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Recruiting: Teams stake reputations on high-profile matchup

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, September 4, 2013

On Sunday, Irish coach Brian Kelly downplayed the importance of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. On Tuesday, Kelly similarly dialed down the discussion of a recruiting rivalry between the two Midwest programs.
“When you’re recruiting nationally and you’re out, Michigan is going to be there in the recruiting process for us, but we’ll see the West Coast, we’ll see the South,” Kelly said at his weekly press conference. “I mean, I don’t know that Michigan shows up more than any one school because we’re all over the country. It’s a blend of virtually all the schools throughout the country.”
Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank spoke before Kelly’s news conference Tuesday and echoed the same sentiment. Frank said he doesn’t believe the rivalry is as important to head-to-head recruiting battles between Notre Dame and Michigan.
“It’s been interesting when you talk about this game. I think really before it was a lot more important in the grand scheme of things when you talk about recruiting and going head-to-head with players,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “I don’t think Notre Dame and Michigan go head-to-head for a lot of players nearly as much as they used to. Why that is? I think Notre Dame has broadened their base a little bit and tried to get players from all over the country.”
While the rivalry may not be ramped-up within the region, Frank said he believes the performance of each team in primetime can be helpful in the same national recruiting picture to which Kelly alluded.
“Where I do think [the rivalry game] matters is you’ve got two big, traditional schools going head-to-head and both are extremely respected programs,” Frank said. “And I think it matters a lot to people who are interested in maybe leaving home and looking at a school like Michigan or Notre Dame. If they see that Notre Dame can beat another big-time regional school, it kind of validates the choice to attend there.
“So I think even more than bragging rights, it has to do with how each school is perceived and the direction each program is headed.”
Frank said he expects Saturday’s game to have a major impact on recruits in the class of 2014 as well as the class of 2015. The class of 2014 already has 16 commitments, but Frank said the game could impact seniors from across the nation, including those already interested in Notre Dame like California athlete Michiah Quick and Florida defensive tackle Anthony Moten, as well as those who have not expressed any interest.
“February is still a long ways away and, at this time last year, [freshman safety] Max Redfield and [former Irish commit] Eddie Vanderdoes weren’t on the radar,” Frank said. “Opportunities open up with other teams. There may be other prospects that aren’t on the radar right now. I think those are the kinds of things that matter for 2014.”
As for the class of 2015, Sunday was a big day in recruiting even though there were no commitments or decommitments to or from Notre Dame. With the calendar flipping to September, communication is now allowed with prospects in the class of 2015. Coaches may send personalized letters to recruits and are allowed to reply to and send e-mails to high school juniors.
As it stands now, Notre Dame has received just one commitment from the class of 2015. Offensive lineman Jerry Tillery, a 6-foot-7, 312-pound tackle from Shreveport, La., pledged to the Irish on June 22nd. ESPN rates Tillery as the 18th-best tackle and the 205th-best overall player in the nation.
Frank said Saturday’s contest with Michigan will go a long way toward sculpting the opinions of other prospects in the junior class.
“Right now those prospects are forming their opinions on where they think Notre Dame is headed as far as the direction of the program,” he said. “Was last year a one-season fluke or is this a legitimate top-10 program at this point? I think these types of games kind of validate people’s opinions on where Notre Dame is as a program.”
Frank said Notre Dame simply has not extended offers to a great deal of 2015 prospects yet. One player with an Irish offer, however, is Minnesota defensive end Jashon Cornell. ESPN rates Cornell, who hails from the same school (Cretin-Derham Hall High School) that produced former Irish receiver Michael Floyd and current freshman receiver James Onwualu, as the No. 1 overall player in the nation.
Though Cornell is expected to visit Michigan this weekend, Frank said the Irish still have a strong shot at landing the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder. Frank mentioned how Floyd and Irish freshman offensive lineman Steve Elmer took visits to Notre Dame opponents when they were being recruited by both schools, watched Notre Dame lose and ended up committing to the Irish anyway.
“Jashon Cornell is a tremendous prospect and Notre Dame has a really, really good shot with him but I think when you’re the No. 1 prospect, or certainly one of the top defenders in the country, you’re going to have a whole lot of teams coming after you,” Frank said. “But you know he’ll be down for a Notre Dame game as well and we’ll just have to see how it plays out, but I think Notre Dame is in real good shape with him.”

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com. Email Mike at mikefrank18@sbcglobal.net and tell him The Observer sent you.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu