Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston has worn many hats during his going on 12-year career in South Bend, but he’s now back in charge of the Fighting Irish recruiting operation. We’ve seen immediate - and much-needed - changes to the recruiting operation with Elston in charge.
The hope is that Elston can push the buttons that will allow the program to finally start maximizing its recruiting potential, and with two College Football Playoff appearances in the last two seasons the opportunities are there for Notre Dame to take a big leap when it comes to closing the perceived talent gap.
Elston’s return to recruiting coordinator and the arrival of Marcus Freeman on defense has resulted in immediate, observable differences in recruiting success, but more importantly to the overall structure of the recruiting operation.
“My strengths are the creative part to me, and how we get them to say yes part,” Elston said of what he hopes to add to recruiting. “We have two parts to the recruiting office, we have our evaluation piece and then we have our creativity, get them to say yes piece, the acquisition of the talent phase.
Elston praised the work that former recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and the rest of the back office recruiting staff did in previous seasons. But there is obviously another level to recruiting success that is needed, and that is finishing with even more top talent.
“Brian was really good at the evaluation part, so I learned a lot from that and it's been really fun,” Elston explained. “Now then to come back and help implement a little bit more of the creative side and lean on the things that Brian put in place in evaluation and for me to work with the recruiting office. like the Pot of Gold day and different things we have planned coming up, even today with some things that will be pushed out, some presentations we're doing with recruits and their families. I was excited to get back into it and build on what Brian had done with evaluation and even a lot of the presentations that he had done.”
Of course the first big noticeable rollout for Notre Dame was the March Pot of Gold push, which came on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a creative push that generated a lot of social media buzz, but there was a practical emphasis behind it, and that was getting a much earlier start on recruiting the sophomore class, something that has been a major need for Notre Dame.
“We had just changed some things within the evaluation piece to make sure we were going ahead and evaluating the 2023 and 2024 class ahead of time, ahead of when we normally would do it,” said Elston of the Pot of Gold push. “We had a lot of information we were gathering, from transcripts to character. We wanted to check a lot of boxes, but we knew by St. Paddy's Day we would have a lot of underclassmen we wanted to offer.
“We threw it together that way and continued to add the ideas of different things we were going to do — add social media to it,” continued Elston. “It was a very, very successful day and it's something we can build on for years to come. St. Paddy's Day, the luck of the Irish, no one use can really utilize that day like we can. It was almost had a feel of a National Signing Day and that's what we were going for to get some good buzz and on the cusp of really rolling out a new plan for the 2023 class and getting ahead of the curve."
Notre Dame’s recruiting success in recent months has allowed the program to stockpile talent, and the board is loaded right now. Closing will be key for the Fighting Irish, and a vital piece to that is getting players on campus, something Elston and the rest of the Notre Dame staff expects to start happening in June.
“The June visits, we're obviously very, very excited to get young people on this campus,” Elston stated. “Notre Dame is a place — Coach [Brian] Kelly has always felt you have to visit to understand. Let's face it, you can go to a lot of campuses in the SEC and you see one, you've seen quite a few of them. Those are carbon copies of each other. Notre Dame is different. You have to come to our campus and you have to see it. What we’re trying to do, we're encouraging the young players, the underclassmen, to come early in June because the weekends will be very, very busy with official visits with our 2022 class.
“We're just encouraging guys who are unofficial visiting to come during the week and early in June,” continued Elston. “Obviously we have camps going at that time if we're allowed to have camps, which we're hoping we do. Camps during the week and then leaving our weekends available for official visitors. Obviously, we’ve been scheduling visits unofficial and official to make sure people are buying plane tickets and reserving times to get up here on this campus. We're working non-stop at that.”
A key part of Notre Dame’s recruiting operation in recent weeks has been the addition of back office recruiting coordinators on defense (Chad Bowden) and offense.
“The Chad Bowden position, which we're calling our Offensive and our Defensive Recruiting Directors, they're integral in what we're doing,” explained Elston. “They sit in on the defensive and offensive staff meetings, they know all the personnel, they're helping organize lists and evaluations.
“It allows us as coaches to be better on the phone,” Elston continued. “It allows us to be better involved with the process of … educating the players rather than all the odds and ends of making sure the phone numbers are correct for the high school coaches, making sure the email addresses are correct. There's just an organizational piece that Chad has been awesome with.
“You’ve seen us really move the needle with a lot of guys in this 2022, 2023 cycle because the work force has been lifted, we've just had more people involved. We're utilizing as many people in the building that we can. Once we hire another position, if we can hire another position for the opposite of Chad on offense, we're going to be even stronger. It's a very good position to have to just help facilitate everything that we're doing on offense and defense and keep the boards accurate and moving the needle on every player that we're recruiting.”
Much of this work has Notre Dame on the verge of landing one of the best classes of the Brian Kelly era. We’re already seeing the positive results on defense, and if the Irish staff can continue to expand its operation and close on the top prospects already on the board Elston will oversee the final step that is needed for Notre Dame to get its roster to the level it can now go out and compete for a championship.
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