Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue*

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

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6 MAY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W h e n B r i a n K e l l y d e c l a r e d b e f o r e the 2019 Camping World Bowl he wanted to see Notre Dame nudge closer to top-five recruiting classes, it felt like he was floating a goal without the ability to lay out the path to getting there in the mo- ment. An exciting idea in theory and a Beethoven symphony to fans' ears, but more conceptual than concrete at that point. Some 15 months later, though, there is a tangible example of what an in- creased push toward that recruiting status looks like: Hiring Marcus Freeman as defensive coordinator and his early recruiting impact, evidenced by the St. Pat- rick's Day "Pot of Gold" recruiting blitz that led to more than 30 offers extended to class of 2023 players in a span of hours, and the vast number of Rivals100 players in 2022 who are legitimately considering Notre Dame. It's unknown how big a difference those will prove to have made when the Fighting Irish sign their 2022 and 2023 classes. Ultimately, recruiting is about putting in time and effort to relate to teenagers and making them believe a pitch. But it seems clear there's an increased sense of urgency to simply identify the best players and make a concerted effort to get them more interested. To get to Kelly's stated goal, that's a must. The program can live in its top-15 recruiting status and operate at its 10- or 11-win pace by targeting the "Notre Dame kid" cultural fits, players from Catholic schools and the best pros- pects within a 400-mile radius of South Bend. Its goals are to aim higher. As re- peatable and successful that approach was, recent College Football Playoff meetings with eventual national cham- pions indicate it has a ceiling. This offseason's moves feel like they're designed to try to break through it. Start with Freeman. Kelly hiring one of the fastest-rising coordinators in the sport and beating LSU for his services said plenty. The first notice- able task he could do before coaching a game for Notre Dame was to de- liver on the strong recruiting reputa- tion he earned at Cincinnati. After his early January hiring, he hopped in on the Irish efforts with a few top-150 players: defensive end Ty- son Ford from St. Louis John Burroughs and linebacker Joshua Burnham from Traverse City (Mich.) Central High. His presence helped swing the pendulum from other teams to Notre Dame. Both are now committed to the Irish. Elsewhere, Freeman has offered five top-100 linebackers in the 2022 class since arriving, and Notre Dame is thought to be in strong position to land two of them: Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany's Niuafe Tuihalamaka and Hilton Head (S.C.) High's Jaylen Sneed. To point to him as the lone change, though, would be a mistake. Notre Dame using St. Patrick's Day as a re- cruiting event was a brilliant idea, with the staff spending hours on Zooms with recruits and dishing out 2023 offers. The #PotOfGold the coaches drummed up on Twitter days before took off on social media with recruits tweeting about their calls with Irish coaches and offers. The day ended with a glorious video of Kelly dancing while wearing sunglasses indoors. It was loose and not rigid. It created buzz. If those calls and offers were spread out over a couple weeks or a couple months, no one would have noticed or thought Notre Dame was shaking things up with its approach and creativity. One item the March 17 offer blitz also made clear: Notre Dame is going to shoot its shot with top play- ers and get involved early. The Irish had extended 47 offers to players in the ini- tial 2023 Rivals100 when those rankings dropped on March 29. That's not to say all 47 will be big targets, have serious interest or end up being good mutual fits. The rankings will also shuffle, with some of those players going out of the top 100. For a comparison, when the first 2022 Rivals100 came out last April, the Irish had offered 22 players in it at that time. The caveat is there are still areas out of Notre Dame's control. To get in the top five of recruiting rankings, someone needs to be pushed out. Alabama and Ohio State have estab- lished permanent residence there. Clemson, Georgia and LSU are fre- quent inhabitants. Furthermore, there are certain po- sitions Notre Dame needs to hit on. The final two 2020 games exposed receiver and cornerback as areas where the Irish were outclassed. As weird as it sounds to say, it's possible that an upgrade on the quarterback with most wins in Notre Dame history would help, too. This age of college football is not-so-slowly smashing apart the "defense wins champion- ships" trope. And building an offense that can score with most anyone is done with more than just recruiting. But recruiting is part of the equation. Necessary actionable items to help push upward with it feel like they're unfolding. ✦ It's Easy To Notice A Change In Recruiting Energy ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at pengel@blueandgold.com The Fighting Irish coaching staff extended more than 30 offers to 2023 prospects during their St. Patrick's Day "Pot of Gold" recruiting blitz. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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