Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

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

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46 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY PATRICK ENGEL K ahanu Kia essentially pushed Notre Dame to offer with a tweet. On Aug. 22, past 3 a.m. ET, the three-star linebacker from Hono- lulu Punahou sent out a 54-second video of him in his yard — maybe 250 square feet and illuminated only by streetlight — putting on his own individual workout. Backpedals into sprints for- ward. Hip-flipping into coverage. Stutter steps and shuffles. Any- thing a linebacker would do in a camp where college coaches or recruiting analysts could watch. Those didn't happen this year. Kia's homemade one, though, was enough to nudge Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish coaches had seen his junior season film and were impressed. The impro- vised individual workout opened eyes further. The staff wanted to offer. But there was still the hur- dle of never having sized him up in person. "We were watching this guy move, talking to our friends at Punahou and saying, 'Measure him for me,'" Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said. "I want to know exactly how tall he is, what he weighs right now. We had to do that across the board." This is recruiting in 2020. Notre Dame offered Kia eight days after he tweeted the video. On Nov. 19, after he and his family trekked more than 4,000 miles for a self-funded, self-guided campus tour, Kia committed to the Irish. He was one of 26 December Irish sign- ees. The whole process went down with zero in-person interaction and sans any official visits. Enterprising tales like Kia's DIY scouting combine are abundant across college football in this year of recruiting gripped by COVID-19. As it stands now, the NCAA dead pe- riod banning in-person recruiting of any kind runs through April 15, 2021. It began last March. That's a year of no camp evaluations, no official vis- its and record speeds to reach Zoom platinum status. The answer was not to shrug and write off a class. Demand for recruits remained. Recruits' interest in col- lege football did, too. Finding the right matches between player and school just required jumping through a few more hoops. For the prospects, that meant com- mitting somewhere sight unseen or paying your way to campus just to walk around. The teams in best posi- tion to land players were those who were most innovative in bringing campus to recruits instead of vice versa. Those most likely to have a class with lots of hits and few misses were ones who never stopped hunt- ing for information normally un- earthed in a visit to a high school or in-person evaluations at a camp. All told, Notre Dame signed 20 players who committed dur- ing the pandemic. Some were longtime targets with previously established relationships. Others were recruited entirely during the dead period. The Irish made it work. As of Dec. 22, Notre Dame had Rivals' No. 9 class, on track to be its first top-10 group since 2013. "I'm happy with what we were able to do and construct, because we have a great story to tell," Kelly said. "We told it digitally." DOING THE HOMEWORK Never have football coaches felt more like intrepid reporters chasing clandestine intelligence. Uncovering needed information on recruits — from 40-yard dash times to actual height to character assessments — mandated inno- vation, connections and tireless effort. The degree of difficulty in gather- ing info increased, but the need for verified measurables and an under- standing of a recruit's personality remain non-negotiables. No coaching staff wanted to meet its freshman class next June and learn a handful are shorter or lighter than advertised on a Hudl bio. "There's nobody in the signing class that we don't have as much verifiable information as we could possibly get," Polian said. "It's, 'Hey, we're really interested in you, but you're listed at 6-3 and we've never seen you in person.' Then it becomes a screen shot of somebody in the nurse's office or a tape measure from Ace Hardware." Per Blue & Gold Illustrated recruit- ing insider Mike Singer, Notre Dame signed 11 players with whom its staff never spent meaningful time in per- son. Of the 20 who committed during Recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and Notre Dame had to change some habits, adapt fast and get creative in a most unusual cycle. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER ADAPTING ON THE FLY Notre Dame gets creative in recruiting during an unusual, challenge-filled year

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