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The State of Notre Dame Recruiting: What's Going Wrong?

Written by Liam Gaudet, Senior Editor - Twitter: @LiamGaudetIT



Photo via 247 Sports


I am so amazed by Notre Dame's consistent ability to miss on their priority targets since I began following recruiting about a decade ago. I understand that it may not be the Notre Dame of old, but to me, Notre Dame still holds some of the highest prestige in college football and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In the Brian Kelly era, I understood what the issues were. It was understood by everyone who followed recruiting in the 2010s that Notre Dame never really swung for the fences to revolutionize the talent on the roster, but would rather settle and cherry pick the ideal "Notre Dame" athlete. These were often kids that did not need to be recruited with a thorough and constant effort, but were enamored with the prospect of Notre Dame and did not necessarily have competitive offers from schools of the same pedigree. This philosophy is acceptable for a school that is content with winning eight to ten games a season, but will fade into irrelevance on the national stage. And for a long while, this was the reality for Notre Dame football. Great regular seasons, but embarrassed when the lights are brightest in large part due to the talent gap that stemmed from a lackluster recruiting effort. A change needed to be made, and that seemed to take care of itself with the departure of Brian Kelly.





Enter Marcus Freeman, and injection of youth into a program so hellbent on the past. Hailed as a recruiting genius, Freeman was considered to be the catalyst for a program that could never seem to find its way over the hump, and had proven success after bringing in one of the best defensive classes in recent history after one season as defensive coordinator. The program seemed to be trending upward for a while, and the recruiting followed suit with a great start to the 2023 class, including pledges from some of the countries top playmakers. People were praising the early success of Marcus Freeman on the trail, along with a new staff including Al Golden, Al Washington, Chansi Stuckey etc. At one point, Notre Dame had the number one recruiting class in the country, headlined by 5-star talent in a talent pool that seemed too good to be true.



Photo via ON3


Freeman and his staff would learn the hard way, however, that this elite class of talent poses new issues for recruiting success. Decommitments came at mass on the top end of Notre Dame's 2023 class which the staff worked tirelessly to pull together. Fingers were pointed in every direction, but the results still remained the same - a result that left most fans disappointed.


Fast forward to yesterday, where consensus five star defensive lineman Justin Scott, a priority target for Notre Dame out of Chicago chose the buckeyes in a shocking move. This serves as the latest example of Notre Dame whiffing on a prospect with interest in their own backyard. So the question still remains, what is the root cause of these recruiting failures?





The obvious, and in my opinion, copout answer would be to blame NIL for the majority of these losses. A year ago, sure, you could say that these bags of money being dropped on high school kids out in the open was unprecedented, and perhaps Notre Dame needed time to develop a winning formula. It's been well over a year now, and the fact that Notre Dame still does not have an NIL program that can compete in the modern football landscape is deeply concerning for the future of this program. Maybe that changes under Pete Bevacqua, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The administration has to turn things around and find a way to deliver competitive NIL opportunities for these kids in a way that is unique to Notre Dame. Whatever they're doing is simply not cutting it for the time being, and that's the honest truth. Step up or get left behind.


We also can't absolve the staff of the blame entirely, and names I see being tossed around angrily are that of Al Washington and Chris O'Leary. Both have managed to lose commitments from high value targets in the last two classes, and have missed on players who Notre Dame should have the upper hand in bringing them in. With Washington, Keon Keeley and Justin Scott are probably the two largest examples of this, and O'Leary couldn't land some of his priority targets either. I'm not saying this hasn't been from a lack of effort, but perhaps a crippled philosophy. If some of these coaches on the defensive side of the ball can't reel in the talent that is expected under this new regime, it might be time to have some difficult conversations in the near future.


While I can appreciate what a convoluted nightmare the modern recruiting game is, I cannot accept Notre Dame standing idly by and admitting defeat, reverting to their past. That is not how championship caliber teams are built, and I think most would agree. Whether it be an issue in recruiting philosophy, or a lack of willingness to change with the times - something has to give, sooner rather than later.



 

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