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Undefeated season draws elite recruits

Chris Allen | Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012 has been a year of No. 1s for Notre Dame – for the first time in college football, a single program paired a No. 1 BCS ranking with a No. 1 Graduation Success Rate. That success has trickled down to the recruiting effort of the Irish coaches, who have assembled a class ranked in the top-three by most recruiting services. The unique position of offering the top graduation rate in the country along with the top football team in the BCS rankings gives Notre Dame its strongest position from which to recruit in recent memory. Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said Notre Dame’s recruiting momentum is unmatchable at the moment.

“Nobody has all the advantages that Notre Dame has in recruiting when Notre Dame is good in football,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “Stanford is a fantastic school and so is Northwestern, but they just can’t compete with Notre Dame when it comes to exposure and a lot of other things. While those schools offer great opportunities, it’s just not quite the full package that Notre Dame offers. Stanford’s been good in football so they are competing with Notre Dame, but they’ll never offer the game experience Notre Dame does.”

“They’re playing in the Pac-12 Championship and their stadium is half full. That’s just ridiculous. When Notre Dame is winning football games, they are very, very difficult to beat in recruiting”

Notre Dame’s recruiting staff has turned that momentum into a standout, 22-commitment class of players that ranks among the nation’s elite. As the 2012 Irish continued to win games, the 2013 class of recruits continued to grow larger and more talented by the week. 2013 cornerback commitment Devin Butler, a native of Washington, D.C., said Notre Dame’s undefeated run attracted talented recruits.

“There is a new kind of buzz with the team and the fans. I feel like the team has handled the success well, and college football is better when we are playing great like we are,” Butler said. “There is a real good buzz. A lot of people are attracted to success and once someone gets on campus and sees all that Notre Dame has to offer it’s hard not to seize that opportunity.”

The dream season of Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy, helped Notre Dame attract a star-studded class of linebackers to fill the shoes he will vacate this spring as he heads to the NFL. Five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith and high four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone are committed to join the linebacking corps in 2013 and fill the void left by Te’o. Anzalone said he relishes the opportunity to join Smith and fellow linebacking commits Doug Randolph and Michael Deeb in replacing Te’o.

“[Manti’s year] had a significant impact on me committing to Notre Dame. He is a great guy that I’ve developed a relationship with,” Anzalone said. “I love [the other linebackers]. We all mesh together so well and are excited to get to Notre Dame and continue the linebacker tradition.”

Frank said the way Te’o’s strong integrity and character were publicized in the media will help Notre Dame recruit by sending strong messages to parents of prospective recruits.

“Manti’s such a good kid. Parents of these prospects see that,” Frank said. “They see Notre Dame is developing more than good football players; they’re developing good people and good leaders. They want their sons to be around people like that.”

The special class of commitments, a group that will likely end up as one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory for Notre Dame, has even earned a nickname – The “Irish Mob.” The nickname started as a joke between Butler, quarterback commit Malik Zaire and wide receiver commit James Onwualu, and evolved into a social media phenomenon uniting all 2013 Irish commits.

“It was way back when it was only 11 commits,” Butler said. “I was just talking to Malik Zaire and James Onwualu about how we ‘mob,’ which is slang for playing well, and they both said, ‘We are the Irish Mob,’ and we ran with it. It helps to keep us close because it’s just a way to unite us and keep us all together without being together.”

Frank said the cohesiveness of the class owes a lot to the leadership of Butler, Onwualu and tight end commit Mike Heuerman, all of whom committed before the 2012 season began.

“What you had was a couple of guys who committed who were just natural-born leaders. Guys like Onwualu and Heuerman and Devin Butler, some of those types of guys are leaders. When they committed, they took it upon themselves to go out and recruit as many guys as they could to join them. That’s had a big, big impact,” Frank said. “A ton of these kids have worked hard to make them feel welcome. You had a kid in Onwualu who was at nearly every game despite being from Minnesota, and he took it upon himself to make the other recruits feel at home on their visits.”

The “Mob” gained its newest member Sunday as Florida running back Greg Bryant, the No. 27-ranked player in the country according to ESPN, committed to Notre Dame. Frank said Bryant will immediately compete to start in the backfield.

“The biggest thing you can say about Bryant is in Florida he was going up against the best of the best competition in the country, and absolutely dominated,” Frank said. “He has for a couple of years. When you have that kind of strength, size and speed along with God-given ability, you look at that as somebody who can play right away. I’d be very surprised if, come the end of fall camp, his name is not up there near the top competing for the starting job.”

While the 2012 season has captivated Irish fans everywhere, the work of the Irish recruiting staff has quietly laid the foundation to keep Notre Dame among the nation’s elite.

“They have a great shot to get the No. 1 class this year. They’re going to have to ink a few more players, definitely,” Frank said. “They’re set to cash in on this great season, they’ve put themselves in a great spot.”


For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com Email Mike at [email protected] and tell him The Observer sent you.

Contact Chris Allen at [email protected]