June 11, 2014 // Recruiting

Unpredictability Becoming the Norm in Notre Dame Recruiting

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Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports

Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports

If you follow college football recruiting, you know the rules are as follows: Outside of a cap on the number of official visits a recruit can take that are paid for by the hosting university, there are no rules.  A high school football recruit is free to offer a verbal commitment to any school and it will remain non-binding until he signs a national letter of intent the spring of his senior year (and as former Notre Dame signee Eddie Vanderdoes proved, not even signing the dotted line is a guarantee).  With such a borderline anarchistic system in place, recruiting stories are becoming legendary.

Several years ago USC made national headlines for accepting the commitment of an 8th grade quarterback named David Stills.  Not to be outdone, this past spring LSU accepted the commitment of a 14-year-old quarterback from Texas.  Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy admitted the fact Auburn had a Chick-Fil-A restaurant on its campus helped him chose Auburn over Clemson, and recent Georgia signee Lorenzo Carter claimed recruit Raekwon McMillian chose Ohio State over Georgia because he didn’t like how he looked in a portrait Georgia gave him.

Recruiting has meandered so deeply into the bizarre that Rice was able to land the commitment of a 3-star quarterback by sending a letter to the recruit’s pet cat, Kitty Granato, encouraging the cat to help Rice land the quarterback and ending the letter with the phrase, “Paw me if you have any questions.”

The University of Notre Dame is far from immune to the peculiar and has currently been experiencing an unusual recruiting season in its own right.

Notre Dame received a verbal commitment from Rivals 4-star quarterback Blake Barnett last November.  Arguably the most gifted quarterback commitment of the Brian Kelly era, Barnett has been accumulating accolades at an alarming rate.  In addition to rapidly climbing Rivals’ rankings, the California native was the very first quarterback prospect to be invited to the Elite 11 camp, an elite competition amongst the nation’s very best high school quarterbacks.

Despite Barnett’s verbal commitment and repeated statements pledging loyalty to Notre Dame, the offers continued to roll in for the talented signal caller, with Alabama, Michigan and Oregon pressing hard for his services.  Rumors began to circulate that Barnett had taken a surprise visit to Eugene, Ore., to visit the Ducks, and within 24 hours Notre Dame was in need of a new quarterback for the Class of 2015.

Cornerback Shaun Crawford’s recruitment has also been unorthodox.  A Rivals 4-star from Ohio, Crawford visited Notre Dame with his father last August but reportedly felt disrespected from then-defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco.  Crawford, measuring in at 5’9”, lacked the prototypical size sought by Diaco at the position.  Shortly after the visit to South Bend, Crawford committed to Michigan.

The less stringent size requirements of newly appointed defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder rekindled interest in the Fighting Irish.  Crawford once again visited Notre Dame and shortly thereafter decommitted from the University of Michigan, as well as canceled plans to visit Ohio State.  While Notre Dame is now presumed the ultimate destination for Crawford, all has been silent from his camp since his second tour in South Bend.

Linebacker Josh Barajas’s recruitment has also had several twists and turns.  The Rivals 4-star Indiana native was long considered to be a Notre Dame lean when he turned heads with a commitment to Penn State head coach James Franklin in March.

“They can do what they want but I am going to put my foot down,” Barajas told the media after his commitment.  “I gave coach Franklin my word, and that is where I am going to go.”

With such strong statements on record, Barajas’ sudden change of heart and ultimate flip to the University of Notre Dame in June stunned many.  Barajas cited a desire to be close to home as the reason for his switch.

Notre Dame has experienced a very strange recruiting cycle very early in the process, with eight months left until national signing day.  And given early indicators – such as current Notre Dame offensive line commitment Jerry Tillery having taken visits to LSU and Arkansas as well as considering a trip to Texas – the unpredictability characterizing the current recruiting class is far from over.

While college football coaches and analysts continue to debate the merit of an early signing period, fans are left with no other option than to keep a bottle of Pepto Bismol near and hope for the best.

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 scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

Comments to this Article

  • Sad Warrior commented on June 11th, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Until these young men wear the `real uniform’ they are unreliable at best. Do not count on anyone lest he be at your six. Barnett is a disgrace no matter how you spin it. The word of honor has little or no meaning to many of these young `men’. Any wise comments/excuses from the gallery on this? It’s disappointing enough to be stuck here and then have to read this drivel about some spoiled kid.

    [Reply]

    Ron replied on June 11th, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Being a 20 year veteran myself I hear you man. Just makes you shake your head and laugh. Thank you for your service. Bless you!

    [Reply]

    Sad Warrior replied on June 11th, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Thank you Ron for your sacrifices and service. Branch? We always appreciate the path that you guys cleared for us. Fine examples of what real men who are honorable and committed to a cause. We just want to come home. Very frustrating. Last fall we actually lived to get back from some less than happy LRPS to either see live the Irish or tape delayed football games. Big morale booster. We have read your posts, along with a real buster named Shazz, JC, and others that provided us with fodder that was discussed for days! Amazing what a touch of home can do for so many. The season can not start soon enough for us. Many converts to the Notre Dame Nation occurred last season! Even some of the `locals’ came to cheer for the Irish as they seem to think that the United States is a magical and wonderful place where the people live in Golden Domes!

    Maybe if you have time you could stir something up to give us that needed distraction that we so need at times. Comments to stir the soul as it may be! Just don’t mention the Yankees or Rangers. Too many joyous boots here that love certain teams from Boston and California!

    We wish to thank you for your above comment. It is much appreciated. It is getting near chow time and some sleep. But we will be watching this column. I guess you could say we are `that kid in the window awaiting a special arrival.’

    Stay safe Mr. Ron. Hooah! Go Irish.

    [Reply]

    Ron Burgundy replied on June 11th, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Here is something for you to chew on:

    I’m Ron Burgundy man; I’m the stylish one of the group. I know what you’re asking yourself and the answer is yes. I have a nick name for my penis. Its called the Octagon, but I also nick named my testes – my left one is James Westfall and my right one is Doctor Kenneth Noisewater. You ladies play your cards right you just might get to meet the whole gang.

    Sad Warrior replied on June 11th, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    @ R.Burgundy

    We find you to be a disgraceful actor here Mr. Burgundy. Highly inappropriate to this and any other forum. You are crude, ignorant, and dysfunctional. You add nothing to any football topics with your inane and objectionable slants. Try Facebook. You will find it more to your ilk.
    We come here for a break, not your filth and corruption. Give it a break for Christ’s sake.

    Ron Burgundy replied on June 11th, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    And I thought we were tight:

    Sad Warrior commented on March 26th, 2014 at 11:07 am
    RB-you just brought the House down with your comment about Sinatra and the hobo! Total hilarity! That is a gift! The wheel was good too, to boot! Yes, we are impressed and mightily so! The consensus is now saying you are not a JAG, but a judge!

    Thank you for the levity. It makes our day. We are off to chow soon and then refitting. We cannot wait until 1800 hrs.to see what you have all come up with. You make our nights a happier and more desirable place. More than maybe you all know.

    End EAM. OUT.

    LucasCorso replied on June 11th, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    So is Josh Barajas also a “disgrace?” Or is that term only applicable when a kid flips his commitment away from ND?

    [Reply]

    Sad Warrior replied on June 11th, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Barnett lied. Barajas did not. A major difference exists between the two. However, we have seen the merit in your view. Thank you LucasCorso, now the argument has started as to what a commit can and can not do!

    [Reply]

    Ron Burgundy replied on June 11th, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    He lied to PSU.

    LucasCorso replied on June 12th, 2014 at 8:17 am

    If Barnett is a “disgrace” because he committed to ND then decommitted, why doesn’t the same logic apply to a kid who commits to another school, then decommits to pledge ND? You say Barnett “lied” and Barajas did not. Ron B is correct. Barajas “lied” to PSU. I haven’t intended to start an argument about “what a commit can and can’t do.” Obviously, a commit CAN decommit. What I’ve started is a discussion about a double standard for fans. For the record, I’m fine with kids changing commitments. It isn’t about “honor.” It’s about a 17 year old making a life choice. Sometimes they change their minds.

    Shazamrock replied on June 12th, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Sad Warrior,

    On one hand, I agrre with what you say and I can’t help but be concerned over what appears to be a growing trend with today’s high school recruit and how they seem to put so little regard in standing behind their word and honor their pledges.

    But when it comes to Commitment, Honor, and the viability of one’s word, that has to be a two way street.

    If you review the recent history of college sports recruiting you will see such terms as “over signing, “grey shirting”, “one-and-done”, “scholarships pulled due to injury”, “paper classes” and “forced transfers”, just to name a few.

    Sadly, many of today’s high profile college sports programs are less in the business of providing quality education, and more in the business of making money and improving the bottom line.

    They have shown that they are willing to make almost any
    decision deemed necessary to ensure that end, and which all too often results in compromising the student athlete.

    And while this particular situation with Barnett, and the recruiting terms and methods mentioned here might not apply, they do come into question for many other high school recruits considering other programs.

    In that light, is it really that surprising that today’s young athletes are overly cautious, have second thoughts, or even change their minds several times?

    [Reply]

    Sad Warrior replied on June 12th, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Shazz, we like your points. I imagine that will be the dominating focus of discussion as we prep for some `hiking’ in a short while. In retrospect we were hard on Barnett; most likely out of being jilted? Next man up!

    Stay Safe and eager! Hooah! Go Irish!

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on June 12th, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I plan on doing a little “hiking” my self in a short while…

    Right down the street to Dirty Dan’s Pub!

    And you know ol Dan’s motto…

    “Liquor in the front and poker in the rear”

    Cheers!

    Sad Warrior replied on June 12th, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Roger that Shazz…

  • TinySkippyNaNu commented on June 11th, 2014 at 10:07 am

    An early signing period would make sense, although as we learned last year, even signing on the dotted line in February doesn’t guaranty the kid will show up on campus in the fall.

    [Reply]

    duranko replied on June 12th, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    TinyskippyNaNu I could not disagree more. It merely gives the adults getting paid millions more opportunity to manipulate the kids getting paid squat.

    Colleges need some accountability. Look at those Taliban at North Carolina.

    Frankly, with all the “personality recruiting” I think a kid should get a free out, with immediate eligibility at the new school if his head coach or coordinator leaves. This will make schools be more serious about their hiring and firing practices.

    Commitment should mean something to the school who poaches the teenager.

    Adults MUST be held to higher
    standard.

    Look at national champion of scum John Calipari. He just signed a bunch of kids to letters of intent, and then he’s negotiating with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Calipari has agents and lawyers, the kids don’t.

    [Reply]

    Ron Burgundy replied on June 12th, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    So you would be ok with every scholarship player at ND having the ability to leave with no repercussions after Diaco and Martin left?

    [Reply]

  • Damian commented on June 11th, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I take verbal commitments with a grain of salt. I’m certainly happy when we get a great verbal commit, but I temper that with the knowledge that they can flip at any time.

    I don’t really get excited about a commitment until they sign. As noted above, even that isn’t necessarily a guarantee, but at least more times then not when they sign, they usually come.

    I sometimes wonder if some recruits consider the value of the education they will get. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to play into a lot of their considerations.

    [Reply]

  • SteelFanRob commented on June 11th, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    “Ron Burgundy”:

    Sometimes you are indeed very funny. But at times it’s too much, too often, “Ron B.” I guess that’s maybe what “Sad Warrior” is saying. But I don’t want to put words into his mouth

    [Reply]

    JDH replied on June 12th, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I also think it has to do with the unbelievably stale and predictable cycle of Ron Burgundy. It goes like this:

    1) Make relatively quick, hit and run criticisms of people’s posts.* 2)When challenged or criticized himself, resort to quoting from the movie of his online persona ad nauseum, so he does not have to answer the criticism. 3) Start over at Step #1.

    It gets pretty old. (Looking at my watch and waiting for Ron Burgundy to start quoting “Anchorman” at me and/or make a smartass comment).

    *This is not to say he does not make some legitimate commentary, because he does. But the modus operandi is weak at best.

    [Reply]

    Sad Warrior replied on June 12th, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    @JDH

    We believe RB to be a `Pseudo Intellectual’. Makes for some interesting commentaries.

    [Reply]

  • Michael the Archangel commented on June 11th, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    It would be interesting to determine the % of early commits (before they’re senior year has even begun) being recruited by the top 20 schools who end up as de-committs. With the growing revenue college football brings, I’m betting it’s become more common the last few years than it has in the past.

    Is it as much about relationships with recruiters and coaching changes as it is
    what is being offered behind the scenes?

    I hope so, but I doubt it.

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on June 12th, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Archangel,

    Seems you have fallen behind the times my friend.

    Your question should have read…

    “It would be interesting to determine the % of early Middle school commits (before their Freshmen year of high school has even begun)”

    Since Lane Kiffin started the practice in 2010 by offering 13 yr old QB David Sills (who won’t be eligible to actually sign until 2016) a full scholarship to USC, the practice of cradle robbing recruiting has exploded.

    LSU & Alabama quickly followed suit with offers to 7th grader Dylan Moses (signing in 2017)

    Some other schools that have offered middle schooler’s include.. FSU, Washington, Kentucky, Miami, South Florida, Vanderbilt, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia Tech.

    [Reply]

  • Bob commented on June 11th, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Who cares? Happens to every program. In the end, the Irish will get their players.

    [Reply]

  • hank espo commented on June 12th, 2014 at 1:50 am

    it is a sad day when one of your top recruits changes his mind after signing up to play for your football team. if they are not really sure, why do they not wait until it is close to signing day. on the other hand, your team gets one of someone elses recruits which makes up for the one you lost. it still sucks anyway you look at it.
    go Irish.

    [Reply]

  • Jerry Seppanen commented on June 12th, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Remember the ages of these recruits. They vote. For Obama. That should tell
    you enough.

    [Reply]

    JDH replied on June 12th, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    As someone who abhors the current POTUS, to that comment I have to say:

    “Huh?”

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on June 12th, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    TEENAGERS. That, they are, and most do not yet have the right to vote, Jerry.

    Haven’t any of you who are parents (or your wife) had to counsel
    teenagers on the roller coaster of the prom date?

    You take each target market with its own terrain. All salemen know that.
    You don’t get to reconfigure it.

    Take it as it is or find a new job.

    Whiners will be punished.

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on June 12th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Big-D,

    Counselling teenagers is an art form and a skill set that takes years of persistence and refinement.

    Getting teenagers to listen to that counselling is an entirely different matter!

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on June 12th, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Shaz, I’m “witchya” And it is certainly art, there is no science about it.

    But it’s very zen what you did at the end there, you’re saying the attempt to get
    teenagers to listen is the answer to the Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping? “Or if a parent counsels at the dinner table is anyone listening to the noise?”

    Or was it a pop culture reference from S&G “people hearing without listening……..?’

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on June 16th, 2014 at 7:08 am

    Na…

    It’s this thing called “Hormones”

    By the age of 17, it takes what was once a good, well raised, level headed kid,
    and turns him into a raving lunatic.

    Outside of nuclear physics, in the hands of a teenager, it’s the most powerful
    force in the universe!

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on June 13th, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    In the last four years we have recruited four D linemen who were rated 5 tars by one or more of the services:

    Ishaq Williams
    Stephon Tuitt
    Aaron Lynch
    Eddie VanDerdoes

    By carefully analyzing each of the four situations what can we empirically
    derive from rigorous analysis of each of the four careers, notwithstanding the small sample size?.

    What implications are there for defensive line recruiting?

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on June 14th, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Absolutely. If Notre Dame had devolved into “personality only” recruiting then that would be its just deserts.

    Notre Dame and Kelly are sharper than that and that is why players understand the gestalt of Notre Dame, and they are “required” but not contractually by the LOI to bond with Notre Dame rather than the personality of the coach. Look at the roster of folks they meet with on their recruitng visit.

    Were the playing field leveled I would be comfortable with that result for ALL D-1 teams.

    Part of my reasoning is some of the guys who got stuck in my infantry platoon in Viet Nam had been GUARANTEED rear echelon MOS’s. They committed to the MOS, not the infantry. They got screwed. By the adults and the system.

    [Reply]

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