Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2020

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

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32 FEBRUARY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY ANDREW MENTOCK F or the Notre Dame coaching staff, it takes a lot more than a high Rivals recruiting rank- ing for a prospect to receive a scholarship offer. A high school player — or grad- uate transfer — must meet a high standard throughout the evaluation process, which will determine if he is a program fit as it pertains to his ath- letic prowess on the field, aptitude in the classroom, and personality in the locker room and on campus. A lot goes into that process. Take Omaha (Neb.) Burke wide receiver Xavier Watts, widely considered a three-star recruit by Rivals and other services. Yet he was one of the most sought-after prospects in the 2020 class by the Notre Dame staff. The Fighting Irish coaches deter- mined he met the academic and ath- letic profile, but it was another trait that put him over the edge. "[He is] a serious, focused com- petitor, just everything about his de- meanor," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "You've got to read into ballplayers a little bit more when it comes to their demeanor and how they can impact others. This is a seri- ous individual that takes his craft, that takes being a competitor and a winner to the next level. He's going to influence others around him." But what goes into actually dis- covering why Watts and the 17 other 2020 signees will fit into life as a Notre Dame scholarship athlete? ATHLETIC PROFILE A priority on the recruiting trail for the Fighting Irish on both sides of the ball is length and speed. Unfortunately, an inordinate amount of high school football pros- pects claim to have 4.4-second 40- yard dash times, especially compared to what is reality in the NFL. That is why Notre Dame went through extraordinary efforts to verify a re- cruit's speed by flying all over the country to see them in person. " G o d b l e s s t h e h i g h s c h o o l coaches," recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said. "We love them and they're always trying to help their kids. I always point this out, my ex- perience with my dad in the NFL. "If you look at how many guys go to the combine and can actually run in the low 4.4s, there's not very many of them. But when we talk to high school coaches, there's millions across the country." Polian and the Irish staff did their due diligence and know more about this current crop of recruits than they did in the past few cycles. For instance, Notre Dame offered 2020 cornerback recruit Lovie Jenkins but later slowed on him because the staff was unable to verify certain informa- tion, including his speed. Another vital part of this process was evaluating track times, even if the prospect didn't run the 60- or 100-meter dash. "What if a guy runs only a 200 me- ter? What if he's a distance guy? How do we translate a split in a 4 x 100 to a verified speed?" Polian said. "We literally did some research on that in the winter into the spring in terms of, is he really fast? What if does a really good 110 high hurdle? How does that equate to football speed? "You know it when you see it on film, but [we had] the discipline to walk away if we did not have a veri- fied speed." Length is a little easier to evalu- ate in person, but that doesn't make it any less coveted. To understand this, look no further than a certain 6-4 safety who was able to make a significant contribution to the Irish in 2019 as a true freshman. "From a football point of view, a great reminder of the power of length was Kyle Hamilton this year," Polian said. "If you can get a really good athlete who has got length, that's better than just a really good athlete who doesn't." In addition to verifiable speed, Notre Dame targeted length for the defensive backfield in the 2020 recruit- ing class. Southaven (Miss.) High's Caleb Offord (6-1) and Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty's Ramon Henderson (6-3) are both rangy athletes, even if they are "only" three-star recruits. While cornerback recruits Landen Bartleson of Danville (Ky.) Boyle County and Clarence Lewis of Mid- dletown (N.J.) Mater Dei may be listed at around 6-0, both still have long arms and also fit the athletic profile the staff is looking for. "There was a concerted effort this year to, if we have two equal grades on a guy, let's go with the guy that's got a little bit more length," Polian said. "I know there was some con- sternation earlier in the year about the defensive back board and defen- sive back situation." SCHOLASTIC APTITUDE Determining which prospect will be excited to face the academic de- mands at Notre Dame is about much more than looking at a recruit's GPA Notre Dame Fit How the Irish determine if a recruit meets the program's standards athletically, academically and culturally Recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and the Irish staff take the necessary steps to verify a recruit's athleticism on the field, aptitude in the classroom, and personality in the locker room and on campus. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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