Irish Invasion snagging recruits earlier in process
Alex Carson | Thursday, February 4, 2016
Aside from the near-ridiculous antics displayed by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh since taking the job, from running around shirtless at a camp to sleeping over at a recruit’s house last month, arguably the biggest recent story in the recruiting world recently has been the development of satellite camps.
And while Notre Dame full well could partake in a series of satellite camps around the country, Irish head coach Brian Kelly and his staff have moved in a different direction: Irish Invasion.
Held last June, the camp allowed Notre Dame to welcome more than 100 prospective recruits on campus in the summer, rather than going to them around the country — something Kelly said was key for the Irish in the recruiting process.
“That camp is very, very important, to get you on this campus,” Kelly said. “You really can’t truly get to that ‘yes’ in our opinion if you’re reading about Notre Dame on the Internet. You’ve got to get on this campus.
“ … So I think what we learned in our first couple of years is that you can go out and recruit in May, and you can talk about Notre Dame, and you can talk about how this is what you’re going to get at Notre Dame. You’ve got to get them on campus, and we use that Irish Invasion as a great opportunity to get them on campus.”
Irish recruiting analyst Andrew Ivins said Notre Dame’s staff weighed the idea of satellite camps but instead put their eggs in the basket of the Irish Invasion.
“Notre Dame flirted with the idea of maybe touring around, and at the end of the day, the staff made the decision that ‘We’d rather get kids on campus because we think what they have here is very unique and special,’” said Ivins, who covers Notre Dame recruiting for Rivals.com’s Blue and Gold Illustrated. “And the saying is, you’re either gonna love it or you’re gonna hate it, and I think Notre Dame does a very good job finding kids that they think are going to like what Notre Dame has to offer and getting them on campus.”
The move paid off for the Irish this recruiting cycle, as they were able to bring a handful of recruits to campus over the summer that pledged to, and Wednesday signed for, Notre Dame. A pair of four-star recruits who could contribute for the Irish in their freshman year, safety Jalen Elliott and receiver Javon McKinley highlighted the crew that committed after attending Irish Invasion.
“If you go up and down that commit list, you go through these kids’ profiles on our site … you go, ‘That kid was at the Irish Invasion, that kid was at the Irish Invasion,’” Ivins said. “I was always skeptical about Notre Dame waiting to get kids on campus, but I think the Irish Invasion is very unique because it’s a competitive setting, all the top kids wanted to get there. This year it really did pay off.”
For Kelly, the camp marked the moment he knew this year’s recruiting class was going to come together after coaching changes in the offseason threatened to derail efforts.
“It was pretty evident for me that we had it going [at Irish Invasion],” Kelly said. “Once we got back from our May recruiting cycle that we had a pretty good energy in that office and that it was solidified in my mind after the Irish Invasion and the creativity that we were kind of building on at that point that we were moving in a very good direction.”
Beyond Irish Invasion, another spot Notre Dame’s coaches have focused on is getting players committed early; 14 of the program’s signees pledged to the Irish prior to the season-opening 38-3 win over Texas on Sept. 5, allowing them to chase down top recruits as National Signing Day approached.
“By the time the season really started, they had a core of the class in place, and that’s allowed them to chase some of these bigger names down the stretch, knowing they already had guys in the class,” Ivins said.
Notre Dame got a pledge from four-star offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer extremely early in the cycle, on Oct. 4, 2014, and Kelly said he expects the trend of the Irish going after players earlier to continue, noting junior day’s occurrence on Jan. 23 this year.
“Earliest that we’ve ever had,” Kelly said. “I think celebrating junior day is getting kids on campus earlier in January.
“ … The calendar has moved up, so you’ve got to adjust to that accordingly.”