Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

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

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6 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED P ick your cliché. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. Go big or go home. Don't let the fear of striking out get in the way. Or whatever other slogans convey this point: if you want to reach college football's summit, or at least make up measurable distance, you have to take aim at those already up there. That's not to say Notre Dame should be expected to establish per- manent residence in the top five of the recruiting rankings with Ala- bama, Ohio State, Clemson and the other perennial College Football Playoff participants. It does, though, mean taking more frequent bigger swings at players those teams covet. So far, Notre Dame's 2022 recruiting efforts demonstrate what feels like an increased effort to do so. What does a big swing look like? I hate to keep using this example, but it's one most are familiar with: Will Shipley. Notre Dame made the top-50 prospect out of North Carolina its big- gest 2021 target and sold him on being the lone running back in the class. It wasn't full-on Shipley or bust, but the Irish staff kept its other offers at the position simmering while cranking the heat to full blast on him. It didn't end up working. Shipley chose Clemson, and the narrative that Notre Dame got burned by put- ting all its eggs in one basket and was doomed at running back in 2021 took off. Here's the thing, though, that got lost in the post-Shipley angst and became clearer in the 2020 season. Notre Dame needs to enter more of those recruitments. Take more of those aggressive swings. Not fewer out of fear they could go wrong. The best way for Notre Dame to close the much-discussed "gap" is to take recruits who the sport's most successful teams want. Especially at the skill positions, where Alabama's separation from Notre Dame was most obvious. The Irish aren't go- ing to land those players and therein swindle them from the teams they're chasing if they don't even try. If you're scarred by the misses or worried about what happens after them, don't be. What's even clearer from Notre Dame's running back re- cruitment since Shipley committed is this lesson: a "whiff" really isn't catastrophic as it seems. Even after resetting when Shipley picked Clemson, Notre Dame landed the nation's No. 6 running back class in 2021, per Rivals national recruit- ing director Mike Farrell. It consisted of two players, four-star Audric Es- time from New Jersey and three-star Logan Diggs from Louisiana. Both players were offered after Shipley's commitment and pledged without visiting. The Irish flipped Estime from Michigan State and held off a late charge from LSU to keep Diggs. More recently, Notre Dame landed 2022 four-star Denison (Texas) High running back Jadarian Price a month after offering and despite the cancel- lation of a scheduled campus visit. He had previously narrowed his focus to Texas, Stanford and Oklahoma State. Those lands sure suggest the Irish still have plenty of recruiting pull. Price is an out-of-region Rivals250 player who had his sights set on a couple other destinations, picked up the Notre Dame offer and promptly changed his course. Estime's recruit- ment went the same way. Furthermore, that says the conse- quences of a poor batting average on the mightiest swings aren't as dire as many think. A top-six haul at a position com- prised of guys who were technically "Plan B" targets is a strong ending. It's certainly no worse than Notre Dame's recent recruiting results, and when combined with the program's player development acumen, ought to keep the floor high and playoff contention the norm. But the goal is to keep raising the ceiling. Going 2 for 10 on big-swing targets instead of 1 for 5 may be the same percentage, but adding the second is a big deal. Notre Dame's classes ought to be judged on how many Kyle Hamilton-profile recruits they contain. The Irish won't land as many of them as the teams at the top of the recruiting rankings, but they should aim to get a couple more than they do now. They're evidently angling for that in the 2022 class at several positions. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman has offered five top-100 line- backers since taking the job in early January. He is leading Notre Dame's pursuit of West Chester (Ohio) La- kota West four-star cornerback Jyaire Brown, an Ohio State pledge. He's also behind the big push for corner- back Khamauri Rogers from Lexing- ton (Miss.) Holmes County, a top-50 recruit who is a former LSU commit and holds offers from double-digit SEC teams. On offense, the Irish are battling the Buckeyes for two Rivals250 run- ning backs: Memphis (Tenn.) Chris- tian Brother 's Dallan Hayden and Shillington (Pa.) Governor Mifflin's Nicholas Singleton They're in the un- official top three for Lynchburg (Va.) Liberty Christian offensive tackle Zach Rice, a five-star recruit. Those are only some of the exam- ples. In reality, Notre Dame's probably not going to land commitments from most of them. But batting average doesn't matter. Especially when recent history shows going big and missing doesn't necessarily mean going home — and the rewards for connecting are often difference making. ✦ Uptick In Big Recruiting Swings Should Be Here To Stay ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Notre Dame is heavily pursuing five-star offensive tackle Zach Rice, who has the Irish in his unof- ficial top three. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM

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