By far the most intriguing storyline of Notre Dame off-season is the machinations surrounding the programs’ recruiting efforts.
I think we can start by hiring a new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Significant splash rent is not the norm for the Notre Dame football program, especially when they conflict with SEC programs. Freeman’s announcement was a moment, something you felt deeply rooted when the announcement came in. Without knowing exactly how it would manifest, it was huge, and we knew it.
Since then, momentum has continued to grow, especially in recruitment. First, it was the surprising turn of defensive end Tyson Ford, with whom Notre Dame fell out of favor before Freeman set himself up and won recruitment for the top 150 Missouri player.
Then the offers started rolling in and it was clear that Notre Dame was defensively after the big fish. They went on a slew of top 100 players, a highly regarded USC commitment pulled back from its promise, putting Notre Dame immediately at the helm, and players who were not thought possible are suddenly very possible. . As with Freeman’s signing, this all felt like a signal: Notre Dame is doing things differently in 2021.
Finally, Notre Dame assured the dedication of top 150 linebacker Joshua Burnham, right under the nose of Michigan, where Burnham is from. The momentum is absolutely real. So where do we attribute this to? Is it just Freeman, or is there more to it?
This is where 43-8 comes in
In assessing the condition of the Notre Dame program, optimists will consider the 43 wins and multiple playoff appearances as points of pride. Sure, Notre Dame hasn’t climbed to the top of the mountain, but at least they are climbing. Skeptics will of course look at the losses, the inability to not only win in the Playoffs, but also put up a competitive fight. The thing is, that’s just online food to gobble up.
But objectively, Notre Dame has been a really good schedule for the past four seasons, and that’s important to recruits. This hasn’t been like a year or two. Notre Dame is good since the current recruiting class entered the 8th grade. That is a big problem.
In the past, the phrase “Notre Dame lives in the past” referred to a legendary program that was a dog at this time. Now it’s those who live in the past who can’t see that Notre Dame has been a top five program for the past four seasons. Marcus Freeman said many of the right things when he was hired about Notre Dame and why he wanted to become a coach at university, but it is naive to think that Notre Dame’s recent success, the success Freeman can point to on the recruitment path, there’s one of the reasons Freeman signed up in the first place.
So much has been said about Brian Kelly, the recruiter, but he built the program in such a way that it’s viable for someone like Marcus Freeman to sell, and that’s probably more important.
Marcus Freeman is a wild man
It’s also abundantly clear that Marcus Freeman is very different from his predecessor at defensive coordinator, at least from a recruiting point of view. It is not certain, but very likely, that Burnham and Ford are not current commits in Notre Dame class without Freeman. It’s likely that without Freeman Notre Dame has no chance with top 100 linebackers Jaylen Sneed or Niuafe Tuihalamaka, or top 100 safety Xavier Nwankpa. And yet, here they are, right in the middle of them all, if not outright favorites with Sneed and Tuihalamaka.
Freeman clearly doesn’t see many recruitments as if he can’t win them, and he approaches them all that way. It’s a change that was needed when there was no other reason for the rest of the staff to see it. Although to be completely honest, we have to watch how it all shakes up in the end.
Freeman was heralded as a dynamite recruiter, which is how it has played out so far, and while there are many factors involved in recruiting, the Freeman effect is easily the most glaring. This is why recruitments of its caliber are so important.
The shift in the recruiting coordinator
Mike Elston and Brian Polian essentially swapped roles and positions, with Polian becoming associate head coach and Elston taking over as recruiting coordinator. It’s hard to think of this as anything other than Kelly wanting new energy with the recruiting operation and that was fully seen at Notre Dame’s Pot of Gold celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day. They sent a huge number of offers to 2023 recruits, owned the internet with their graphics, and the coaches even got involved in a dance.
It’s unclear what kind of impact it will ultimately have on the classroom, but similar to hiring Freeman, it felt like Notre Dame had a moment. And these moments have happened over and over for the past three months and it doesn’t seem like it will slow down anytime soon. So while it will be several months before we know what all this means for the class, things are happening and it is something to watch.
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