The way Notre Dame recruits and the way Notre Dame plays football pretty much go hand in hand. Whether on the trail or the field, there seems to be a barrier that holds the Irish back, and it’s a very common refrain to wonder if the program has “reached its ceiling.”
Based on head coach Brian Kelly’s comments, he knows Notre Dame needs to think bigger on the recruiting trail, putting out a top-five class as a marker the program needs to reach. Even with that in mind, his team finished 9th nationally during the 2021 recruiting cycle, obviously outside of the stated goal. Even so, 9th is an improvement from the year before, but still not the type of class anyone thinks will change the program’s trajectory.
Kelly has stated he wants to recruit better, but there hasn’t been much evidence they know exactly how to make that happen. At least until new defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman, showed up. Since Notre Dame lured Freeman from Cincinnati, the last couple of weeks have been eye-opening in terms of targets, offers, and intensity from the new DC. The 2022 cycle has a chance to be one of the best ever on the defensive side of the ball and could usher in a new era of Irish recruiting.
Freeman had the reputation of being an elite recruiter at Cincinnati where he had the two 4-star defenders committed in the Bearcat class of 2022 already. That would be an impressive haul for Cincinnati for an entire recruiting cycle, let alone eleven months out from the December early signing period.
The Tyson Ford Commitment
Without getting into premium content, public knowledge on the Tyson Ford situation is Notre Dame football was out front early and were eventually passed by Oklahoma. In fact, when Ford set his commitment date in December, he may have been silently committed to the Sooners. But, enter Marcus Freeman, and within weeks Ford had done an about-face, and Notre Dame landed the commitment of the composite 117th ranked player in the nation.
Not taking anything away from defensive line coach Mike Elston, who had Notre Dame in position, but by all accounts, it was Freeman who sealed the deal to win the recruitment for the type of player the Fighting Irish have struggled to land in the past. They’ve done well at defensive end, but a top 100 type? Few and far between.
The Ford commitment shows Marcus Freeman’s ability to close, even when behind, and he’s compiling an offer list that shows he’s got his sights set on similar prizes.
Marcus Freeman Is Going For It
Just in the past couple of weeks, Notre Dame has extended offers to inside linebacker Harold Perkins (19th nationally), safety Kamari Wilson (20th), cornerback Daylan Everette (65th), outside linebacker Jaylan Sneed (78th), and inside linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka (63rd). Tuihalamaka was committed to USC at the time of the offer, but two days after receiving an offer from Freeman, he de-committed and opened up his recruitment. Notre Dame was already in a good position with outside linebacker Sebastian Cheeks (151st), a player Freeman – also the Notre Dame football linebackers coach – has made a priority.
Freeman has also turned things up with previously offered safety Xavier Nwankpa (76th) and defensive tackle Caden Curry (81st). Both players had nearly dropped the Irish from consideration, but after speaking with Freeman the doors have been re-opened.
There is a certain, I guess let’s call it, “intensity,” to the way Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator has approached recruiting so far. Traditionally Notre Dame has been in with top 100 type players defensively, but it’s generally sporadic, and there isn’t a ton of momentum. That’s seven in the top 100 just right out of the gate, and based on the comments of the players, Freeman has made it known they are priorities, and they can expect to be hearing from him a lot. In short, “I’m coming after you” has been the feeling. Again, this just isn’t the way Notre Dame has done things.
The Proof Will Be In The Pudding
Obviously, we do need to wait and see where this goes. It’s kind of akin to Notre Dame being a college football playoff team. Sure they are getting to the playoffs, but they aren’t winning, even though they’ve given themselves the chance. Freeman has made it known he’s going for it since being named defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish, giving himself the chance. For this to pay dividends, he does have to close on some of these guys like an elite recruiter would.
It will be interesting to see if this new approach and style to recruiting rubs off on the offense, though. The offense has traditionally done better with highly ranked players as it is, but it’s not year over year constant. Can the high tide raise all boats in this situation? Time will tell, but all of the evidence at this point from Freeman is he’s going for it and doing everything fans would want. Now it’s just a matter of earning the commitments, and so far, so good on that front.