Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 JUNE/JULY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W hen it comes to tireless and relentless recruit- ing, not many assistant coaches in the country can stand next to Notre Dame's Brian Polian, even if the final Irish class rankings might of- ten suggest differently. Polian, the Notre Dame spe- cial teams coach and recruit- ing coordinator, has seldom been the architect of top-five classes in the way the folks at Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson pile 'em up so frequently. But Polian's mastery of find- ing and landing players who can qualify for and survive at Notre Dame — and then who can consistently win against one of the nation's more de- manding schedule in terms of travel — is no easy challenge. "Our recruiting pool is not really as big as people think," Polian explained last Decem- ber, shortly after Notre Dame secured an undefeated regu- lar season and its first appear- ance in the five-year history of the College Football Playoff. "The tran- script will eliminate a lot of guys im- mediately. And what our university will ask them to do academically as [high school] seniors will also elimi- nate guys automatically." The are no "eligibility majors avail- able at Notre Dame, meaning its stu- dent-athletes are asked to do much more than minimal work to stay aca- demically qualified. And that's where recruiting be- comes only one part of the secret to Notre Dame football success. Player retention, development and recruit- ing consistency must also never slip. To steal a line from renowned golf coach Harvey Penick, recruiting in football isn't unlike playing a round of golf because, "The important ques- tion is not how good your good shots are," he wrote, "it's how bad are your bad ones?" Notre Dame recruiting under head coach Brian Kelly has essentially avoided any "bad ones." While Polian, Kelly and the rest of the Notre Dame recruiting staff may not routinely land five-star talent, their last five classes — those that make up the current Irish roster — are filled with widely coveted four- star players. Each of these classes ranked in the nation's top 15 and have blended together into a playoff- caliber program. "At the core of it, you have to iden- tify the players that will stay here that you can develop," Kelly said. "You want young men who fit Notre Dame and will be here to grow. It's got to start there." Polian explained that recruiting to the demands and uniqueness of Notre Dame carries both benefits and drawbacks. Tradition, attention and exposure all allow the Irish coaches to recruit nationally. Last year's roster featured players from 28 different states and one Canadian province, and the 2020 class even includes a defensive line- man from Germany. "We do cast a wide net," said Po- lian, who has become a recruiting force in the state of Hawai'i and all along the West Coast. The high academic stan- dards often attract h igh achievers who are willing to do what's necessary before ar- riving at Notre Dame to help find success when they do. Polian outlined how Notre Dame admissions often be- comes involved in the recruit- ing process and provides an academic checklist to high school seniors still working toward acceptance. "If a young man says, 'I'm not willing to do those things,' then we know that they re- ally don't want Notre Dame," Polian said. "And if a young man says, 'All right, tell me what I need to do and I'll get it done,' then we know they can identify with our mission and want to be here. "Some people might look at that as a disadvantage. I would say to a certain degree it's an advantage." And, of course, achieving a 22-4 record the last two seasons and qualifying for the College Football Playoff against strong competition don't hurt re- cruiting momentum either. "I don't think it's earth-shattering news … if you're winning, it's easier to go into schools and into living rooms," Polian said with a laugh. But the coach also explained that because of the entirety of the Notre Dame mission statement, on-field results here don't necessary drive re- cruiting rankings, up or down. Even through the team turmoil and coaching turnover following a 4-8 season in 2016, the Irish staff still built a top-15 class. "The type of guy that we want to recruit is not necessarily going to be dissuaded between [a record of] 9-3 or 12-0," Polian added. "The person we want and that wants Notre Dame, I think, is going to pick us nonethe- less, and that is what makes this place so special." ✦ Recruiting Is A Different Game At Notre Dame UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at According to special teams coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian, recruiting to the demands and uniqueness of Notre Dame carries both benefits and drawbacks. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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