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New Notre Dame coaches propel strong final recruiting month

| Thursday, February 2, 2017

Just a month ago, it looked to many fans as if Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting efforts were going to match the team’s on-field performance in 2016.

The list of Irish decommitments seemed almost as star-studded as those who were still riding the train to South Bend, especially after two cornerbacks — Rivals.com four-stars Paulson Adebo and Elijah Hicks — decided to reopen their recruiting process Jan. 9 and 10, respectively.

Adebo and Hicks joined four other players, including four-stars defensive end Robert Beal and linebacker Pete Werner, who had decommitted from Notre Dame following a 4-8 season and numerous coaching changes.

“The first loss, the second loss, the third loss didn’t really have an impact,” according to Bryan Driskell, recruiting analyst for Blue and Gold Illustrated. “They didn’t really lose guys.

“But then they kept losing and kept losing and kept losing and kept losing, and then you’re 4-8 and your coach is on the hot seat, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. And that’s when you start losing kids.”

Despite the decommits, Driskell said the panic from some fans surrounding what was a top-10 class entering the season was hyperbolic.

“People are talking about, ‘This is like some of those Tyrone Willingham classes or some of [Charlie Weis’s] bad classes,’ and it’s really not bad at all,” Driskell said. “ … People don’t deal with disappointment very well. People don’t deal with things not going their way very well. So instead of looking at it, ‘OK, well that’s a bummer, but what is the class?’ it’s ‘Oh my god, Notre Dame’s never going to win another football game.’ The perception gets a little extreme.”

And that was before the new faces on the coaching staff went to work.

“They’re grinders. They really are grinders,” Driskell said of the new coaching staff. “The work ethic this staff has shown has really been impressive in a short period of time. Being able to make three flips, to be able to keep the class together that they inherited basically together … is really impressive.”

Notre Dame successfully flipped four players in the week leading up to National Signing Day: three-star receiver Jafar Armstrong, two-star kicker Jonathan Doerer, three-star defensive end Kofi Wardlow and three-star linebacker Jeremiah Owusu. The latter pair also comprised two of Notre Dame’s three signees on National Signing Day, bringing the total number of Irish commits to 21.

“‘It’s Notre Dame.’ That’s what the kids are saying,” Driskell said on why kids have flipped to the Irish. “And ‘How can I pass up an opportunity play at Notre Dame?’”

Driskell said most of the credit for the final-week turnaround lay with the new coaches and the organizational efforts of Irish recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, who is entering his second season in that role.

“They’re all engaging guys,” Driskell said. “When you coach at the level these guys came from — when you coach at Bowling Green and you coach at Wake Forest — the product you’re selling isn’t as good, so you have to sell you. It’s a whole different animal.”

Driskell highlighted one example with new offensive coordinator Chip Long and Armstrong, the receiver who flipped his commitment from Missouri to Notre Dame on Wednesday.

“Jafar Armstrong is a kid that Chip Long actually recruited when he was at Memphis, so when he got hired they made Jafar Armstrong a priority,” Driskell said. “ … He seems like a real competitive kid who really wants to prove himself at the highest level, and with all due respect, Missouri’s not the highest level. Notre Dame still is.”

Driskell said it’s hard to forecast how the new faces on the coaching staff will handle recruiting long-term despite the success of the last few weeks, but he said they are checking all the boxes Notre Dame needs them to.

“Do we know what kind of long-term recruiters they’re going to be? No. But as a former recruiting coordinator, I’ve always believed there are three keys to being a successful recruiter. One is you’ve got to work your tail off. Number two: you’ve got to be organized. And three, you have to have a personality.

“And if you do that, and you have a good product to sell, which Notre Dame’s a pretty good product, then I think you can be a good recruiter.”

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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