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Marcus Freeman's Update Press Conference - 12/16

Written by Connor Regan|Writer|Twitter/X: @thatconnorregan

Photo by The Irish Tribune

It's been just over 3 weeks since Marcus Freeman directly addressed the media, and quite a bit has happened in that time. Transfers, opt-outs, draft declarations, coaching hires; it's been a whirlwind. Thankfully, Freeman addressed several of our collective burning questions today and provided a few key updates.

Let's take a look at what was covered.

Mike Brown

  • Coach Freeman welcomed new WR coach Mike Brown to the team, remarking on their relationship while at Cincinnati and crediting him for his ability to develop their WR room over the year.

  • He also pointed to Brown's recruitment prowess and the energy he brings to a room, something the Irish will need to fix their currently recovering WR room.

The Sun Bowl - Oregon State

  • "The 13th opportunity" is the name Freeman gave the matchup with Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. "The 12 guaranteed opportunities" is one of the fundamental themes they reference "all year."

  • With all the madness going on with the portal and all the announcements, Freeman admitted the last several practices were spent just "developing this team" and figuring out who exactly was coming back, who was healthy, and who was playing in the bowl game.

  • Remarking on the team's bowl game preparations and practice, Freeman said, "Today, we truly turned our attention to Oregon State."

  • Coach confirmed that as of this press conference, the final roster for the bowl game is fully intact.

The Quarterbacks

Sam Hartman

  • Freeman was asked about the change of heart from 6th-year QB Sam Hartman and his decision to opt out of the Sun Bowl matchup, and he responded in the same way he has for weeks now, "I can disagree with your decision and still support you." The opt-outs and transfers are here to stay, but Freeman seems to have a very level-headed approach to this new reality that likely won't dissuade players from picking Notre Dame in this new market.

Riley Leonard

  • Freeman was asked what the thought process was behind pursuing a QB like Riley Leonard, and he compared it to Sam Hartman's last year. The focus is "a guy that was talented, a proven football player, but a guy that would fit into our locker room." 

  • Say what you will regarding the performance of Sam Hartman and the 2023 offense, but Hartman was, without a doubt, a seamless addition to the locker room, as well as the broader campus and university culture. Thus, fans should trust that Freeman & Co. know what they're doing here with Leonard.

Steve Angeli

  • When asked about the first-time starting quarterback, Marcus Freeman made a point of saying the game will be less about evaluation and more about "putting him in a position to succeed as our quarterback."

  • While snaps are planned for freshman Kenny Minchey, Freeman qualified that by saying, "There's not a plan to try and play 2 QBs, we're going to go with Steve, and we're going to make sure we give him the best opportunity to succeed." 

  • His final comments on Angeli were supportive: "There's a lot of confidence in everybody in our football program that Steve Angeli can lead us to where we want to go."

  • In 2023, Angeli went 19/25 with 272 yards, tossing 4 TDs and 1 INT over 5 appearances.

Kenny Minchey

  • Not to be left out, Coach Freeman said Kenny would "be able to get some meaningful reps too." 

  • It looks like we could get our second-ever view of the 4-star freshman recruit.

  • In 2023, Minchey's sole playing time came against Tennessee State in the 2nd week of the season, where he went 2/2 with 12 passing yards.

CJ Carr

  • 4-star recruit and early enrolee CJ Carr has arrived on campus and has already begun getting worked into Irish practices.

  • Coach Freeman laughed when asked about his early arrival for the spring semester and said, "He's going to be a great player; it's just good to have him here."

  • There's an obvious advantage to graduating early and slowly working into your first college practices, acclimating to the change in lifestyle, and getting the hang of class before the season is in full swing, but rest assured, Freeman says Carr is already "Slingin' the ball" and come the 2024 season, won't be "starting from ground zero."

The Wide Receivers

  • Other than transfer portal news, the most significant update to come out of the WR room comes in the form of injury updates.

  • When asked about Deion Colzie, Jayden Thomas, and Freshman KK Smith, Freeman said, "All three are coming along really well," and it sounds as if we should see all three of them play in the Sun Bowl, rounding out the shallow pool of currently enrolled receivers.

  • Freeman went on to say, "From my eyes, it's great to see where JT (Jayden Thomas) is now, being healthy, Dieon being healthy, KK, we haven't seen KK all year, and he's doing some really great things for our defense, and our WR room and I'm glad to see where they've gotten."

The Offensive Line

  • One of the highlights of the press conference came in reference to the completely new look offensive line and a particular standout performance.

  • Freshman top-50 recruit Charles Jagusah has broken out and is now taking the majority of first-team reps at Left Tackle.

  • As of now, Jagusah is expected to start against Oregon State.

  • "He's got natural ability," Freeman said of Jagusah. "He's shown on the scout team, he's shown in the BYE weeks and the individual drills, he's going to be a future great offensive lineman for us."

  • Freeman confirmed a "battle for who starts" at Right Tackle between redshirt junior Tosh Baker and redshirt freshman Aamil Wagner.

The New-Look Offense

  • When asked about the numerous transfers, NFL declarations, and injury updates, Freeman was asked to comment on the "Next man in" mentality the team promotes.

  • Freeman said teams now must brace for end-of-season "wholesale changes" and that in the Sun Bowl, the Irish offense will be fielding "a new QB, two new tackles, two new running backs in the backfield" and 4 fewer receivers.

  • Freeman said he's stressed to the coaching staff that they need to "be creative, you got some new guys in there that haven't had a whole lot of experience."

  • In regards to the young crop of talent starting in the Sun Bowl, Freeman said it was "a great opportunity to continue to develop and get some real, meaningful action," but the key for the coaching staff, including the newly hired Mike Brown, was "to create a gameplan that helps our guys play fast."

The New-Look Defense

  • When asked about younger players on the defense filling in the gaps, Freeman confirmed that the 3rd linebacker position will see various newer faces.

  • He pointed to Jaylen Sneed as the primary position filler for the bowl game, along with Drayk Bowen filling in time behind him.

  • Additionally, Freeman said Jaiden Ausberry has been getting snaps recently, and he could realistically see "an increased role for everybody."

Returning Defensive Leaders

  • Freeman explained how happy the coaching staff was to hear DT Riley Mills, DT Howard Cross, and LB Jack Kiser will be returning for the 2024-25 season, saying the news was "huge."

  • He pointed to their "production and experience" but stressed that the most valuable aspect of these returns is "they're great leaders."

  • Freeman stated that all three are "great football players, and productive football players, and experienced football players."

  • Notably, one way coaches are now attempting to lure players back to complete their college eligibility is by improving their professional prospects. Freeman said the return of guys like Mills, Cross, and Kiser shows "what coming back for another year can do for their draft stock."

Kahanu Kia’s Return to The Team

  • After reports of his impending return surfaced, Freeman was asked about Kahanu Kia's first time back to South Bend in two years.

  • "I'm excited," Freeman said. "I loved my one year with Kahanu. . . to get him back in this program, the energy, the production, the physicality that he plays with, I'm excited to see."

  • Kia had been on a Mormon mission trip for two years and will be returning to the University in January. He is currently set to play in the 2024-25 season.

Looking Forward to 2024

Freeman had several interesting quotes in this presser concerning the future of the program and the direction Notre Dame football is heading in amongst the persistent and aggressive changes college football currently faces; below are a few more that really stood out.

  • "I want to make sure we continue to build this roster that has a chance to make sure we're in those playoffs next year."

  • "All post-season play is going to change now that you're talking about a 12-team playoff."

  • "Notre Dame will continue to be at the front of making sure we take advantage of every new opportunity that college football presents."

  • "I truly believe we are continuing to flourish with the changes in college football."


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