Notre Dame Balancing Huge Game With Prominent Recruiting Weekend

September 7, 2017 Lou Somogyi, Senior Editor

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There will be a large section of 2018-20 recruits in Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday night.
Photo by Bill Panzica

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In the coaching profession, it is said that those who spend too much time building for the future might not be around to reap the benefits.

In other words, WIN — What’s Important Now.

For Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, this weekend is the ultimate balancing act of the present and future.

On one side, the No. 24-ranked Fighting Irish have an opportunity versus No. 15 Georgia to have their first two-game winning streak since November 2015, regain credibility and build a little momentum.

At the same time, the Notre Dame staff is holding one of the school’s biggest recruiting weekends ever for a home football game.

Eleven official and two unofficial visitors so far are slated to arrive from the Class of 2018. Seven already are verbally committed to the Irish while six others might be contemplating joining them, headlined by five-star Georgia offensive guard Jamaree Salyer. Fifteen others from the class of 2019 are slated to be in, and even three from the Class of 2020.

Preparing for one of the most anticipated games of the eight-year Kelly era while also hosting more than two-dozen coveted student athletes is almost akin to preparing for final exams while planning a wedding for the same weekend.

Back in Kelly’s second season in 2011, Notre Dame also had a highly anticipated night game — the first at home in 21 years — with arch rival USC. It was the night of shiny new gold helmets, piped-in music for the first time ever at the stadium, and the school's biggest ever recruiting night for a game. It included numerous five-star recruits such as linemen Arik Armstead and John Theus, safety Shaq Thompson, running back Keith Marshall and quarterback Gunner Kiel, among others.

The closer the game neared, the more the conversation steered toward the recruiting weekend and the dynamic high school athletes.

Guess what? The game still had to be played. The Irish fell behind 14-0 after two series on both sides before finishing with a 31-17 defeat, an extremely bitter pill for Kelly to swallow.

The priorities for this weekend are understood.

“We’ve had many of these and have done quite well in that balance,” Kelly said. “You have to be careful that you don’t put too much of your preparation into recruiting and forget what you’re doing. All week our focus and preparation are on the Georgia football team — and our team in particular.”

Because the game is at night, the opportunity for a little meeting time and communication is enhanced a little.

“When you do have that evening game there is that time that gives us a chance to greet them,” Kelly said. “Some will come in Friday night, again giving us an opportunity to greet them.

“Sunday is a preparation day for us, gives us a chance to have breakfast with them. There are many opportunities that we can pick and choose. We’re not going to get distracted.”

Much of the legwork, details and itinerary will be handled by director of recruiting Aaryn Kearney, director of player personnel Dave Peloquin and coordinator of on-campus recruiting Jasmine Johnson, with a huge support staff of students.

“But we have to be involved in some extent too,” Kelly said.

Current players also will be assigned as hosts.

“We would have players that aren’t going to be playing because we’ll be sequestered at the hotel," said Kelly of Friday night. "We have a number of [recruits] taking red eyes in, so they aren’t going to be here until Saturday. We’ll have players that played in the game hosting Saturday night. Friday night it’ll be players that probably aren’t playing in the game as hosts.”

On Sunday, the coaching staff then takes the baton through the rest of the weekend, beginning with a brunch in the Downes Club on the seventh and eighth floors of Corbett Family Hall, attached to the east side of Notre Dame Stadium.

Interaction with the position coaches and personal recruiters are followed by meeting with Kelly.

“I’ll do personal interviews with all the recruits,” Kelly said.

They’d undoubtedly be a lot more enjoyable following a victory.

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