Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 67 of 99

68 MARCH 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2022 FOOTBALL RECRUITING ISSUE BY TYLER HORKA BJ Payne's phone rang around 10 a.m. on a random morning in January 2021. The call came from Marcus Freeman, the newly named defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. And Payne's friend of 15 or so years. Payne, the head coach at Hilton Head Island (S.C.) High School, knew exactly what Freeman called for. "What do you want to know about Jaylen Sneed?" Payne recalled asking. He remembers Freeman chuckling then slyly making it seem as if he wasn't call- ing to ask anything about Sneed, a fu- ture five-star linebacker out of Hilton Head. Per Payne, Freeman said something like this: "Can't I just call you as a friend? Can't I just call you to see how you're doing?" "I'm good," Payne responded. "Now what do you want to know about Sneed?" Payne heard laughter coming from the other end of the line. He recognized the second voice in the room: Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens. Payne had been around the two enough in the same setting to know for sure this wasn't a general wellness check. This was a recruiting inquiry. "Well, I mean maybe we're sitting in the office," Freeman said according to Payne's account of the conversation. "Maybe we're watching recruits. Maybe we just came across Jaylen's film." It had to have been as diverse a set of film as any the two had watched that morning. Or would watch the rest of the day, week and maybe even year. Sneed is a different animal on the football field. Freeman knew it then, and he knows it now that Sneed has signed with Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish's top-ranked recruit in the 2022 signing class. Sneed played quarterback and safety for the JV team at Hilton Head as a freshman. He finished his first year on varsity as an outside linebacker and wide receiver as a sophomore. As a ju- nior, he lined up at defensive end. That's the tape that really caught the attention of recruiters across the coun- try. It's the tape Freeman and Mick- ens were watching when they were so impressed they felt compelled to call Payne. Obviously, it wasn't the first time Payne entertained a question from Freeman about Sneed. Their relation- ship stretches way too far back for it to be so surface level. Payne grew up in the same town as Freeman's wife, Joanna. They lost touch during their college years when Joanna attended Ohio State and met Marcus. The way they rekindled their friendship was quite bizarre. Payne, then a high school coach in Ohio, ran a youth camp at the time. He brought NFL and college players in to assist with the camp. Freeman, a star linebacker for the Buckeyes, was there to help that year. One of Payne's assistant coaches who also went to high school with him and Joanna asked if he knew about her and Freeman's relationship. Payne did not. So, he asked Freeman personally the next day. "Hey, are you dating JoJo?" Payne asked. "And he was like, 'Wait, hold on, if you called her JoJo, you really know her well. How do you know Joanna?'" Payne told him. So, Freeman called her on speaker phone. The friendship was reborn, and with it a bond between Payne and Freeman came to life. Those two have never lost touch. Subsequently, Freeman's recruitment of Sneed was as detailed as any other coach's in the nation. "We had to develop a relationship with Jaylen and his family," Freeman said. "We were able to do that and earn the trust of that family. And, obviously, that's why he committed." When Freeman was the defensive co- ordinator at Cincinnati, he sent Sneed his first scholarship offer. Payne knew there was much more to it than that, though. Freeman told him as much. And Payne never forgot what he said. "I'm recruiting him as Marcus Free- man. Who knows in four years where I'm going to be?" It sure looks like Freeman is going to be at Notre Dame. And so will Sneed. Jaylen Sneed Drawn To Notre Dame By Marcus Freeman Sneed is the first five-star linebacker to sign with the Fighting Irish since Jaylon Smith in 2013. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - March 2022