Welcome to our new recruiting feature at Irish Breakdown! Every Monday we will release a Notre Dame Recruiting Mailbag. In it we'll take the best questions that Irish Breakdown subscribers ask us on the message board.
These questions cover everything from evaluation, rumors, rankings and hypothetical situations. Let the 2023 chaos ensue.
Shawn: We all know that Marcus Freeman said that recruiting would be a main priority under his command. What differences have you noticed early in his regime opposed to others before him that may support his claim?
So far, Coach Freeman’s words match his actions. He’s out on the road, continuing to strengthen connections and attacking the process. I think the recent 2024 offers and even an early stab at 2025 Belleville (Mich.) High School quarterback Bryce Underwood shows a huge difference in strategy. The current staff is far more aggressive.
When Coach Freeman was hired as defensive coordinator, he spoke a ton about doing a better job identifying student athletes who can fit Notre Dame. The results/evidence of that is something that needs a little more data to verify but that mission also seems to be changing for who the Irish coaching staff can target.
Caleb Collins: Did (Brenan) Vernon really drop as a top 50 type of player? Or is that more hate towards Notre Dame from some services?
Vernon is the same player he was when he was an early five-star rated defensive end. He’s very good! Reminds me a lot of current Cincinnati Bengal Sam Hubbard stylistically. I think it’s as simple as a lock of “flash”. Vernon has that “lunch pale” feel to him. He just does everything so well but might not be special in one particular area. Vernon also isn’t very active on social media. I think there’s more outside factors at work from a rankings perspective than on field production/performance.
ZWMartin: Obviously defense is much further ahead than offense for 2023 as far as getting their top targets. For offense, who is Notre Dame’s top recruit on their board for each position group (QB, HB, OL, WR, TE) AND who do you think they will actually/realistically get at each position group as their top guy?
Quarterback: It’s Detroit (Mich.) Martin Luther King Jr. signal caller Dante Moore. It’s always been Dante Moore. It should continue to be Dante Moore. Call me optimistic but I do believe Notre Dame is in this one. You have to be ready to play the long game here. Jackson Arnold and Christopher Vizzina are high on the board if it doesn’t materialize with Moore.
Running Back: The top of the board would probably be Justice Haynes from Roswell (Ga.) Blessed Central Catholic. The Irish are in play here but I’m still trying to feel out the recruitment. Jayden Limar out of Washington is another one to keep tabs on, and Notre Dame also likes him a lot.
Wide receiver: Carnell Tate out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy seems like the unquestioned top target on the board for the Irish. The staff has recently attacked the IMG pipeline on their recent visit. Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep speedster Jalen Brown and Uniontown (Pa.) Laurel Highlands star Rodney Gallagher are a couple top targets to watch.
Tight end: This tight end class is more about maintaining the commitment from Cooper Flanagan out of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle. Numbers are high on the roster so it seems unlikely that Notre Dame takes two tight ends in the class. With that in mind, Flanagan is their guy.
Offensive line: This one is a little tougher to get clarity on, especially since Harry Hiestand hasn't yet been able to dive head first into recruiting. Once that happens there could be some movement. As it stands, the Irish are putting a lot of effort into Brockton (Mass.) Thayer Academy offensive tackle Samson Okunlola. Notre Dame is in a very good spot with him despite the unfamiliar Okunlola has with Coach Hiestand. Another player to keep a close eye on is Monroe Freeling from Mount Pleasant (S.C.) Oceanside Collegiate Academy.
Syro-MalabarNDFan: Rivals has Christopher Vizzina future casted to Clemson and Jackson Arnold is future casted to Oklahoma. So I’m wondering what are Notre Dame's chances that they land a Top of the board QB (Dante, Nico, Jackson, Chris)? Do you think they will land one of those four?
Quarterback is going to be the main talking point. Just take all the things you hear with a grain of salt. Notre Dame has Moore as the main priority - and it seems they are okay playing the long game. That doesn't mean they don't also like Arnold and Vizzina a lot, because they do, but Moore is the best quarterback on the board.
I do believe that they end with one of Moore, Arnold or Vizzina when all is said and done. We just have to let this one play out a bit. Even if Arnold and Vizzina commit to another school doesn't mean their recruitments are over. Oklahoma and Clemson certainly wouldn't stop recruiting them if they committed to Notre Dame.
Chief1: What is your concern level on Keon Keeley right now? What do you think his player comp is?
Personally, I’m not concerned. I completely understand why some are but Notre Dame is doing a nice job filling out the coaching staff and will have every opportunity to sell Keeley on their vision. Keeley seems to be quite pleased with the hire of Al Washington as the new defensive line coach. Until they sign, it isn’t a done deal but I wouldn’t panic right now.
My player comparison for Keeley would be Chandler Jones stylistically. Obviously I’m not predicting that type of future success but body type wise, Keeley should be able to carry 260-265 with relative ease down the road.
Then there’s the length - the young man has vines for arms. Perhaps the most surprising thing, however, is just how explosive Keeley is for his size. At around 6-6, he is a true outside track rusher who can bring speed - while also having a frame to develop a significant power profile in the future.
Florida Irish: What do you know about the safety offer to King Mack at St Thomas Aquinas? He isn’t ranked very high currently, but obviously it’s early still. What kind of prospect is he?
Mack has some great instincts on the backend and plus range. He’s a bit of a smaller framed safety so definitely is at his best working from depth in deep zone. In the run game, he has nice effort but is only about 175 pounds currently. Mack is a true free safety type who has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.
I’d expect a nice rise from him throughout the process, closer to a consensus around the No. 201 player (No. 10 safety) ranking that ESPN sees him. He’s definitely better than a three star level recruit.
Freeman recently went to St. Thomas Aquinas and obviously Mack was part of the reason for that visit.
et1512: Who’s a recruit that’s not highly ranked you absolutely love?
I’ll go with Cambridge (Mass.) Buckingham Browne & Nichols School target Ronan Hanafin. It seems most schools are targeting him as a wide receiver but he brings a defensive profile that is also very interesting. Notre Dame is recruiting him as an athlete, which means they'll figure out his position later. Freeman visited his high school this past week.
At 6-3 and 205 pounds, Hanafin is rumored to time in the 4.4s in the forty yard dash, illustrating his size-speed combination. As a wide receiver, there are some parallels to former Cincinnati Bearcats wide Alec Pierce. His size and linear explosiveness will be able to cause opposing defensive backs some issues, specifically near the sideline and in the back shoulder game.
His projection on defense, however, might even be more of an interesting possibility. Hanafin also stars on the defensive side for his high school, aligning as a strong safety. With that size and athleticism, rover would be an ideal fit. He has the frame to carry an additional 10-15 pounds without much issue. Hanafin brings the baseline traits and physicality that Coach Freeman may like on the defensive side of the ball if he lands with the Irish.
FishND: What aspects about evaluating college talent for the NFL are the most relevant to evaluating high school talent for the college game? And maybe more importantly what aspects are less relevant...that you may need to “deprogram” out of?
This is a loaded question (and I love it!). If we can start with the similarities, you are still evaluating traits at the end of the day.
Depending on the position, you are going to work through your requisites to be a successful player transitioning to the next level. There is also a layer of projection of course. Players will have better coaching when they make the jump. Physical and mental development will happen. Those are things that are sometimes hard to predict - especially the latter.
Body typing is a huge part of both. You have to be able to look at a player’s frame and have some idea for how much weight it can carry - how much further development without sacrificing athleticism.
One of the biggest differences is, as an independent NFL draft scout, I was more projecting scheme fits for prospects.
Dependent on traits and play styles, predicting systems that would best make that player successful is paramount in that space. Now, you are focusing on one scheme - Notre Dame’s. The idea of projection also drastically changes.
With the NFL Draft, players of course are going to improve tremendously but not to the degree of high schoolers to collegiate athletes usually. The jump from 18-22 years old can be a lot more extensive than 22-26. This makes projection a little more volatile when talking about high school athletes.
Also, the last layer is the varying levels of high school football. There is a lot more parity in the college game. There are going to be some outstanding athletes who play against the best competition in the nation, limiting their production when compared to players who are playing in other smaller leagues.
Seeing those small school standouts can be a guessing game amongst itself. That’s why the ability to recognize athletic traits is again so crucial.
Sigismund13: What are some of the new areas/regions and high schools we can expect this staff thus far to shift focus towards, if any changes?
I’m not going to go too in depth on this one because I actually have a future article already in the works! The short answer is the Maryland-Washington D.C. area. The Irish are targeting several prospects from there - and historically, it could be a huge region to get back into regularly. Deeper analysis coming very soon!
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