There were several reasons first-year coach Brian Kelly retained assistant Tony Alford -- the lone holdover from the previous Notre Dame coaching staff. This weekend's recruiting victory is one example of why Kelly kept the team's wide receivers coach on the payroll.
Clay Burton a senior-to-be defensive end out of Venice, Fla., pledged his verbal allegiance Friday to play for the Fighting Irish, pushing the program's class of 2011 to double-digit commitments.
"Coach Alford was basically with me every step of the way," Burton said. "There was just something special about coach Alford. I didn't know how serious I was about Notre Dame until after the visit. After, I knew this was it."
With heavy interest from Florida, Georgia, Miami, Michigan and Clemson, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder made an unofficial visit to South Bend last week and was won over by Kelly, athletic director Jack Swarbrick and other school officials with whom he met.
The kicker, Burton said, was a night at the movies followed up by hours of on-campus cage fighting.
"I had a lot of fun," said Burton, who was invited by Irish players to go see the "The Karate Kid" before trading dorm-room blows with linebacker Manti Te'o and wideout Robby Toma on Xbox 360's "UFC Undisputed 2010."
"Just doing stuff that college and high school kids do. I think Manti was lucky; but he was the best."
Pegged as an outside linebacker for the Irish, Burton recorded 47 tackles (24 solo) and 11 of Venice's 18 sacks last season. He finished with five pass deflections and 11 quarterback hurries -- both second best for the Indians. ESPN Recruiting rated him as the nation's No. 22 defensive end.
Burton joins DEs Brad Carrico (Dublin, Ohio) and Tony Springmann (Fort Wayne, Indiana) and LB Jarrett Grace (Cincinnati, Ohio) in what's shaping into a rejuvenation year on the defensive side of the ball for Kelly's first full recruiting class.
"I had a good meeting with [defensive coordinator] Bob Diaco and [assistant coach Mike] Elston and they showed me the position I'd be playing and that helped me in visualizing how well I could fit in this defense," Burton said. "All I'm going to do is try and bulk up."
Like older brother, Trey, a quarterback who graduated from Venice early this year and enrolled at Florida, Clay Burton will look to join the Irish program as an early enrollee this winter.
Wes Morgan covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com.