Notre Dame recruiting is always a topic of debate between fans. It is one of the few programs that truly recruits at a national level, receiving commitments from all regions of the country every year. However, Notre Dame also has high academic standards and institutional beliefs that sometimes hinder the coaching staff’s ability to recruit certain athletes. While the recruiting floor is high, the ceiling does have limitations.
During the Charlie Weis era, the team lacked athleticism, specifically on defense. Under the tutelage of Brian Kelly, the overall athleticism of the team has improved, but questions still remain. I’ll begin a with a rundown of the regional recruiting under Brian Kelly, and I’ll conclude with position strengths and weaknesses. For the purpose of the article, my analysis will combine star rankings and on-field performance. I think you’ll be surprised at the number of high profile recruits that wash out and the number of lower-rated prospects that have turned into mainstays.
Can you guess which state has produced the most Notre Dame players since Brian Kelly took over as Head Coach? I’d be surprised if many fans or even experts know. The answer in Florida. From 2010 on, Notre Dame has signed 25 Florida high school players. The next closest state is Ohio with 20. After that, no state has produced more than 14 players (Illinois and California both tied).
Let’s run through the list of states/area and how many recruits Notre Dame has signed from each: Florida (25), Ohio (20), Illinois and California (14), Indiana (13), Texas (12), Pennsylvania and North Carolina (7), Michigan, Virginia and New Jersey (6), New York (5), Georgia (4), South Carolina, Nevada and Kentucky (3), Maryland, Louisiana, Hawaii, Connecticut, Arizona, Massachusetts, Washington D.C. and Tennessee (2), and Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota, Missouri, Idaho, Canada and Kansas (1). Notre Dame makes it’s living in the Midwest, Northeast, California, Texas and Southeast Coast; a wide variety of areas many schools would love to do better in.
The main surprise is Michigan. Notre Dame has only signed six Michigan high school football recruits since 2010. These players include former kicker Kyle Brinzda in 2011, OL Steve Elmer in 2013, DE Jhonathon Williams in 2014 and three 2016 DE prospects Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji. Obviously, Notre Dame competes with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio state heavily for these midwest athletes, but that number is alarmingly low.
Prediction: I expect the recruiting in the Northeast to represent this list in a much bigger way in the coming years. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C. seem to be focus of the new staff.
With just a quick look at the recruiting rankings (247sports.com as my reference) it is clear that two major strengths under Kelly have been offensive line and wide receiver. These two positions match up with anyone in the country since 2010. Highlighted by top 100 recruits Matt Hegarty, Hunter Bivin, Quenton Nelson, Tristen Hoge, Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey along the offensive line, and TJ Jones, DeVaris Daniels and Justin Brent at WR; these players don’t even begin to tell the story.
Most of Notre Dame’s best at these positions have been outside of the top 100 nationally. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey were both 4 stars in the 100-200 range, and Nick Martin was a mid-level three-star recruit. Stanley ultimately ended up as the top OT in the 2016 draft (6th overall to the Baltimore Ravens) and Nick Martin was selected in the 2nd round by the Texans. Mike McGlinchey was the 162 ranked player nationally and could follow in Stanley’s footsteps as the first OT taken come April 2018.
2016 first round pick and Notre Dame great Will Fuller barely cracked the top 300 in 247sports.com composite rankings, and he is arguably one the better WRs to ever put on an Irish uniform. Equanimeous St. Brown was the 160 overall recruit in the 2015 class and is coming off a dominant sophomore season in South Bend. He could hear his name called early in the draft when he decides to declare. Kevin Stepherson was another find for the staff out of the Florida High School ranks. Listed as #601 on 247sports.com composite rankings, Stepherson posted big numbers last year as a freshman.
Take away the 2011 class that boasted three of the top pass rushers in the country (Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt) and things have been scarce. Not to mention, Lynch transferred after one season and Williams was never the player people hoped he be. Romeo Okwara was a three-star player that developed into a solid contributor later on in his Notre Dame career. He was signed by the Giants as a UDFA, and surprised as rookie last season. Isaac Rochell was a high profile recruit, and was another solid player for the Irish, but never turned into a dominant pass rusher. Sophomores Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem look to change Notre Dame’s fortune in that department.
The safety position has been another weak point during the Brian Kelly era. Elijah Shumate is a former top 100 prospect that carved out a decent career for the Irish, but much like Rochell, he was never the player many people expected when he signed. Same can be said for former five-star Max Redfield. Redfield signed with Notre Dame after the 2012 National Championship appearance and was good, but not great for the first few years. He was ultimately kicked off the team before his senior season after drug and weapon charges. Outside of those two, the cupboard is pretty bare with lower-level athletes occupying the position on a regular basis. Matthias Farley is noteworthy as a three-star, but overall this is a position the staff needs to improve upon.