”
— The white board in the staff room featured individual placards for each new player (with uniform head shots, heights, weights, positions, high schools and home states) affixed one by one as his paperwork popped into the computer in-box.
— Said defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, “It’s not the end today. It’s really the beginning of the cycle. You keep the (recruiting) cycle going.”
— Assistant coaches Autry Denson, Scott Booker and other assistants paced the hallways with their cells, talking, texting and tweeting.
— “Looking forward to getting you up here on campus to see us during spring ball.”
— At 10:30 a.m. the coaches watched Orlando linebacker Jonathan Jones’ commitment live on Bright House Network, actually viewing the video via Jones’ Facebook page.
— “I can see the smile on your face through the phone-I love it. This is awesome, man.”
— Kelly, Denbrock, Gilmore and Denson visited on the speakerphone with Canadian wide receiver Chase Claypool, who had scored 51 points in a high school basketball game Tuesday night.
— “Welcome to the Fighting Irish football family. Ready to rock and roll? We’re excited you’re going to be part of all this.”
— “Enjoy celebrating with your family-you earned it.”
— As one mother offered in return, “We’re preparing to do some big celebrating.”
— Paul Carcaterra and his ESPN crew wandered in and out of offices, conversing with Irish staff members in between live shots.
— “It’s gonna be a great four years.”
— 2015 Irish captain and linebacker Joe Schmidt interviewed Irish coaches for UND.com and, instead of playing 20 Questions, did 16 fun questions with each guest-in homage to the Class of 2016.
— The sun appeared outside the Gug, as the thermometer hit 40 degrees.
— There was energy, anticipation, excitement, maybe a hint of nervousness-but most everything that happened Wednesday played out as anticipated. It marked the culmination of a long process.
— Offered Denson, “Lots of times, you either love Notre Dame or you don’t. If you do, you want to beat the door down to get here.”
Noted Kelly in summation, “After today, this should not be the highlight of your career. Today is when your journey really begins.”
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.
Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled “Sunday Brunch,” along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:
— Troy Murphy: His Relentless Yet Fun-Loving Approach Did the Trick
— Sunday Brunch: Irish Officially Hot . . . But Shhh
— Sunday Brunch: Panthers Deliver Solid Impression of Irish
DeShone Kizer: North of Confident, South of Cocky
— 2016 Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame-Ohio State Preview
— Joyce Scholars: Connecting the Irish and Buckeyes
— One Final Version: 20 Questions (and answers) on Notre Dame Football
— Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015:
— Brey’s Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner-and Moves On
— Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers:
— Men’s Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation:
— Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices:
— Bud Schmitt Doesn’t Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium:
— Remembering Bob Kemp: Notre Dame Lacrosse Family Honors Devoted Father
— Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: