Mike Brey’s ‘April Philosophy’ In Recruiting Is Here To Stay For A While
Mike Brey signed and recruited half his 2020 class while 1,100 miles from Notre Dame’s campus.
In early April, he took a trip to Florida to visit his son Kyle — a football coach at IMG Academy — and his grandchildren. With campus shuttered and any in-person interaction with prospects on hold, nothing required him to be in South Bend.
Recruiting productivity, though, did not slow to an accompanying speed. In the span of eight days, Notre Dame landed commitments from three-star wing Tony Sanders Jr. out of Miami and Santa Clara transfer guard Trey Wertz. The Irish offered scholarships to both after the coronavirus shutdown and recruiting dead period.
Brey has never met them or watched them play in person. He has only video chatted with them and their families, watched film and presented virtual campus and facility tours. Those are recruiting tactics normally reserved for budget-conscious mid-major programs. Now they’re the only possible way for anyone to operate.
The dead period runs through at least Aug. 31, and another extension of it seems inevitable. Brey is home and now sees his staff in person once a week for lunch, but as far are recruiting, he may as well still be in Florida.
“We’re in the April philosophy,” Brey told BlueandGold.com “We were aggressive. We were Zooming. We were checking the transfer portal. We were watching kids on tape. We were offering scholarships and saying, ‘We want you.’
“We’ll continue to operate like that even though we can’t see guys in person or meet them face to face. I don’t think we can save it for a rainy day, so to speak.”
The April, June and July evaluation periods were canceled, leading Brey to operate under the assumption he won’t see recruits in person the rest of the calendar year. Even if the NCAA expires the dead period or passes an already once-tabled proposal for in-person recruiting this fall, Brey isn’t interested in venturing out anytime soon.
“We’re not going back on the road to recruit for the remainder of 2020,” Brey said. “Maybe we go out and are allowed to watch prospects in April of 2021, that’s a win and that’s as good as it gets. Forget all these dead periods.
“No one is also coming on our campus. We’re not having any official visits for a football weekend this fall. That kind of exposure for my personal health is taken off the board.”
So is his long-standing preference of seeing recruits play live before offering, one he has already waived twice. (It’s worth noting assistant Ryan Humphrey had seen Sanders play). No one on the staff had watched Wertz. As Wertz tells it, Brey watched a few minutes of a Santa Clara game and decided he was a priority. Identifying a fit and forging a relationship through Zoom is not only the new normal, but it can work.
“I don’t need to see a kid in person,” Brey said. “That can’t be an excuse for not offering a player. We have to go for it. Everyone’s clock — especially the prospects and their families — they’re feeling it and wanting to grab a spot and a scholarship. We need to be ready to react.”
Notre Dame offered three 2022 players in June. With the 2021 class, though, a reaction or more movement has yet to come.
The Irish staff has not made any offers to 2021 players since last summer and has handed out three in total. Brey is hoping to sign two or three players in November. As it stands now, Notre Dame has space to take four players. Hitting that number in the fall alone is unlikely, though.
One offer went to South Bend St. Joseph wing J.R. Konieczny, a Rivals150 prospect who committed to Notre Dame in September. Another went to four-star forward Caleb Furst, a Fort Wayne native who picked Purdue right before the shutdown. The third is Blake Wesley, an uncommitted four-star guard from South Bend’s Riley High School. He is Notre Dame’s top 2021 target. And right now, he’s the only clear target.
Notre Dame’s recruitment of Wesley has largely been normal because it began well before the pandemic. It has included numerous campus visits and in-person viewings — a strong baseline some other teams in pursuit of Wesley cannot match. All told, this is a convenient year to have a pair of top-150 players within a few miles of campus.
The real question is when and how Notre Dame identifies another target to go with Konieczny and Wesley (if he chooses the Irish), or to replace Wesley if he goes elsewhere. That player may be someone Brey or his staff hasn’t seen in person before.
Some AAU programs, including Wesley’s, have streamed their games this summer. Synergy, the advanced stats and film service popular among college teams, has high school film uploaded in addition to its infinite library of college games. High school coaches are willing to send film too. Video scouting has never been easier or more informative.
“My staff will text me there’s a game at 7 p.m. you need to watch,” Brey said. “We will be doing that because some of these events will be coming back online in July and August.”
Any potential new offer may also have never seen campus and not have the chance to before the fall signing period, which starts Nov. 11. Of course, every school will run into that problem with players it has offered this spring and summer, but Notre Dame’s campus is one of its biggest recruiting assets. The superior ability to take campus to the players can make a difference in establishing the needed comfort to pick a school sight unseen.
Notre Dame has already experienced that firsthand.
“We’re really confident in selling our program and our university by way of Zoom and virtually,” Brey said. “I give a lot of credit to all our people putting together different video virtual tours of the practices facility, the business school, campus, the dorms. I thought they did a great job and that’s why we got Wertz and Sanders.
“Those presentations were really powerful. Those parents and the kid knew this might be as good as it gets.”
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