SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly wasn't about to quibble with recruiting experts who called the class he signed Wednesday his best.
"I love agreeing with experts," he joked.
Most recruiting services had the Irish class ranked in the top five in the country. Kelly said the 23 players signed by the Irish show that Notre Dame has returned to elite status this past season, after being ranked No. 1 for the first time in nearly 19 years and playing against Alabama in the BCS title game, which the Irish lost 42-14.
"It's a recruiting class that when you're looking at it from my perspective, it meets the time and place as to where we are right now. We're a team that has gone from unranked to top-10 ranking, top-five ranking, at times we're the No. 1 team in the country, and I think your class begins to reflect that as you move forward," he said.
Running back Greg Bryant of Delray Beach, Fla., was an example of that. Bryant, who rushed for 1,447 yards and 17 touchdowns on 186 carries last season, had committed to Oklahoma and the Irish hadn't contacted him since May. But after Bryant decommitted from Oklahoma and the Irish were off to an 11-0 start and ranked No. 1, recruiting coordinator Tony Alford decided to give him a call just before Thanksgiving and quickly found there was interest.
"The season, 11-0, we were first in the country, that certainly had an impact with him as far as piquing his interest," said Alford, who also is the running backs coach.
Among the other highly touted players in the class are linebacker Jaylon Smith of Fort Wayne, the IndyStar Mr. Football; running back Tarean Folston, who rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns for Cocoa (Fla.) High School; and safety Max Redfield of Mission Viejo, Calif. The Irish were still waiting to hear from defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.
Smith won the Butkus Award as the nation's top high school linebacker, the same award Manti Te'o won four years ago.