Recruiting: Taking The Final Step
On the field, Notre Dame seems to be just a step behind a handful of elite programs. Recruiting will be a major part of closing the remaining gap. In this feature I share my thoughts on the categories Notre Dame does well, and the areas that Notre Dame needs to improve.
SPEED AND SKILL ON OFFENSE
If there would be one thing the 2020 class brings, it’s speed. Athleticism overall, really. Just looking at the offensive skill talent alone, Notre Dame increased its talent with players from across the country such as Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale running back Chris Tyree and St. Louis (Mo.) DeSmet wide receiver Jordan Johnson.
Both players can change games in their own way. Tyree can catch a swing pass and make four defenders miss before scoring. Johnson runs really good routes and he’s tough to stop in the red zone. That would be just two of Notre Dame’s offensive skill players, and there’s more.
Tight ends Kevin Bauman of Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic and Michael Mayor of Alexandria (Ky.) Covington Catholic will stretch defenses and help the run game. With Omaha (Neb.) Burke wide receiver Xavier Watts, Notre Dame landed the state of Nebraska’s most well rounded skill position player. With that said, 2020 represents one class. That’s the type of class that Clemson and Alabama sign almost every year.
Notre Dame must start landing more elite skill position talent, year in and year out, to win the national title. Now, the Irish do appear to be trending within the proper direction, but it must finish the recruitments of several players this year and next to see that trend become a reality.
RECRUIT ELITE DEFENSIVE TALENT
Many programs scheme their way to scoring points, but to be great on defense, it’s about talent. Recruit. Recruit. Recruit.
Defense continues to be about chasing down the play; my athlete being better than your athlete. Notre Dame scored several really good players in recent years, but two things do not add up to consistently being one of college football’s elite defenses.
Where’s the interior run stopper? Notre Dame dominated Boston College and Stanford, but those teams are just not good. To beat teams like Georgia, Alabama and Clemson, Notre Dame needs more interior defensive line talent that’s not only big, but can move.
Don’t misread that last statement. Notre Dame possesses plenty of talent within the interior defensive line. Just no true run stuffer, or at least we haven’t seen that player emerge just yet. That’s an issue against elite teams. Can Lake Forest (Ill.) standout Rylie Mills or Denver (Colo.) Mullen big man from the 2020 class be that player? Can current freshman Jacob Lacey or Hunter Spears be that player? Only time will tell.
Where’s the next great cornerback coming from? Absolutely must produce more top cornerbacks. When a cornerback is one-on-one against a future NFL player, there is no substitution for pure talent. Think about playing Clemson or LSU in a bowl game. Better bring some big-time cornerbacks to the gridiron or get torched.
With the possible position switches that took place since Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly arrived, there could be something in the works before 2020 spring practice. Of course, 2019 signee and current freshman Cam Hart already moved to cornerback from wide receiver. He’s every bit of 6-2 if not taller, and he can run. Could another current Irish player also move over to cornerback?
Definitely. Regardless, Notre Dame better be right with some of the cornerbacks it lined up for 2020 because they passed on some higher rated players. Every school evaluates differently. Time will tell if the Notre Dame made good decisions. I personally like Notre Dame’s current cornerback class, but just like with the high-level offensive skill talent, Notre Dame must sign and develop these types of players every single year.
BALANCED RECRUITING CLASSES
For the longest time, the Irish failed to bring in classes without big holes, especially on defense. It was a big problem in the late 1990s until about the time Coach Kelly arrived. That’s changed for the better. While injuries can still deplete a position group, Notre Dame currently looks pretty good across the board.
Gone are the days where Notre Dame literally needs bodies. Gone are the days where Notre Dame has no speed at wide receiver. Wave goodbye to the times when the Notre Dame defensive linemen could not rush the passer to save their life. All in all, the Irish roster appears to be in pretty good shape. Now, with all of that stated, how do the Irish truly pull even with programs such as Clemson and Alabama?
BE COMMITTED TO CONSTANTLY COMMUNICATING WITH RECRUITS
Sounds simple, yes? Really, it’s not. Many college coaches loathe recruiting. It’s very time consuming and they do not like pandering to teenagers. While that may be the case, it’s the reason that certain schools win and other programs fire coaching staffs every three to five years. The one constant for winning big derives with recruiting.
Some coaches struggle to balance in-season recruiting with coaching the current players and trying to win games.
There is a major trend with recruits. It can be from any number of schools. Many assistant coaches simply do not consistently communicate with key recruits. Elite programs here. Name brands. Why?
Again, many coaches simply do not like it. If the fans of many programs simply knew the severity of the poor recruiting by numerous coaches, they would be livid! Over time, every program goes through this issue. It’s a problem across the board. Notre Dame is not excused from this list either.
For the Irish, it’s not nearly as bad as it’s been during past coaching staffs. Still, there is certainly room for improvement. Notre Dame needs to recruit like Clemson. Absolutely all in with recruiting. That’s more about effort and committing to time with recruits instead of time with one’s own family (literally).
Yes, Notre Dame can still recruit at an elite level (look at 2020 and start to 2021), but there’s a a window of opportunity to be elite, on the field, by way of recruiting. The time to strike is now!
If even one recruit fails to hear from Notre Dame from more than a few days it risks falling behind, just like any given program. Like it or not, recruits tend to select schools based on coaches, not the institutions themselves.
Will Notre Dame get over the top and land a handful of elite players for 2021 that normally go to Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon (trending program), or Georgia? Honestly, Notre Dame just needs two or three more elite level players to get over the hump. Time will tell.
ON CAMPUS EXPERIENCE
This is one area Notre Dame does a tremendous job. I cannot remember hearing anything negative from prospects about game day or unofficial visits. That’s a great sign. Hats off to those that make those visits run as smooth as possible. Many of these people will never hear their names on ESPN SportsCenter, but they ensure the game day experience rocks.
I’ve heard countless good stories about how much fun a game day experience can be at Notre Dame. The fans, the stadium, how beautiful the campus looks, and on and on. Job well done.
THE GOLD STANDARD: CLEMSON
There’s no second place. Heck, there’s no third place. Multiple recruits and parents tell stories of how the Clemson coaches care not only about football, but how the recruit is doing in life; how the coaches will take care of the parents’ child; how Clemson is like family.
Notre Dame does well within this area, but everyone chases Clemson here. Maybe it cannot be completely duplicated. Hard to say. The Irish must try.
It’s all about effort, as alluded to above. Clemson is the program that’s constantly mentioned by parents of recruits, and that’s also important. Win over the parents, and it’s much easier to sign the prospect. This is especially true for the Irish.
Notre Dame recruits players down South and of course out West. Hard enough to win battles where distance becomes an issue. Must gain the trust and respect of parents and prospects alike. Usually Notre Dame does a really good job with relationships, but not always. Just something to consider.
The notion that Notre Dame cannot land the talent to win a national title is untrue. It’s harder, yes, but not even close to impossible. Winning stems from more than talent, but recruiting will always be the most important ingredient for winning a championship.
Notre Dame recruiting is really good right now, but it can and should be even better. Let’s see how the Irish finish the 2020 recruiting class and how well it continues its efforts with 2021.