Pair of Irish assistants recognized as top recruiters

Pair of Irish assistants recognized as top recruiters
February 11, 2014, 1:30 pm
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Despite coming off a nine-win season and losing its offensive and defensive coordinators, Notre Dame reeled in a well-ranked recruiting class in large part due to the success of its assistant coaches.

Rivals.com recognized the success of two of those coaches in ranking cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand among the top 25 recruiters nationally. Cooks was also named the top recruiter from a school not in a power conference.

Cooks earned credit from Rivals for signing three players from Texas -- linebacker Kolin Hill, defensive end Grant Blankenship and cornerback Nick Watkins -- who had offers from the state's flagship university (Watkins also had an offer from Texas A&M; neither Hill nor Blankenship were offered by the Aggies).

His success in Texas isn't necessarily new. Cooks recruited three commits from the state for Notre Dame's 2013 class: Wide receivers Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr. and tight end Durham Smythe, a trio of players Irish coaches are high on heading into 2014. But of that group, only Smythe held a scholarship offer from Texas.

[MORE: Notre Dame not looking for NFL-minded recruits]

Even with the Longhorns changing coaches, keeping in-state players away from Austin reflects an increasingly strong Irish presence in Texas. Coach Brian Kelly heaped praise on Cooks for his recruiting efforts on signing day, though added playing a Shamrock Series game at Cowboys Stadium "didn't hurt" either.

"Are we going to get three kids from Texas every year that get offered by Texas? That's going to be tough sledding," Kelly said. "But there are going to be years that I think we're going to be able to do well in Texas, and I think it's a great area for us. We've got a great network and a great alumni network there, as well."

As for Hiestand, he's a coach who might be able to sell himself at this point. It'd be easy for him to point to Zack Martin returning for a fifth year, excelling yet again at left tackle and rocketing up draft boards after an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl last month. His players love playing for him, and his experience at both the college and pro level holds plenty of sway.

[MORE: Irish receive high marks for 2014 recruiting class]

Hiestand signed four players for the 2014 class: Five-star tackle Quenton Nelson, four-star guard Sam Mustipher and four-star tackles Alex Bars and Jimmy Byrne. A year ago, Hiestand brought in another highly-ranked crop of linemen: Four-star prospects Steve Elmer, Mike McGlinchey, Hunter Bivin and John Montelus as well as three-star recruit Colin McGovern. Elmer wound up seeing significant playing time as a true freshman after right guard Christian Lombard underwent back surgery in late October.