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New early-visit rule should benefit Notre Dame

| Friday, April 21, 2017

Despite coming off of a 4-8 season in 2016, Notre Dame is riding some recruiting momentum.

On National Signing Day, the Irish came away with a top-15 recruiting class despite six decommitments over the course of the recruiting process.

But for the 2018 class, a top-15 finish would be a disappointment rather than the goal, as Notre Dame already has 12 commits. And a set of recent rule changes by the NCAA may what Notre Dame needs to get over the hump according to Blue and Gold Illustrated recruiting analyst Bryan Driskell.

Last week, the NCAA adopted a new early signing period in December so players who are set in their decision can sign with their team before National Signing Day in early February. But more importantly for Notre Dame, the NCAA will now allow recruits to make official visits to school starting in April of a student’s junior year of high school.

Sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson cuts upfield after catching a pass during Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami on Oct. 29.Kelly Vaughan | The Observer
Sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson cuts upfield after catching a pass during Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami on Oct. 29.

“I think the biggest change for Notre Dame, without question, is moving the official visits up to April,” Driskell said.

According to Driskell, Notre Dame, and other schools not located in pipeline states, are at a disadvantage because they have to go further afield to find top talent. Schools like Ohio State or Florida, by contrast, have a large percentage of their players come from Ohio and Florida respectively, and thus getting prospects to campus isn’t much of an issue.

But Notre Dame works on a different model.

“Notre Dame, more than any other powerhouse, has to draw from much further away,” Driskell said. “A big chunk of their players are from the southeast and northeast areas where a family can’t just hop in a car and go visit a couple schools. The problem Notre Dame has had is a lot of times, they can’t get kids on campus until September, October, November. The way that the recruiting process has sped up, kids are committed way before then. … What’s happening is Notre Dame is missing out on kids because they just can’t get those kids to campus.”

But that will change with the new ruling, Driskell said.

“This gives Notre Dame an opportunity, that five months earlier than normal, they can start getting these kids on campus,” Driskell said. “It’s going to put them in the ballgame with a lot more kids. If you look at Notre Dame, in my opinion, they are not five or six kids a class away from Alabama or Ohio State and those schools. They are one or two kids a year. If they’re adding one more Jaylon Smith or one more Will Fuller, one more Sheldon Day per year [Notre Dame will] make a big step as a program.”

Class of 2018

While earlier official visits will undoubtedly have an effect on Notre Dame recruiting in the long run, the immediate future also looks bright for the Irish as Notre Dame’s 2018 recruiting class already has 12 commits and is a consensus top-three class in the nation.

Driskell said the early uptick for Notre Dame comes from a successful 2015 campaign, as well as an increase in talented players from the Midwest.

“This class actually benefitted from the 2015 season,” Driskell said. “So if you look at Phil Jurkovec, Markese Stepp, the Ademilola twins and Ovie Oghoufo, those six kids were all committed going back to last summer, so coming off the Fiesta Bowl season.

“I think the other things that’s helped them, if you look at who they have signed, Notre Dame has taken advantage of this being an abnormally talented year in the North. Notre Dame has a ranked quarterback, a ranked running back and two ranked wide receivers and a top-100 corner already in the class. All but one of those guys are from the North. … But if they’re going to be able to finish it off, obviously they’re going to need to have a good season on the field and they’re going to have to get some kids who aren’t from this region.”

New faces

Much has been made of the slew of new coaches for the Irish this spring as head coach Brian Kelly opted for a shift in his personal. While new offensive coordinator Chip Long and new defensive coordinator Mike Elko haven’t had much time to implement their recruiting policies, Driskell said that Elko specifically has already made a mark.

“I’ll say this right now, Mike Elko’s already made a huge impact,” Driskell said. “ … Mike Elko is a grinder. I can’t remember the last time they were recruiting a kid on defensive who hasn’t talked to Mike Elko at some point in time. Just the work he puts in is such a dramatic change.”

Long, Driskell said, will gain recruits’ interest by putting his brand of football on the field on Saturdays.

“Chip Long is just as active … I think Chip Long’s impact is going to come more once people see what he’s bringing to the offense,” Driskell said. “That’s when you’re going to see that payoff. Plus [Long] already had a quarterback in the class when he got here. They already had a running back in the class when he got here. He hasn’t had to work quite as hard as Mike Elko because two of his best players in the class were already here when he arrived.

Blue-Gold Game

Traditionally a weekend with a number of recruits coming to campus, the Blue Gold Game this year will offer recruits a unique opportunity to see the new schemes Notre Dame’s coaching staff is implementing.

“I don’t know if there’s necessarily something you can look at and say, ‘boy [Notre Dame] better do A, B or C or they’re not going to get kids,’” Driskell said. “This is really the first chance that kids are going to have at seeing the product Mike Elko and Chip Long are putting on the field. And seeing the benefits of what Matt Balis has done, seeing the offensive lineman looking a lot bigger and stronger and with less body fat. Seeing a defense that attacks more. … Those are the big things, that’s what kids are going to want to see.”

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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