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Sam Pendleton Journeys From Unheralded Recruit To Notre Dame Commit

North Carolina offensive lineman Sam Pendleton details his journey that went from being an overlooked recruit to a Notre Dame commit

It was a long road for Pfafftown (N.C.) Reagan offensive lineman Sam Pendleton, going from an under-appreciated recruit to a vital part of the No. 1 rated 2023 recruiting class for the Notre Dame Irish. Along the way, the 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman experienced a surge of recruiting attention, growing coaching relationships, plenty of visits and the ultimate decision.

Sitting down with the Irish Breakdown recently, Pendleton chronicled the journey, taking us step by step into his journey to the Notre Dame program. The recruiting story began early on in his high school career.

“I got my first offer in the summer of my sophomore year. I actually went to six camps, that’s the most I did,” Pendleton explained. “Those were all camps at schools. I wasn’t really into the showcase camps because I don’t believe in them. I would go directly to the school camps to get noticed by the coaches. I got my first offer after the USC (South Carolina) camp by Marshall.”

That decision to not frequent the showcase circuit did cause Pendleton’s process to get a little slow. For several months, not much changed in his world. It’s just how he operates. Whether on the football field or in real life, he doesn’t care much for the flash.

Eventually, however, his talent earned the attention that it ultimately deserved. It turned out that slow period was just the calm before the storm.

“It got slow after that first offer, not going to lie,” Pendleton said. “I didn’t get my next offer until I went on my game day visits. It was in the fall during my football season and some of the coaches wanted to see my film.

"It didn’t really start blowing up until December of my junior year,” he continued. “That’s when I really started to get some bigger offers. I got Michigan, NC State and it really just started to take off from there.”

Eventually Notre Dame would get heavily involved, but not until the middle of this past March when the offer was extended. As it turns out, the evaluation process in general was a later process. While Notre Dame was always a school that Pendleton wanted to hear from, he didn’t really get on their radar until the new staff took over.

In fact, the previous staff dismissed him pretty quickly.

“My process with Notre Dame was really interesting,” explained Pendleton. “I was not contacted at all by the old staff. I actually set my film up there a lot and my coaches tried to get in touch with them and I basically got turned down.

“When the new staff under Coach (Marcus) Freeman came in with Coach (Harry) Hiestand, I went to an event with a recruiter and he asked what school I wanted to hear from and it was Notre Dame,” he continued. “That’s one of the schools I have always looked up to with their tradition, academics, resume putting offensive linemen into the league and just the character they have as well.”

After that things sped up in a hurry. The new staff took notice and quickly reached out.

“About three days after that, I got contacted by Coach Hiestand over the phone. He never watched my film and never really knew anything about me as a player, he just wanted to shoot the breeze,” Pendleton said. “That’s when I realized that Coach Hiestand is a different kind of coach. He asked me about my family, about my interests outside of football and then stuff like that.”

Hiestand identified the player, assessed the fit and began working his magic.

“(Coach Hiestand then) looked at my film, about four to five days later, he called me back and offered me; that’s when I really started to talk with Notre Dame,” Pendleton said. “A few days later, I got on my phone with Coach Freeman and we set up a visit day and time. I was up there in about two weeks.”

From that first trip to South Bend, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. This recruitment ended as quickly as it began. The Irish were who Pendleton always wanted, it was just a matter of whether that interest would be reciprocated.

That initial visit solidified both sides and ultimately closed the deal.

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“I got to watch practice and talk to the coaches on that trip,” Pendleton explained. “I was up there with Charles Jagusah. It was really good, kind of one on one with the coaches and what really sold me was the people.

“Like Coach Freeman says, it’s not just about the people and things that a school has but the people that make it special,” continued the talented lineman. “All the people on the campus, whether it’s a professor, a dean or coach, have so much respect for the culture at Notre Dame. It interested me to go somewhere with that much tradition, that much rigor in their education and how much they give back to the community and the world.”

Of course, the reputation of Notre Dame's leading men certainly had an influence.

"Not to mention Coach Freeman and Coach Hiestand, who are two of the best coaches in the nation,” Pendleton continued. “When you put that all together, it’s a no brainer. I called them like six days later and told them that I committed. I don’t think it was one certain thing about Notre Dame that sold me. It was everything, the people, the coaches, the players… everything. It’s the place for me.”

Pendleton returned to South Bend just over a week ago, marking his first trip to campus as a committed player. He is excited now for his experiences as a part of the 2023 class and more than anything, is ecstatic to have found his perfect fit.

“It’s been great; just being able to take the stress off of your shoulders of trying to be recruited,” he noted. “Now it’s somewhere that you can really enjoy, the school you are committed to. Being able to dig into that heritage and the rich tradition they have. Being able to go back and bond with the coaches and other recruits has been great.”

Since committing to Notre Dame, Pendleton has been an ideal member of the 2023 class. The Irish seem to be building something special and the North Carolina native is firmly a part of the vision. To think that he would most certainly not be a part of that vision if not for the new staff. 

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