If you stop and think about it, the 2018 recruiting cycle played out a lot like the 2017 football season. A very strong start with some definite highlights (Kevin Austin, Phil Jurkovec, Shayne Simon, Jayson Ademilola, and Derrik Allen), some tough losses late (Amon-Ra St. Brown, Nicholas Petit-Frere), and then a near miracle finish with C’Bo Flemister (RB), DJ Brown (CB), Lwrence Keys (WR), Jarrett Patterson (OT) and Noah Boykin (CB) on National Signing Day.
Like the regular season, it’s tough to look past the talent at the top of the class as anything but top notch. Notre Dame’s top 7-8 can pretty much go wherever they want and a school will make room for them. There is no taking anything away from those guys just like there is no taking away from Notre Dame’s throttling of USC, Michigan State and NC State or their miracle finish against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
But, it is also difficult to look past where the Irish missed. This season marks the 5th straight cycle in which Notre Dame failed to land a consensus five star player. Not landing St. Brown, given his families ties to Notre Dame, and Kelly having made him a priority for three seasons now, was a tough pill to swallow. And Petit-Frere, who plays the position Kelly and co. recruit better than any other, spurning the Irish for Ohio State on the eve of signing day brought with it a feeling of here we go again. Another good class was going to sputter out with fans wondering if they’d ever turn the corner.
Just like in the regular season where the Irish experienced some pretty high highs, it is impossible to judge the season without looking at the losses to Miami and Stanford specifically that were tough to swallow for Irish fans.
Then Patterson happened. He was long rumored to stay on the West Coast, the distance was going to be too much for him, until it wasn’t. He committed around 10 am eastern time. Next was Lawrence Keys, who turned away the hard charging Texas Longhorns for the Irish and things were looking up. A nice cap to a good class.
Then the Boykin news came and everything changed. Suddenly, the good class felt like a great class, and a good close felt fantastic. In reality, not much changed, except for the fact that in addition to Patterson, Keys, and Boykin, Notre Dame also added running back C’Bo Flemister and defensive back DJ Brown. All of whom are really good players who will help Notre Dame win football games. But, after all of that, Notre Dame dropped in the national rankings, from #8 to #10.
See, the thing that was going to turn this class from good to great were objectively great players, and Notre Dame missed on that. Just like the difference between a good and great 2017 season were losses to Miami and Stanford to end the season. But the late additions of those three players to end the day brought that feeling of surprise and joy. That things were turning around for the better. Just like Miles Boykins’ catch and run against LSU, in an otherwise meaningless game, changed how a lot of us felt about the 2017 season and what could be in 2018.
And interestingly enough, a guy by the name of Boykin was the one who turned the tide. How’s that for symmetry?