Notre Dame Recruiting’s Irish Invasion

Notre Dame Recruiting Feature
Notre Dame Recruiting Feature

Arguably one of the largest challenges a head coach may face at the University of Notre Dame is to keep pace with the speed of recruiting at an institution that values tradition and reflects before reacting. The university opts for a skeptical approach to change, preferring to dip its toe into new waters even if the majority has already dived in.

The old guard of recruiting strategy involved a program’s spring game, a tradition Notre Dame has held for 85 years. Spring games have helped many a team with recruiting and still do. Alabama made national headlines after landing four elite recruits at its annual A-Day game, a major piece in its seemingly unstoppable recruiting machine. But times change, and programs are constantly evolving to secure an edge.

In 2005 Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer altered the landscape when he created Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp. Previously college programs would invite high school prospects to campus to work out in front of the coaching staff to potentially earn a scholarship offer, but Urban Meyer changed the paradigm by creating a massive event. Florida’s coaching staff scoured the very best talent and invited them all to a workout event held under the lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Music blares throughout the venue as highlight reels of Florida’s glory days are looped onto the jumbotron, all while recruits bond and showcase their skills to the coaching staff and one another. The success of Urban Meyer’s brainchild has caused a ripple effect throughout college football recruiting.

Florida’s Alligator Army publication calls the Friday Night Lights event “one of the most important days of the recruiting calendar” and it shows in the results. For the recruiting class of 2013 the Florida Gators held 20 commitments by July, nearly completing their entire recruiting class seven months prior to national signing day. The secret to Florida’s success lies with the opportunity for recruits to bond with one another as well as current players.

“You can hear coach speak stuff from the coaches. They can tell you all you want. ‘Our school is the greatest,’ this and that,” says Derek Tyson, Florida Gators beat writer for ESPN. “The fact is when you hear from the other recruits and the other guys who are going through the same process that you’re going through and you can hear why they chose Florida, I think that weighs more on them than anything else in the whole process. It’s huge to have all the commits down there at one time.”

The overwhelming success of Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp has spurred numerous alterations from programs all over the country, from Georgia to Ohio State, where Urban Meyer is currently the head coach. Texas A&M has created its own event which it also calls Friday Night Lights, and it entails a spring football scrimmage under the lights of Kyle Field and is open to recruits as well as the general public. The most recent Friday Night Lights event secured an offensive line commitment for the Aggies that is drawing comparisons to famed Ole Miss standout Michael Oher.

Michigan established a similar recruiting event under former head coach Rich Rodriguez that continues to this day called BBQ at the Big House. The event is held late in May and offers recruits and their families an opportunity to meet Michigan’s coaching staff and current players in a relaxed, laid back atmosphere. The event is largely responsible for Michigan head coach Brady Hoke’s best recruiting classes since taking over in Ann Arbor.

Notre Dame is finally ready to test the waters with Brian Kelly’s version of Florida’s Friday Night Lights, one the Fighting Irish are calling the “Irish Invasion” camp taking place June 20-22. The objective for the Irish Invasion is to create a similar bonding experience from Florida and Michigan’s events but in a different manner. Rather than working out for the coaching staff at night inside a stadium or hosting a barbeque, Notre Dame is attempting to create a camp competition where only the very elite participate, which is why the Irish Invasion will be by invitation only.

To date Notre Dame’s “elite only” gamble is paying dividends. The best of Notre Dame’s current commitments – quarterback Blake Barnett and offensive lineman Tristen Hoge – will be in attendance as well as a host of the nation’s best high school recruits. A pair of blue chip linebackers are expected to attend in Tevon Coney and Adonis Thomas. Coney is a Rivals 4-star and Florida native with national offers from the likes of Auburn, Florida and Miami. Thomas, a Georgia native, is also a Rivals 4-star and one that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has recruited with gusto. Thomas boasts offers from Alabama, Florida State and LSU.

Notre Dame is also expecting 4-star defensive lineman Natrez Patrick to be in attendance, which would represent a major coup for the Fighting Irish. Natrez holds offers from nearly every program in the country, including Alabama, Auburn and Texas. Word leaking out of Florida is that 4-star running back and Orlando native Jacques Patrick may also attend next month’s camp thanks to the tireless work of Notre Dame leading recruiter, Tony Alford. The Sunshine State running back has a national offer list and is coveted by historic powerhouses Alabama, Texas and USC.

The Irish Invasion camp represents Notre Dame dipping its toe into new recruiting waters nine years after Florida originally created its Friday Night Lights event. The success of the camp will play a very important role in defining the future of Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts, and all eyes should be kept on its progress.

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

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  1. I think BK has done a great job of identifying talent and developing it. They have struggled consistently landing elite kids. Whether they leave before they step foot on the field or we never get past the final three finalist, that has been the huge challenge, IMO. But to say they haven’t been creative is far from true. The pots of gold the sent out last year were fantastic. A personalized piece of mail for each All American or draft pick in ND history, what an awesome way to bring the young kids in touch with the rich tradition. I love what this staff is doing, and hopefully we can start pulling more of the top talent to ND. There is no doubt they have more talent than they’ve had since the Holtz hay days. I can’t wait for this season, it’s gonna be a special one! GO IRISH!

  2. Plus, the weather is better in June than it is in December/January :>)

    What kid from the sunbelt gets impressed by frozen tundra?


    1. SOUTH Bend – that sounds warm-enough, right? Actually, any guy who falls for that is no one we want on our team!

  3. One of the benefits of this is that we are often behind the 8ball if we can’t get the California and Texas kids to visit early. CF Deontay Greenberry, Arik Armstead and many others.

    They are bringing the process forward and going all in to get these sunbelt studs in here early.

    These kids know each other more because of rivals, Nike and other camps

    You’re probablyly better off trying to get a big, high quality group in
    rather than letting it atrophy along all summer and Fall.

    What’s not insignificant here is that there is a huge effort to get some of the 2016 kids in ealy.

    They seem to be smart about recruiting and trying to avoid old errors by
    inventing new techniques.

    It’s a major shift in recruiting and probably an intelligent one.

  4. I love the idea of making it an ‘elite only’ camp. It makes the invited guys feel like they’re part of some special club and makes ND look like we’re part of the elite of football. I’m impressed by the extensive list of guys probably going and I hope this is a major success. Change is coming, boys. Lets wake up some echoes!

    Go Irish!

  5. How many elites choose to accept the invitation-only event will provide a
    clear indication as to what Kelly has done to elevate ND as being a highly regarded destination among
    today’s 4 and 5 star recruits. The “magic” of the campus and the quality of our athletes already on board
    and present should help hook and deliver the RKGs for ND.
    On a somewhat related point, as with Texas, California and Florida,
    Georgia has emerged as a veritable gold mine for recruiting.
    Van Gorder’s history in Georgia both as a college ( with Georgia and Georgia Southern)
    and pro (Falcons) coach, with all the contacts he must have made while there,
    should potentially yield golden opportunities for the Blue and Gold!

    Sounds like BK is moving ND into the 21st century,
    planning how best to re-establish the most impressive ND tradition of all-

  6. Irish Chan, I think there will be a lot of press on this as it
    will not begin until June 20th. For a good free source, consider the
    South Bend Tribune and Tyler James. He does a fair number of recruiting articles, and appears on a free podcast occasionally to talk about recruiting in something called the “Irish Huddle” on the South Bend Tribune website.

    The list of attendees will wax and wane, but what is intriguing is what marketing and stylistic flair they will use to make this IMPACTFUL.

    It’s kind of cool because all the frosh will already be here.

  7. I’d really like to hear more about what ND, Coach kelly and staff have planned for this event. Kelly has firmly placed his stamp on the program with progressive changes. All the while honoring the traditions that make Notre Dame such an amazing university.

    I’m really excited to hear more!

  8. one possibility is that Blake Barnett could be the most significant participant in the camp. He is way north of special (yeah, we’ve heard that with QBS before) but check Greg Biggins’ comments on his progress after last week’s QB event. Big time studs will, we surmise, look at Barnett and realize that Notre Dame is back in the big time.

    The dark side of the moon of course, is what ever Malik Zaire and DeShone
    Kizer think when they finally see Barnett up close and personal.

    Oh, well, if you want an omelet you have to break a few eggs!

    1. Duranko,

      Wasn’t Gunner Keil suppose to be the next coming of JC. Or Ron Powlus win two Heisman trophies. I will believe it when I see it

      1. amazingly….you just mentioned two QB’s that didn’t fit the offensive systems whatsoever. Powlus had no shot in Holtz’s option offense and Kiel had no shot in the spread. In your defense, not sure why they were recruited to begin with.

  9. Brian Kelly and staff are tireless workers. I think this is outstanding and will be wildly successful.

    Go IRISH!


  10. Rockne started the spring practice tradition of the Old Timers Game (now called the Blue-Gold game)that has been copied by most schools, so ND didn’t always play follow-the-leaders.

    1. It’s not that ND plays follow the leader. Notre Dame is just unwilling to do something just because others are, which is a good approach. The only potential downside is that change is slow, which is why ND is nine years behind Florida in terms of a Friday Night Lights type of camp.

  11. Alabama and Texas as goes recruiting interest me a bit more than Florida or coach Urban Meyer.

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