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Irish Insider: Notre Dame makes spring recruiting push

| Friday, April 20, 2018

Falling short of its College Football Playoff aspirations last season hasn’t seemed to stop Notre Dame on the recruiting trail. After sealing the 11th-ranked 2018 recruiting class on National Signing Day, per Rivals, the coaching staff has used that momentum to shift its focus towards the class of 2019. The 27 commitments the Irish received from the incoming class, the most during head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure, helped earn them their sixth-straight top-15 class. 

Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill chases the quarterback in Notre Dame’s 21-17 victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.

With only three commitments from the class of 2019, compared to the 12 they had at this point last year, the coaching staff can expect the upcoming class to be significantly smaller. Blue and Gold Illustrated recruiting analyst Bryan Driskell said this isn’t a cause for concern, as this year’s class is an outlier.

“The three biggest months for Notre Dame are March, April [and] the biggest month [being] July,” Driskell said. “In July, you’re getting commitments from kids that visited in May and June.”

Driskell said the July surge Notre Dame has typically experienced under Kelly can be attributed to the distance many recruits have to travel to campus, putting it at a disadvantage early in the recruiting race.

“At Georgia, half your class is gonna be from your state. That just doesn’t happen here,” he said. 

As the coaching staff prepares to head out on the road to visit recruits, Driskell said these next few weeks will be important to watch how they do as far as picking up commitments.

“If it gets to May 1 and they haven’t added four or five more guys, I’m probably starting to get a little concerned,” he said. “But I think right now, they’re right on target for where they need to be.”

In the second weekend of this evaluation period, the Irish are set to host nine athletes — five from the class of 2019, three from the class of 2020 and a top pro-style quarterback recruit from within Indiana for the class of 2021 — for the annual Blue-Gold game. 

In addition to the uncommitted players expected this weekend, five signees from the class of 2018 will also be attendance, including top quarterback-commit Phil Jurkovec. Jurkovec, a four-star, dual-threat quarterback, was the first Irish commit during the summer after his sophomore year. Driskell said this allowed him to become a ringleader for that class and attract other elite recruits. 

“Top players want to play with other top players,” he said. 

The Irish seem to be sticking to that strategy of recruiting an elite quarterback heavily in hopes of drawing in other top talent after the recent commitment of Drew Pyne. The No. 7 pro-style quarterback and native of New Canaan, Connecticut, committed to Notre Dame last Monday and was the first Irish commit for the class of 2020. He chose Notre Dame over Michigan, Oklahoma, Alabama and other top programs. 

“In this day of college football, if you want to win, you have to have a great quarterback. And kids know that, so when a big-time quarterback commits to a school early, you kind of now know who your quarterback’s going to be,” Driskell said. “[Pyne’s a] top-40 caliber player [who was] offered a scholarship before his sophomore year. [The Irish] haven’t offered a single quarterback since.”

Beyond kicking off their recruiting classes with top quarterbacks, the Irish have also taken a new approach in their visits — hosting small weekends that often combine uncommitted and committed players, such as this weekend. Driskell said this is only possible due to the small size Notre Dame is focusing on for its upcoming recruiting class.  

In the first weekend of official visits, the Irish hosted five recruits from the class of 2019 — two of which were committed — this past weekend. This included one of the biggest targets for the class: NaNa Osafo-Mensah. 

“He’s a talented player … and is a very, very key recruit to this team,” Driskell said. 

Meanwhile, as the Irish continue to build their future classes, they’ve continued to be plagued in the running back search. With the early departure of Josh Adams and the imminent graduation of senior Dexter Williams, the Irish will be left with a shortage on the depth charge. Despite the return of junior Tony Jones Jr. and the addition of incoming freshmen Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, there is still a degree of uncertainty around the position going forward. The coaching staff has made some adjustments in the offseason, giving sophomores Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis some snaps in the backfield. However, it continues to be an area of focus on the recruiting trail.

“They’re having to move some guys around, which is not ideal. … It’s a concern,” Driskell said of the running back position. “It’s the one area on the offense where recruiting has really lagged behind these past three years.”

Driskell said there are still some talented players on the board, none of which have indicated Notre Dame as a front runner.

“They haven’t really thrown out a lot of offers yet, but you can expect to see that expand in the near future,” Driskell said. 

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