Notre Dame needed a big recruiting win after a long stretch of losses and near misses. They got a huge one on Sunday when elite linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa selected the Irish over Ohio State and USC, giving them a much-needed headliner on the defensive side of the ball for the class of 2024.
The talent on the offensive side of the ball has headlined Notre Dame’s class of 2024. Quarterback CJ Carr, wide receiver Cam Williams, running back Kedren Young, and receiver Micah Gilbert give Notre Dame the kind of nucleus on the offensive side of the ball to compete for future playoff berths. Defensively the Irish had a lot of high-ceiling players, but most of them need time to develop. Kyngstonn Villamu-Asa is the kind of instant-impact, high-ceiling player missing.
Back to the “new normal” LB Recruiting Under Marcus Freeman
Recruiting on the defensive side of the ball has dropped off relative to what we became accustomed to seeing from Marcus Freeman since his arrival in early 2021. Freeman, then the defensive coordinator, came in like a house on fire by landing commitments from elite players like Jaylen Sneed, Niuafe Tuihalamaka, Josh Burnham, and Tyson Ford.
Freeman continued the momentum on the defensive side of the ball in the class of 2023 with Drayk Bowen, Brennan Vernon, and Christian Grey. Leaks in the defensive recruiting started to appear towards the end of the last cycle, though. First, the Irish lost 5-star DE Keon Keeley, who had been committed for months before the 2022 season. Then the Irish lost 5-star safety, Peyton Bowen amid all his Signing Day silliness.
Before the commitment of Willamu-Asa over the weekend, Notre Dame’s defensive recruiting class was solid but lacked a headliner. Four of Notre Dame’s 21 commitments before Sunday were from 4-star defenders – Loghan Thomas, Bryce Young, Leonard Moore, and Brauntae Johnson (On3 composite rankings).
Landing KVA gives the defensive side of the ball a much-needed boost after the Irish lost out on other headliners they were targeting, such as defensive lineman Justin Scott – though the Irish plan to continue to try and flip the elite interior lineman. Commitments like this felt commonplace for Notre Dame in the first two cycles with Freeman on staff. Notre Dame needs to get back to that.
A much-needed win for embattled DL Coach Al Washington
One coach in particular who needed a recruiting win like this is defensive line coach Al Washington who has been much-maligned on Notre Dame Twitter over the last twelve months. Washington was the primary recruiter for both Keeley and Scott – two of the most high-profile misses this staff has had since the staff was flipped over following Brian Kelly bolting down to the Bayou.
As the defensive line coach for Notre Dame, Washington hasn’t been bad, but the expectation was that he would elevate recruiting. Elston was a developer and identifier of raw talent. Washington had a reputation for being able to land more elite prospects. That hasn’t happened consistently over the last 18 months.
Notre Dame has two potentially elite edge rushers in Bryce Young and Loghan Thomas, even though neither is considered a top-100 prospect right now. Last cycle, Notre Dame lost out on Keeley and could never replace him. Interior DL recruiting has struggled this cycle under Washington.
While Villamu-Asa isn’t a traditional DL, he will be used as an edge rusher, much like Notre Dame used Marist Liufau at times last year. Washington was heavily involved in KVA’s recruitment for that reason and because of the relationship that Washington developed with him dating back to his time at Ohio State, where he offered Villamu-Asa while still on the Buckeyes staff. Washington was critical in landing KVA for the Irish because of the work he’s put in over two years.