Notre Dame’s Virtual Recruiting Is Here To Stay
The fact that Brian Polian, Notre Dame’s Recruiting Coordinator, made sure to thank his wife on Dec. 16, immediately after he signed 20-plus members to his 2021 class on the early National Signing Day, made it clear that this recruiting cycle has been like none other college coaches or high school players have ever gone through.
Polian said that while he worked from home most of the spring and all of the summer because of COVID-19 isolation precautions, his better half endlessly endured her hubby’s “excellence presentation” that he pitched live by video to prospects in a virtual recruiting method that replaced any traditional in-home visits the pandemic put on pause.
“Everybody’s families had to adjust,” Polian explained of recruiting at-home and online.
To the credit of Polian, head coach Brian Kelly, and all members of the Irish recruiting team, Notre Dame did a masterful job building and holding together this “Gold Rush '21” group of two dozen signees especially given the extra logistical challenges this recruiting cycle created.
Notre Dame is unique in that both the campus setting and game-day environment are strong selling points to recruits who make their official campus visits during a football weekend.
“You want to use those [on-campus] opportunities to get [recruits] to game-day and things of that nature, “ Kelly said, “because it is so dynamic here.”
And because of that, the pandemic precautions and lost campus visits presented a high recruiting hurdle for Notre Dame because of its coast-to-coast recruiting net and being situated in northern Indiana.
“We are geographically in an area where it makes it more difficult,” Kelly explained of the challenges recruits and their families face in traveling from California, Florida, Texas and other far-away locals just to make a private weekend trip to campus on their own.
Virtual engagement through Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other online recruiting methods has its kinks and isn’t as personal as an in-home or official campus visit when coaches can look a player in the eyes, study their body language and observe the dynamics and interaction of their entire family.
But any limitations aside, Coach Kelly insists that virtual recruiting provided many unexpected advantages, and it will remain an important tool for Kelly’s future class construction, even after pandemic travel restrictions are eventually lifted.
“I can be much more available to the recruits through Zoom,” Kelly explained. “And I think it creates a better relationship than just text messaging, at least I feel that way, and I know our coaches do.”
Many coaches around the country explained that their greatest challenge during a recruiting cycle void of in-person visits since March is more about accurately evaluating talent and tangibles than building personal relationships.
Game-day highlight reels are obviously helpful for coaches to study a recruit, but those can be edited. Forty-yard dash times and basic physical measurements can also be “fudged,” which has spawned some unique verification methods for those coaches recruiting electronically.
Notre Dame and other schools might even ask players to pull a tape measure from the toolbox and send photographic evidence of their actual heights and lengths.
Obviously, virtual recruiting provides neither the intimacy nor the full checklist that a home visit does when assessing a player’s personality and live play-making abilities.
But blend the time savings that these on-line communication methods give the coaches alongside the travel budget savings the university will enjoy, and Coach Kelly expects the 2020 way to become a mainstay in Notre Dame’s future recruiting strategy.
“I have felt so much better in this recruiting process,” he said. “I can talk to the parents more. I can talk to the recruits more through Zoom than at any other time in my recruiting process.”
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