Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

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

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Page 38 of 63 APRIL 2017 39 just a reassurance of what the values of Notre Dame are and the kind of staff that Coach Kelly is going to be able to put together because we're at Notre Dame. "We were being as honest and transparent as we could be about the situation. At no time did we back away from what the issues were. We were 4-8 and minus a defensive coor- dinator, minus an offensive coordina- tor and minus a special teams coor- dinator. We just kept it real and kept the lines of communication open." Bonds like that require coaches and support staff that are personable and trustworthy. Elston also knew the operation needed a plan to build those relationships much earlier than it previously had. He also recognized the need to ex- pose recruits and their families to more of the coaches, who are so vital to putting together top classes. Elston and Kelly felt that teamwork within the staff was crucial to its long-term recruiting success. "There's been a strategy and an ef- fort … to build the relationship with the prospect and the head coach," Elston said. "Build it with the coor- dinator on his side of the ball and definitely with his position coach. "A young man's going to either come to Notre Dame or not come to Notre Dame based on his relation- ship with his position coach." Notre Dame is now getting in- volved with more recruits much sooner in the process. According to Elston, that has been an essential in- gredient to the program's recruiting success. "We have to get them here sooner," Elston stated emphatically. "If you're waiting for a kid's first visit to come on an official visit, you're most likely not going to get him." Fourteen of the team's 21 signees in the 2017 class and six of the 11 current 2018 commits gave their pledge to Notre Dame prior to the 2016 season. Third-year success has been a much-talked about topic at Notre Dame, with former head coaches Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all winning national titles in their third season with the program. Kelly led Notre Dame to a 12-1 record and a berth to the BCS national title game following his third season (2012) in South Bend. The 2018 recruiting class will be the third of Elston's tenure as recruiting coordinator. Right now, Notre Dame is poised to make a legitimate run at the mythical recruiting national title, a prospect that would have seemed absurd upon completion of the 2016 season. The ability of defensive coordinator Mike Elko and offensive coordinator Chip Long to define exactly what is needed on the roster has been crucial to the program's early success. In addition, the six new assistant coaches have bonded quickly, and the staff is operating at a very high level. "It's a very strong staff," Elston said with a sly smile, trying to hold back his excitement. "It has a great work ethic in recruiting, and they know the importance of it. I think we work well together, and there's an understand- ing and a clear vision of how it needs to work. I think everybody's had a hand in trying to make that work. "Our start to the 2018 class is the culmination of an incredible amount of hard work and effort by everybody on our staff — new guys, old guys, everyone in the recruiting office — of finding guys, targeting them and then coming up with a strategy to get them on campus and to get them to say yes to Notre Dame." No matter how strong the opera- tion, without the specific people that make up the current staff, it is un- likely that the Irish would be in their current position. Of course, selling Notre Dame helps as well. "We were 4-8, but that didn't di- minish the fact we played in front of a sold-out crowd every week," Elston noted. "We were on national televi- sion every week, and we competed every week. "If a prospect wants to be chal- lenged academically, develop life skills and play major college football we are a great fit. "Then you put the new staff in that connects with the guys you bring on campus and you have the success that we have." The results of the only Junior Day that Notre Dame has had through mid-March support Elston's state- ments. The weekend of Feb. 11, Notre Dame hosted 11 members of the 2018 class and possible graduate transfer Freddy Canteen from Michigan. Six of those players were already committed to Notre Dame. Within a week, four of the five uncommitted 2018 visitors had given their verbal pledge to the staff, as had Canteen. The one remaining recruit — Toledo (Ohio) St. John's linebacker Dallas Gant — holds the Irish in high regard. During that week Notre Dame also added Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter safety Derrik Allen, Rivals' No. 3 safety and No. 40 overall player nationally. Al- len pointed to Elko as being one of the main reasons for his decision to choose the Irish. "We have to keep building mo- mentum by getting players here on campus," Elston stated. "We have to do it during spring practice, and we have to do it during the summer. If we can get them here in the next three months or four months then we've got a great shot at getting them. "The staff is making a huge effort to try to get guys here on campus. You're going to see guys here every weekend, and they're going to be big guys for us." ✦ When Mike Elston took on recruiting coordinator duties two years ago, he met with Brian Kelly and formulated a plan that restructured that depart- ment and created clearly defined roles. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA "IT'S A VERY STRONG STAFF. IT HAS A GREAT WORK ETHIC IN RECRUITING, AND THEY KNOW THE IMPORTANCE OF IT. I THINK WE WORK WELL TOGETHER, AND THERE'S AN UNDERSTANDING AND A CLEAR VISION OF HOW IT NEEDS TO WORK." IRISH RECRUITING COORDINATOR MIKE ELSTON

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