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Notre Dame Football Recruiting Joins Up-Tempo Pace

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Recruiting coordinator Brian Polian and the Irish staff will concentrate almost exclusively on juniors in January.
Bill Panzica

While winding down a 12-0 regular season this year, Notre Dame recruiting coordinator/special teams coordinator Brian Polian began to feel like the guy who suddenly found a bevy of new “friends” or “long-lost family” after hitting the mother lode in the lottery.

“The one thing I did notice is that some guys that weren’t necessarily really excited about texting back or taking calls in September — around Thanksgiving started to reach back out to us,” said Polian earlier this week after the Fighting Irish secured about 95 percent of their 2019 recruiting haul with the signatures of 21 high school senior student-athletes.

“What we found is there’s not enough room at the inn. There’s a salary cap, there’s a limit to the scholarships, and in the vast majority of the cases we were done at those positions.”

Such is the double-edged sword that comes with an accelerated recruiting calendar that has transpired. The positive is it allows for coaching staffs to assemble classes at a far more rapid rate, with the majority of the class secured even before the start of the season. The drawback is many late-bloomers or those considering options that could have been available earlier no longer might be in the mix because of a numbers crunch.

Twenty years ago, about 10 to 20 percent of a Notre Dame recruiting class would have merely verbal commitments the week before Christmas prior to the traditional signing date in February. Most of the official visits came during the banquet weekend in December and then January.

Ten years ago, the commitment tally was in the 50 to 75 percent range by Christmas, but still some room to maybe add 10 more prospects heading into February.

Today, with the much earlier evaluations, visits, commitments and signings, securing prospects becomes more urgent to staffs, especially those like at Notre Dame that have had dramatic ebbs (8-5 in 2010-11 and 2014, and 4-8 in 2016) and flows (12-0 in 2012 and 2018, or 10-3 in 2015 and 2017).

Prior to the start of the season on Sept. 1 versus Michigan, 17 of the 21 players (81 percent) who signed with Notre Dame Dec. 19 had already given their pledge to the Irish. That’s in great part because high school juniors for the first time in 2019 were permitted to start taking official visits by April 1. Ten had already done so at Notre Dame in April, May and June.

Thus, whenever Polian has been asked how much effect the 2018 regular season success has had on this recruiting class, his reply has been slim to none.

“The reality of it is this class was fairly solidified from summertime, early fall,” Polian said. “So it’s not as though this was a result of being 12-0 in the regular season and ending up in the playoff. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing that the guys that chose Notre Dame were choosing our university and our program for a reason.

“The winning obviously is great and we want to continue it, but it’s not as though guys were jumping to us late because all of a sudden we got on a little bit of a roll. It was more about guys that were invested in what this place stands for and the standards that Coach [Brian] Kelly and the university are going to set, and the way we’re going to prepare them for life beyond football.”

Once upon a time, the “banquet weekend” in December was the marquee visit weekend for a Notre Dame recruiting class. Now, the hay already is in the barn by then. Only one player from 2019 (offensive lineman John Olmstead) decided to use his official visit for that weekend, now known as the Echoes Awards, because everyone else had taken their official trips previously.

Where Notre Dame’s 2018 College Football Playoff status might reap more dividends is in the next cycle (2020) that already has three verbal pledges (quarterback Drew Pyne and tight ends Kevin Bauman and Michael Meyer) and gets into full-speed ahead mode this January. That will be the time for the coaches to visit high school schools of current juniors, pore over academic transcripts, converse with their coaches and begin to pare down the list for the new wave of official visits that commence in April.

“The days of evaluating [upcoming high school seniors] in camp in June — the guys you are evaluating now in June are not juniors … They are sophomores and rising juniors,” Polian said. “Those guys that used to be in camp are now at Coach Kelly’s lake house on an official visit hanging out with the coaches and their families. The whole process has been sped up.”

Up-tempo attacks in football are not limited to just offenses on the field anymore.

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