Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

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

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4 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he fact that Brian Po- l i a n , N o t re D a m e ' s recruiting coordina- tor, made sure to publicly thank his wife immediately following the first day of the early signing period (Dec. 16) made it clear that this recruiting cycle was like none other college coaches or high school players have ever experienced. Polian said that while he worked from home most of the spring and all of the summer, his better half end- lessly endured her hubby's "excellence" Internet pre- sentation that he pitched live by video to prospects in a virtual recruiting method that replaced any traditional in-home visits the pandemic put on pause. Polian also shared that Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea of- ten holds and cares for his young son Jack during these video visits. "Everybody's families had to ad- just," Polian explained of recruiting from home and online. "We'd be giv- ing virtual visits and a dog would run through in the background, or a child would come running up." To the credit of Polian, and head coach Brian Kelly, and all other mem- bers of the Irish recruiting team, Notre Dame did well to build and hold together this "Gold Rush 21" group of 26 signees, especially with the announcement only days earlier that Lea was leaving his coordinator job here to take the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. "Collectively, as a staff, we handled it well," Polian said of keeping the 11 Irish defensive recruits calm and committed when news of Lea's de- parture was released. "We ended up with all of the guys we were counting on, and we're blessed to have them." Notre Dame is unique in that both the campus setting and game-day en- vironment are strong selling points to recruits who make their official cam- pus visits during a football weekend. "You want to use those [on-cam- pus] opportunities to get recruits to game day and things of that nature, because it is so dynamic here," Kelly said. "We have a great story to tell." And because of that, the pandemic precautions and lost campus visits present Notre Dame a high recruiting hurdle because of its coast-to-coast recruiting net and where the univer- sity is situated. "We are geographically in an area where it makes it more difficult," Kelly explained of the challenges re- cruits and their families face while traveling from California, Florida, Texas and other far-away locales just to make a private weekend trip to campus on their own. Vi r t u a l e n g a g e m e n t t h ro u g h Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other online recruiting methods has its kinks and isn't as personal as an in- home or official campus visit when coaches can look a player in the eyes, study their body language, and ob- serve the dynamics and interaction of their entire family. But any limitations aside, Kelly in- sists that virtual recruiting provides many unexpected advantages and it will remain an important tool for future class construction, even after pandemic travel restrictions are eventually lifted. "I can be much more available to the recruits through Zoom," Kelly ex- plained. "And I think it cre- ates a better relationship than just text messaging — at least I feel that way, and I know our coaches do." Many coaches around the country explain that their greatest challenge during a recruiting cycle void of in- person visits since March is more about accurately evaluating talent and tangi- bles than building personal relationships. Game-day highlight reels are certainly helpful for coaches to study a recruit, but those can be edited. Forty-yard dash times and basic physical measure- ments can also be "fudged," which has spawned some unique verification methods for those coaches recruiting electronically. Notre Dame and other schools might even ask players to pull a tape measure from the toolbox and send photographic evidence of their actual heights and lengths. Regardless, virtual recruiting pro- vides neither the intimacy nor the full checklist that a home visit does to evaluate a player 's personality and live play-making abilities. But blend the time savings for the Irish coaches that these communica- tion methods provide with the travel budget savings the university will enjoy, and Kelly expects the 2020 way to become a mainstay in Notre Dame's future recruiting strategy. "I have felt so much better in this recruiting process," he said. "I can talk to the parents more. I can talk to the recruits more through Zoom than at any other time in my recruiting process." ✦ Virtual Recruiting Is Here To Stay 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 Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Brian Polian helped spearhead an effort that, despite an ongoing global pandemic and the recruiting restrictions stem- ming from it, netted the Irish the nation's No. 9 class as of Dec. 22. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN

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