Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2018

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

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4 FEBRUARY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A s a former college head coach at Nevada and now the special teams and recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame, Brian Polian understands as well as any‑ body the challenges coaches at all levels face when build‑ ing and holding together a recruiting class of fickle and often flighty teenagers. Considered by many Notre Dame's top recruiter, Polian was instrumental in gather‑ ing the 21 members of the 2018 recruiting class who inked their letters of intent between Dec. 20‑22 — the first‑ever early signing pe‑ riod in which high school players could make their college commitments of‑ ficial before the traditional National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February. According to Polian and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, this inaugural early signing period fit right into their program's plan of re‑ cruiting a particular kind of student‑ athlete that views his college choice more as an investment in his future than into a career in football. The Irish coaches came away with no last‑minute surprises and a group that so far is considered a consensus top‑10 class among the top recruiting services and analysts. "The way it's set up right now," Kelly proudly explained, "it worked out the way I thought it would." Having these 21 players already signed and sealed provides the Irish coaches the opportunity to focus on filling any lingering needs in this class before the traditional National Signing Day Feb. 7. They will not have to worry about last‑minute flip‑ flopping from players and can con‑ centrate on future recruiting classes beyond 2018. And for the players, this three‑day December signing period provides some early closure to a recruiting process that every year starts earlier, becomes more competitive, overly intense and often overwhelming. "Let's take the circus atmosphere away from signing," Kelly said, "and let's get back to making a decision that's going to be in your best inter‑ est for the next 40 years of your life." At least for the first run through, this early signing period couldn't have stayed truer to script for Notre Dame, even with the myriad chal‑ lenges the Irish coaches faced. Arguably more than any school in the country, Notre Dame recruits nationally, meaning that its coaches were scattered around the country on last‑minute recruiting trips and expected to prep for the Citrus Bowl at the same time. "Guys were doing home visits and going back to a hotel and watching LSU film on their laptops trying to develop scouting reports," Polian ex‑ plained. "It was difficult." The 21 Irish commits represent 13 different states — everywhere from California and Oregon in the West, to Florida and Georgia in the South, to Maryland and New Jersey in the East — for the Notre Dame coaches to visit since Thanksgiving weekend. Add to these travel demands that official campus visits were not al‑ lowed for high school players dur‑ ing the spring and summer of 2017 before early signing — a recruiting benefit that will be added this year — and the impressive job the Notre Dame coaches did building this class is magnified. "It certainly was a chal‑ lenge," Kelly said. "We had to balance a lot of things." On a broader scale, this early signing period brings many pros and cons for schools and polarizing reac‑ tions from their coaches. Alabama head coach Nick Saban does not support it because typically in late De‑ cember he's preparing for a playoff game and a national championship run. "We're all trying to get ready for bowl games and playoff games, and we have a signing day right in the middle of when we are going to be practicing for a playoff game?" Saban said. "I don't see how it benefits anyone." Reigning national champi‑ onship coach Dabo Swinney of Clem‑ son disagreed. "We've always been recruiting while prepping for bowl games. Nothing has changed," Swinney said. "The only thing that's different is that all the guys who are [verbally] committed to us and wanted to make a decision now had the opportunity to do that. "It's 100 percent benefit to the player." Polian said one go around pro‑ vides too small a sample to under‑ stand what impact this early signing period will have on future recruit‑ ing classes. Each season will bring new challenges and different results for coaches and schools around the country. But for a university such as Notre Dame that balances academics with athletics, and targets mature players who make their college choice with a plan and a purpose, early signing might suit it as well as any program in the country, and become a valu‑ able tool for Kelly, his staff and his future success. ✦ The Early Signing Period Brings ND Success 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 Brian Kelly and his staff signed 21 players from 13 different stats during the early signing period Dec. 20‑22. The class — which also includes Arkansas offensive lineman Luke Jones, who verbally committed Dec. 27 — was ranked among the top 10 nationally entering 2018. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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