Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 25, 2023

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

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4 NOV. 25, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A s football programs become in- creasingly reliant each offseason on the transfer portal to find quick fixes to fortify their roster holes, an in- teresting debate is surfacing at the same time. What's more valuable, portal shop- ping or high school recruiting? And that's becoming an increasingly difficult question to answer for a variety of reasons, but one in particular. Simply put, proven portal players provide col- lege coaches a greater assuredness than a project prep player. No matter what the star rating for a high school recruit, a smooth tran- sition from prep to college ball isn't guaranteed. While at the same time, most portal players have already built a résumé and a body of work that can be evaluated and used to measure program and po- sitional fit. Portal shopping has become so in- strumental to roster management, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said last week that his staff was already assessing guys who they only believe will transfer, months before they actually do. It's an interesting dynamic. "We're always evaluating guys that we think, 'Hey, this guy might be about to enter the portal and looking for an- other opportunity,'" said Freeman, well aware that the winter transfer portal opens on Dec. 4, 2023 and runs through Jan. 3, 2024. "We can't wait until some- body gets into the portal to have an evaluation on him." From recruiting to NIL to lucrative television deals, the transfer portal is already becoming the latest example of the rich getting richer in college foot- ball. The elite programs — including Notre Dame — are reaching a point where they may not even bother recruiting high schoolers at certain positions because the coaches know the portal provides an easier and safer route to find a proven player. And while Notre Dame remains more cautious than most other schools when it comes to portal shopping — it has brought in just 17 transfers total in the four years since it began using the portal (2020-23) — it's becoming more open to the idea. The Irish coaches brought in seven portal transfers in 2023, the most ever in a single year. "We've always said if we're going to get somebody out of the portal," Free- man explained, "they have to be some- body we know can come in and make an immediate impact and really help this football team win games." And expect Notre Dame in 2024 to find and start a transfer quarterback for the third time in the last four seasons, and to bring in a transfer placekicker to start for a third straight season. Why waste recruiting and develop- mental time when top plug-and-play players can come in game ready and would love the opportunity to finish their careers at a high-profile school such as Notre Dame? Placekicker Blake Grupe transferred from Arkansas State to Notre Dame for his graduate year in 2022. And he parlayed a solid season with the Irish and Notre Dame's high profile into a starting role on the New Orleans Saints this season. Let's face it, had Grupe stayed at Ar- kansas State, an NFL opportunity likely would've never come his way. Of all the position groups, placekicker and quarterback are the two units that are providing the most portal produc- tion for Notre Dame. In fact, Irish special teams coach Marty Biagi was asked last week if there is even any point in recruiting a high school placekicker anymore when you can bring in proven players such as Grupe last year or graduate student Spencer Shrader from USF this year, both of whom arrived here craving a bigger stage and added attention. "[A transfer kicker] is very similar to the transfer quarterback situation," Bi- agi said. "You're always going to feel a little bit better if you have something to prove." Obviously programs need to strike a balance between traditional recruiting and portal pursuits. But increasingly, bringing in a proven player instead of a project player is a temptation that many college coaches are finding hard to resist. "If there are some guys who have en- tered the portal that have proven one to two years that they've been able to perform, we'll look," Biagi added. "As long as they can handle the big stage." So, is choosing a proven college player over a project prep player becoming the new normal in recruiting? Maybe not yet, but it's trending that way. "We want to continue to build the foundation of this program off of high school recruiting and to develop those young people and get them into our program," Freeman said. "But we know we can use the transfer portal to truly enhance specific needs we have." ✦ Graduate student placekicker Spencer Shrader was one of seven players Notre Dame brought in through the transfer portal last season — the most in school history. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Will Portal Shopping Supplant Prep Recruiting? 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

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