Notre Dame is set to host its third annual Irish Invasion camp the weekend of June 18th. The elite on-campus event represents Notre Dame’s attempt to join the college football mainstream on an idea first conceived by Urban Meyer while head coach of the Florida Gators. In 2005 Meyer started a “Friday Night Lights” event on Florida’s campus, which consisted of inviting top-flight recruits to work out in front of the coaching staff under the lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium while music blared and highlights of Florida’s previous season looped on the jumbotron.
Meyer’s idea was such a success that similar events by other major universities began popping up across the country, with Notre Dame finally joining the mix in 2014. But has the Irish Invasion been successful? Like the NFL Draft, it’s difficult to assess the impact of the Irish Invasion immediately after its occurrence, but with two Irish Invasions in the books enough data has been accumulated to start making assertions.
The first Irish Invasion left Notre Dame fans frustrated. Elite prospects departed South Bend without any verbal commitments, and the only one to shut down his recruitment process within 48 hours of his visit was kicker Justin Yoon. Kickers may not have the buzz of other positions but Yoon’s commitment was a crucial one for Notre Dame, with Yoon being named a Freshman All-American for the Irish by The Sporting News.
Ten days after the first Irish Invasion came to a close an unheralded, 3-star running back – according to Rivals.com – made the call for Notre Dame. An underrated recruit due to an ACL injury suffered his junior year of high school, Notre Dame pulled off an upset for Josh Adams’ signature, with 247Sports projecting him to Penn State with a 94-percent level of confidence prior to his announcement for Notre Dame. Adams would provide an instant impact his freshman season, including setting a school record 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest.
Tevon Coney came to the Irish Invasion from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., as one of the top inside linebackers in the nation with the Florida Gators as his leader. By the time of his departure Florida’s lead had been erased.
“I didn’t really know much about Notre Dame,” Coney said after his visit. “I just knew it was a great school. When I finally got a chance to go up there and see how it really was, it was a good turnout.”
The Gators and Irish battled fiercely for Coney’s signature for four months after his Irish Invasion visit before Coney officially made the call for Notre Dame.
A similar situation unfolded for offensive lineman and Ohio native Liam Eichenberg. The Cleveland St. Ignatius standout attended the first Irish Invasion as an underclassman with Michigan as his leader. A weekend spent with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, however, led to Eichenberg reshuffling his leaderboard.
“He’s just different,” Eichenberg said about Hiestand. “I love it. His coaching style is great. We were breaking down my film in the film room and I learned so much from what he was telling me.”
The Irish Invasion visit provided Notre Dame a foot in the door that ultimately proved to be crucial. Eichenberg’s recruitment extended nearly a full year beyond the Irish Invasion and became a two-way race between Notre Dame and Ohio State, but the relationship Eichenberg developed with Hiestand during the Irish Invasion was the edge in Notre Dame’s favor.
The Irish Invasion has been effective enough that on several occasions Notre Dame even managed to insert itself into the race for elite prospects heavily leaning elsewhere. Jacques Patrick was a 5-star running back with Alabama and Florida State as his leaders when he surprisingly announced his intention to visit for the Irish Invasion. Head coach Brian Kelly put on a full-court press that gave Patrick pause, but his relationship with Florida State, a school he had visited many times over the course of several years, was simply too deep.
Outside linebacker Justin Hilliard was another blue-chip prospect Notre Dame nearly stole, this time from Ohio State. There were whispers Notre Dame had overtaken the in-state Buckeyes during his Irish Invasion visit, but Hilliard concluded his trip to South Bend with a quick stop in Columbus before making his final decision. The Ohio State visit allowed Urban Meyer the final word before Hilliard’s ultimate commitment to the Buckeyes.
Although Notre Dame was fairly late to adapt to the idea of a major on-campus recruiting event to match Florida’s Friday Night lights, the impact of the Irish Invasion has been significant, and Brian Kelly’s staff has done an excellent job of luring elite talent to South Bend to participate. And all signs point to another strong Irish Invasion for 2016.
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 wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.