NOTRE DAME - It wouldn't be National Signing Day without a flair of drama tossed into the mix.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the shock of the day came from losing verbal commit Deontay Greenberry, who made a last-minute decision to sign with Houston Wednesday morning.
The receiver had been tied to the Irish since May of last year as part of a tandem package with cousin and Washington Union High School teammate Tee Shepard but paid Houston an official visit on Friday. When it came time to sign the letter of intent, Greenberry declared himself a Cougar.
The loss of Greenberry, who many Irish fans hoped to see fill the void left by Michael Floyd, is a significant blow to the program, especially when head coach Brian Kelly said this year's recruitment was focused on skill-level positions like the defensive secondary and wide receivers.
Kelly himself didn't know of Greenberry's flip-flop until Wednesday morning, after he talked to Jeff Feitas, the receiver's high school coach.
“I think he really liked Notre Dame the whole time,” Freitas told The Chicago Tribune. “When he took his visit there, he said, in his words, everything was cool, everything was good, it's what he thought it was, everybody was great there. He liked Notre Dame. But I don't know if he loved Notre Dame.”
Kelly didn't spend much time sharing his thoughts on Greenberry's decision during Wednesday's National Signing Day press conference.
“For me, it's hard to be disappointed about something that you never had or you never coached,” Kelly said. “I'm more excited about the guys that signed because they're the right kind of guys.”
Greenberry's abandonment is the latest in a string of recruiting losses Notre Dame has sustained in the past few weeks, including cornerback Ronald Darby, who signed with Florida State, and offensive tackle Taylor Decker, who went with Ohio State.
It's hardly all doom and gloom for the Irish, who did come away with Rivals.com 5-star quarterback Gunner Kiel, Shepard, who is a Top 100 cornerback, and six other four-star recruits: defensive tackle Sheldon Day, defensive tackle Jarron Jones, running back William Mahone, running back KeiVarae Russell, defensive back Elijah Shumate and offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley.
Kelly spent a majority of the press conference reviewing the 17 additions to the roster and summarizing highlights of each player. When Kiel's name flashed on the screen, Kelly spent more time talking about the quarterback's attitude and pedigree than his skillset.
“You can see that when you talk to him is that he's a young man who just loves to play the game,” Kelly said of Kiel. “And when you're recruiting, you want to see that passion for the game. And that probably stood out more than anything else.”
Kelly used those key words and phrases - “passion” and “family” and “love for the game” - to describe every signee, who, as Kelly tells it, must come from a different kind of mold than the average Division I college athlete.
“It starts with making sure that we talked about our distinctions and not shy away from them,” he said. “We talk about a faith-based education. We talk about you've got to live in the dorms. We talk about those things as they relate to Notre Dame because we don't want to get here and you've signed a letter of intent and it wasn't the right fit.
“We're not better than anybody else, but you're shopping down a different aisle, and we make sure that that's clear in the recruiting process.”
Perhaps Kiel, Shepard and Day saw some goods in that aisle that didn't appeal to Greenberry, Decker and Darby. Perhaps Notre Dame will simply continue to lose big-name recruits until it can beef up its appeal with better winning records and BCS bowl game appearances.
Either way, Kelly isn't dwelling on it.
“There's not much time to sit around and think about the recruiting process,” said Kelly, who added that he had already made 15 phone calls Wednesday morning to 2013 prospects. “You have to react and keep moving forward.”
For a complete list of Notre Dame's 17 new members, plus Kelly's comments on each of them, visit Rachel Terlep's eTruth staff blog.
Notre Dame 2012 Recruiting Class
Ÿ Quarterback Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Ind.
Ÿ Running back Will Mahone of Austintown, Ohio.
Ÿ Running back KeiVarae Russell of Everett, Wash.
Ÿ Running back Amir Carlisle of Santa Clara, Calif. (A transfer from USC)
Ÿ Wide receiver Justin Ferguson of Pembroke Pines, Fla.
Ÿ Wide receiver Chris Brown of Hanahan, S.C.
Ÿ Defensive back Tee Shepard of Fresno, Calif.
Ÿ Defensive back Nick Baratti of Tomball, Texas.
Ÿ Defensive back C.J. Prosise of Petersburg, Va.
Ÿ Defensive back Elijah Shumate of East Orange, N.J.
Ÿ Defensive back John Turner of Indianapolis.
Ÿ Outside linebacker Romeo Okwara of Charlotte, N.C.
Ÿ Defensive lineman Jarron Jones of Rochester, N.Y.
Ÿ Defensive lineman Sheldon Day of Indianapolis.
Ÿ Offensive lineman Mark Harrell of Charlotte, N.C.
Ÿ Offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley of Las Vegas.
Ÿ Long snapper Scott Daly of Downers Grove, Ill.