Notre Dame’s first Irish Invasion camp is in the books, and after one of the biggest recruiting weekends in many years for the Fighting Irish football program, fans were eager to see what good news would begin to be produced as a result. Nearly one week and only one commitment later – from a kicker who was not even in attendance, no less – Irish fans have begun to grow restless.
What happened? Was the Invasion a flop?
Determining the success of the recruiting affair is difficult to do considering it was the very first of its kind in South Bend. But there are several potential metrics that can offer the measurable results that Notre Dame fans are currently craving.
The Irish Invasion was unlike similar recruiting camps put on by other universities in that Notre Dame’s event was by invitation only, an attempt to lure only the very best high school athletes to campus. Given its high standard guest list, the presence of elite recruits on campus is the simplest measure, and one that head coach Brian Kelly and staff passed with flying colors. Over 40 high school athletes were in attendance, including the likes of Rivals 5-star running back Jacques Patrick. Blue-chip prospects generally make later decisions in the recruiting process, and while Notre Dame is working hard to secure commitments, a more realistic goal of the Irish Invasion is to ensure the Fighting Irish stay in contention for America’s best the closer it gets to National Signing Day.
The Impact on 2016 Notre Dame Recruiting
A strong argument can be made that the Irish Invasion’s impact will be felt more by the recruiting Class of 2016 than the current recruiting cycle. The Class of 2015 has been the center of attention for college programs for five months, and relationship-building between athletes and coaches is closer to one year or more in the making. It is far more difficult for a coaching staff to dislodge another program from preferred status than it is to be the program that sets the tone, and this process played itself out at the Irish Invasion.
Rivals 4-star linebacker and Florida native Te’Von Coney arrived in South Bend with the University of Florida as the leader for his services. By the time Coney left campus on a visit described as one that “couldn’t have gone better”, the elite linebacker prospect tabbed Notre Dame as tied with the Florida Gators atop his leader board. The effect on the Class of 2016, illustrated by star Ohio offensive lineman prospect Liam Eichenberg, was more dramatic.
Eichenberg is just beginning his recruiting process and boasts offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee. Despite attending St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, the same high school as incoming freshman Jimmy Byrne and a traditional pipeline to Notre Dame, Eichenberg arrived at the Irish Invasion with Michigan as his leader. By the end of the weekend Eichenberg had the Fighting Irish as his top school, and his praise of Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, whom he described as the best offensive line coach in the country, provided strong evidence that Notre Dame’s status as his leader is entrenched for the long haul.
While the impact of the Irish Invasion will be more visible in the following recruiting cycle, an immediate indicator of effectiveness is looming just around the corner. Notre Dame has been in a heavyweight battle with Ohio State for Justin Hilliard, a Rivals 4-star linebacker from Ohio rated as the #1 inside linebacker for the Class of 2015. Hilliard was present with his father for the Irish Invasion camp, an event that provided the talented Ohioan with the opportunity to spend time connecting with the current roster and familiarizing himself with Notre Dame’s top-ranked business college, Hilliard’s desired major. After spending one night Hilliard traveled to Columbus to get one last look at Ohio State before announcing his college decision on July 2nd.
The Irish Invasion was a successful recruiting venture that has placed Notre Dame in great position with some of the very best recruits within the Class of 2015, and set the tone for upcoming stars within the Class of 2016. The commitment column may not be lighting up immediately, but such a measure is the wrong standard of success for this year’s Irish Invasion.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.