It's an annual tradition for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly to say he and his staff are "shopping down a different aisle" when recruiting, though this year Kelly's comments came off a little more forceful.
After losing three players to the NFL Draft following their junior seasons -- defensive end Stephon Tuitt, running back George Atkinson and tight end Troy Niklas -- Kelly made mention early into his signing day press conference that he's not looking for guys who will turn pro early and eschew getting a degree from Notre Dame.
"If they want to come here just to hang their hat to play football and go to the NFL, we passed on some pretty good players, because I don't want guys to come here and not finish their degree," Kelly said. "I want guys to come to Notre Dame, get their degree, help us win a national championship, and be the No.1 pick in the NFL Draft. That's what I want, if that's what they want."
Kelly and Notre Dame kept the likes of Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert and Louis Nix around for four years despite varying shots of success entering the NFL Draft early. Kelly never officially commented on the departures of Tuitt, Atkinson and Niklas via a press release, seemingly indicating a level of disappointment.
The sticking point for Kelly is his view of the difference of being drafted in the first round as opposed to the second round or later, as could be the case for all three players who left early after last season. Kelly called the notion of leaving school early to play for a second pro contract "ridiculous," even if a record number of juniors left school early in the last few months.
"I just wanted to be clear that these are our distinctions, and you're shopping down a different aisle," Kelly said. "We're not better than anybody else, but this is what you're going to get if you shop down this aisle. So when we get into this at the end, I pretty much know which way you're going to go."
But Kelly's four-year, get-your-degree message didn't mean the Irish signed a weak recruiting class. There's still plenty of talent among the 23 players who signed letters of intent to play for Notre Dame, be it five-star offensive lineman Quenton Nelson, four-star inside linebacker Nyles Morgan or four-star wide receiver Justin Brent, among others.
Notre Dame prides itself championships and graduation rates, which is why the strategy is to bring in talented players who are serious about getting a degree. If a player's goal is only to use Notre Dame as a stepping stone to the NFL, Kelly reiterated that player wouldn't make his recruiting board.
"I would have a serious problem recruiting him to Notre Dame if they said, I only want to come to Notre Dame for three years; I have no interest in really getting the degree at Notre Dame," Kelly said. "I would have serious reservations about bringing him to Notre Dame."