Over the last decade Notre Dame has certainly closed the gap on the nation’s top programs. After almost two decades of mediocrity, Brian Kelly and the Irish have gone 43-8 in the last four seasons and twice reached the College Football Playoff.
You’ll see excuses coming from many quarters as to why Notre Dame hasn’t fully closed the gap, and the majority of them involve the inability to “recruit with the big boys.” Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman isn’t having any of that. The first-year Irish defensive coordinator and the rest of the staff on that side of the ball are ready and willing to do battle to land the nation’s best prospects.
"We're going to continue to be the most aggressive and hardest working recruiting staff in the country,” Freeman said in a recent press conference. “That's just a goal of mine and that's a philosophy of mine. Let's one outwork everybody in the country; that's in terms of evaluations, that’s in terms of developing relationships.”
From the first time we spoke with him following his decision to come to Notre Dame, Freeman has pushed back against the notion that recruiting at Notre Dame is difficult. Freeman knows that every year there will be a group of talented prospects that are passionate about the Irish program, which gives the program a strong recruiting foundation.
“I think we've done a really good job of identifying the guys that we feel are the best players that fit Notre Dame,” Freeman explained. “That's something I said in our first press conference. I think at times it can be easy to recruit at Notre Dame because you're Notre Dame and there's a certain group of kids that would die to come to Notre Dame.”
While that foundation is a great place to start, for Notre Dame to catch up to the programs winning titles it must take recruiting to an even higher level. That means going after and landing the nation’s best prospects, and that’s exactly what Freeman and recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Mike Elston are working to do.
“I think for us to continue to elevate and continue to try to be National Champions and be able to close that gap right now with Alabama, we’ve got to continue to acquire some of the best football players in the country,” said Freeman. “Those guys might not always be dying to come to Notre Dame, but if we understand that they're the right fit and we do our research and they can be successful here at Notre Dame, our job is to convince them to let these guys know what makes the University of Notre Dame special.”
That all sounds good, and we’ve heard similar things from Notre Dame coaches in the past. The difference with Freeman and the current defensive staff is they are carrying it out. Since Freeman was hired Notre Dame has already landed a pair of defensive linemen, a linebacker and a cornerback that all grade out on the Irish Breakdown board as Top 250 caliber prospects or better.
Notre Dame’s defensive board for the 2022 class is loaded with even more top-level players, prospects that I like to call gap closers. Freeman and the defensive staff must close on those top players, and with visits coming up they will get their shot to finish the 2022 class off in incredibly impressive fashion.
“It's not hard to do once you're here, it's hard to convince somebody because they're not here,” Freeman said, referring to the need to get players on campus to finish the deal. “When you're here, you almost wonder where else would you go, but it's our job as a staff to convince these guys that there is no better place to go in the country. There's many different ways of trying to present that to them, but that’s right now our philosophy.
“We've identified the top 2022 prospects; now, let's continue every day to find ways to convince this family that the University of Notre Dame is second to none when it comes to your college experience, when it comes to the competitive side, the development side of you as a student-athlete. There is nowhere else in the country that compares to it. Every day we'll continue to work at it.”
The way Freeman has gone about business on the recruiting trail in his first four months, I’m not betting against him and the rest of the defensive staff. This defensive class could end up being special.
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