Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2024

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

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68 MARCH 2024 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2024 FOOTBALL RECRUITING ISSUE BY KYLE KELLY I f you are a part of the "recruiting stars do not matter" club, do not expect Marcus Freeman to be one of your fellow members. During an era when some col- lege football coaches wince at the thought of recruiting rankings and ratings, Notre Dame foot- ball's head coach welcomes it. He said as much in his early National Signing Day news conference on Dec. 20. "Grades matter, too. Those are important," Freeman told report- ers after wrapping up his sec- ond recruiting class as Irish head coach. "If they keep score, we al- ways say we want to win." Notre Dame must have been keeping count based on the players re- cruited in the 2024 cycle. The Irish finished with a top-11 class, including six players ranked in On3's top 100. Here is why those marks and Notre Dame's 15 early enrollees are significant: A top-11 class helps Notre Dame secure a milestone it has reached only once before. When the university introduced Free- man as the 30th head football coach in program history on Dec. 6, 2021, he men- tioned "recruit" or a variation of it 13 times. It was a focus then, and it remains a focus now. After a reporter asked Freeman about his adjustments to the program, he im- mediately mentioned critiquing Notre Dame's efforts in the high school ranks. "I think it starts with we're going to re- cruit at the highest level," he said. "We're going to recruit the best football players in the country that fit Notre Dame." Freeman's stance was informed by his experience as the program's defensive co- ordinator during the 2021 season when he was aware of the team's recruiting opera- tion for the 2022 cycle. As an assistant, he helped the Irish clinch their first top-10 recruiting class since 2013 — the one following the pro- gram's run to the BCS National Cham- pionship — in On3's Industry Ranking Football Team Recruiting Rankings. This metric utilizes the evaluations of all four primary recruiting media services: On3, 247Sports, and ESPN. While Freeman led Notre Dame's de- fensive recruiting efforts in the 2022 class, the Irish finished No. 6 overall. As the head man in the 2023 and 2024 cycles, Notre Dame secured the No. 10 and 11 classes, respectively. That gave the Irish three straight top-11 classes for just the second time in the internet recruiting era, which dates back to 2002. Former coach Brian Kelly never accom- plished that feat while in South Bend. Un- der his direction, the Irish attained a top- 11 recruiting class only five times. Freeman not only played a major role in defensive recruiting in one of those classes (2022) but also kept most of the class intact when Kelly bolted for Baton Rouge just before signing day. Before Notre Dame's run in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 cycles, the only other times it compiled a top-11 recruiting class in the internet recruiting era were in 2006 (No. 4), 2007 (No. 5) and 2008 (No. 4). Those were Charlie Weis' first, second and third full recruiting classes. It is also worth noting that the Irish had the No. 5 recruiting class in 2025 as of Feb. 11. They are pacing for another top-11 class. Four straight top-11 classes have not been reached at Notre Dame in the 21st century. Notre Dame is one of six teams to sign at least six top-100 recruits in 2024. A key reason Notre Dame notched a top-11 recruiting class was its success with top-100 prospects. The Irish signed six of them, per On3's rankings. Only Alabama (10) and Georgia (9) had more. Miami (Fla.), Ohio State and Texas matched ND's mark. As the No. 18 overall player in 2024, five-star offensive tackle Guerby Lambert from West Rox- bury (Mass.) Catholic Memorial was Notre Dame's top-ranked signee. Lambert is also the No. 2 offensive tackle nationally and No. 1 prospect in Massachusetts. Lambert's five-star status helped the Irish add a five-star offensive tackle, according to On3's rankings, in three successive cycles. Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne's Aamil Wagner (No. 29 overall) was one in 2022, and Charles Jagusah (No. 25 overall) from Rock Island (Ill.) Alleman Catholic was the other last year. In addition to Lambert, the following four-star prospects also finished as top- 100 recruits per On3: Charlotte (N.C.) Christian edge rusher Bryce Young (No. 42), Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard South wide receiver Cam Williams (No. 64), Lufkin (Texas) High running back Ke- dren Young (No. 79), Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa (No. 83) and Roswell (Ga.) High offensive lineman Anthonie Knapp (No. 97). Each player finished in the top 10 at their respective positions nationally, too: Bryce Young (No. 7), Williams (No. 10), Kedren Young (No. 5), Viliamu-Asa (No. 6) and Knapp (No. 5). Knapp and Kedren Young fell outside the top 10 in their respective power- house football states. Knapp was the No. 12 player in Georgia, and Kedren Young was the No. 16 prospect in Texas. Bryce Young was the top player in North Carolina, Williams was No. 3 in Illinois and Viliamu-Asa was No. 5 in California. Notre Dame's relative success in the top 100 compared to other teams also Head coach Marcus Freeman (shown talking to Karson Hobbs and CJ Carr) is overseeing a resurgence in Notre Dame recruiting. The Fighting Irish have now secured three straight classes in the top 11 for just the second time in the internet recruiting era, which dates back to 2002. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Top-11 Class Demonstrates Irish's Recruiting Prowess

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