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Irish look to build on early recruiting success for class of 2020, beyond

| Friday, April 12, 2019

Although Notre Dame’s national championship dreams were dashed in the College Football Playoff Semifinal to eventual-national champion Clemson, the Irish are placing their hopes in a bright future. After picking up one final commitment from four-star defensive end Isaiah Foksey on National Signing Day, the Irish put together yet another top-15 recruiting class — their seventh-straight — with 22 new faces joining the Irish next season. The coaching staff has managed to maintain its success on the recruiting trail and is taking lessons from the team’s season-ending loss.

During Notre Dame’s 30-3 manhandling by Clemson in the Cotton Bowl, the Irish gave up four touchdowns on big plays and couldn’t manage any major responses of their own. Blue and Gold Illustrated recruiting analyst David McKinney said following the loss to Clemson, there has been an increased emphasis on landing players capable of making those kids of plays for the Irish.

“There’s way more of an effort being made that way this cycle, in 2020 especially,” McKinney said. “You look at … Chris Tyree, who’s a borderline five-star running back. Some have him as a five-star, some have him right below five-star status, but he’s probably the No. 1 target on the board overall for Notre Dame. And then there’s Tirek Murphy, who’s a four-star running back. You look at [four-star] A.J. Henning at the wide receiver position, [three-star] Xavier Watts at the wide receiver position, [four-star] Michael Redding III — so they’re definitely putting an emphasis on impact playmakers at the skill positions on offense this cycle.”

The Irish are on the right track so far, as they managed to land 2020 four-star wide receiver Jordan Johnson. The 6-foot-2 Saint Louis product is the 34th-ranked player nationally and sixth-best wide receiver, per 247Sports.

“He’s obviously a big pickup for Notre Dame offensively,” McKinney said of Johnson. “Now they’ve got him, and they’ve got two four-star tight ends that’ll be catching passes from Drew Pyne, their four-star [pro-style] quarterback commit.”

Those two tight ends are Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman, ranked first and second nationally at the tight end position, respectively. Pyne has been the longest-committed recruit for the Irish, having accepted their offer in April of 2018. McKinney said landing the commitment from Johnson bodes well for the Irish this early in the recruiting cycle, especially for the cache it gives them among other recruits.

“Drew Pyne and Jordan Johnson, especially, are nationally known names,” McKinney said. “Recruits across the country know who they are. They go to big camps — Drew Pyne’s gonna be an Elite 11 finalist. So getting guys like that who are impact players … but they’re also guys that are known around the country and other guys want to play with those guys. [Notre Dame will] have those guys recruiting for them for a long time.”

Notre Dame has commitments from six players in the 2020 class and is making progress assembling further high-quality recruits. One criticism lingering around the program’s recruiting, however, is the lack of five-star talent the Irish are able to assemble compared to Alabama and other SEC schools. McKinney, however, said he believes critics read too much into that point.

“Rankings don’t mean a thing to coaches. They don’t care about what stars a guy is or anything like that,” he said. “Obviously, the guys that have big-time offers are going to be highly rated guys, that’s just how it works, but rankings don’t mean anything to coaches. … I think the narrative of, ‘Notre Dame doesn’t get the five-star guys,’ is a little overblown, especially because a lot of five-star guys come from the South or areas where they’re already leaning toward places like that. So that narrative, I can see where people get it from, but I think it’s a little blown out of proportion.”

What really came back to bite the Irish in the Cotton Bowl was their lack of depth. Although Notre Dame held its own against Clemson to start, it was exposed once former Irish cornerback Julian Love was sidelined with an injury and his replacement, junior cornerback Donte Vaughn, was ineffective with a shoulder injury that required post-season surgery. McKinney said a concerted effort has been made to add to the rotation.

“I think you always want to get to that point where you have guys that are good enough to where they can play when they’re called on,” he said.

Still, McKinney acknowledged that the Irish want to balance the quantity of bodies at their disposal with the quality of play on the field.

“Depth is obviously a huge thing, but I also think that in recruiting you’re looking for depth, and you’re looking for impact playmakers, too,” he said. “It kind of just depends on how the class shakes out. At quarterback, they got Drew Pyne early so they could move on to the class of 2021, and they got [four-star pro-style quarterback] Tyler Buchner there, so now they can start recruiting in 2022. It just kind of depends on timelines and how the classes shake out.”

Right now, McKinney said, the Irish are still focused on the more immediate future and want to get the best possible players they can.

“On offense, I think the priorities are running back and wide receiver, and obviously they checked a big box with Jordan Johnson,” McKinney said. “He was their top wide receiver target, and they got him committed, and now they want to go out and get Chris Tyree and Tirek Murphy at running back. And then on defense, it’s defensive end — and it’s been defensive end the last couple of years, and I think it’ll continue to be that way. You gotta have pass rushers, and I think that’s the priority for Notre Dame.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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