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Irish look to build recruiting network as commit narrowly misses state record

| Friday, September 13, 2019

As Brian Kelly prepares his team to take their home field Saturday against New Mexico, his staff will continue to dedicate some of their resources to recruiting efforts ahead of some of their marquee matchups.

So far the Irish have been very pleased with the initial performances of some of their key recruits and commits across the country, according to Blue and Gold Illustrated analyst Bryan Driskell.

One of those key recruits they’ve been impressed by is Tyler Buchner, the class of 2021 commit from The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California. Buchner, who committed to the Irish back in March, turned heads this past weekend after putting up the second-most single-game all-purpose yards in California history. In addition to the 465 passing yards he recorded, Buchner added in 295 yards on the ground for a grand total of 760 yards en route to The Bishop’s School’s 71-42 win. According to The Bishop’s School’s offensive coordinator, those 760 yards were just one short of meeting the state record.

Emma Farnan | The Observer
Senior quarterback and captain Ian Book eyes his receivers during Notre Dame’s 35-17 win over Louisville on Sept. 2 at Cardinal Stadium.

A performance like that would be exciting for any school that landed that commit, but it comes as particularly good news considering the unique nature of Buchner’s recruitment.

According to Driskell, Buckner originally caught Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees’ attention at summer camp in 2018 when he visited South Bend following his freshman year of high school.

“They loved his raw talent,” Driskell said. “They kind of took a chance on him by offering him a scholarship so early and then landing him so early.”

Buckner did suffer a season-ending injury this past year on a non-contact play that ended with his knee buckling.

“Tyler got injured in the first quarter of the first game of his sophomore season, so there wasn’t a lot of varsity stuff on him,” Driskell said. “He’s obviously rewarded them with a great start to the season.”

Driskell said what makes Buchner such a big land for the Irish is his unique skill set as an all-around threat.

“[He’s] a quarterback that can be precise with his passing, a quarterback that can attack downfield, but also someone as you saw in his most recent game, someone who can make plays,” Driskell said. “He’s a very talented athlete, that really combines that all-around package that Notre Dame and a lot of teams are looking for in a modern quarterback.”

Moving a little farther west, Notre Dame continues to build a strong presence in Hawaii, home to several Notre Dame icons under the Brian Kelly-era, including Manti Te’o, Kona Schwenke, Robby Toma and current captain, safety Alohi Gilman.

“It’s really a long list of players, and you’re seeing right now Hawaii is becoming a much more impactful state,” Driskell said. “Notre Dame is doing what they need to do which is getting in early.”

One of those key targets for the class of 2021 is Mason Tufaga, a four-star linebacker from Honolulu. While Tufaga, who currently holds offers from a number of Pac-12 teams, is yet to receive an offer from the Irish, fellow Saint Louis School teammate Jordan Botelho has committed to Kelly for the class of 2020.

Driskell said it’ll be interesting to see how Tufaga’s recruitment progresses and whether the Irish chose to pursue him more seriously, but there’s no denying the various challenges and advantages Notre Dame has recruiting in Hawaii.

“The fact is that if Notre Dame wants to be impactful in Hawaii, they gotta get on these guys because it’s a lot easier for those kids to stay out on the west coast,” Driskell said. “I love how proactive Notre Dame is on offering these Hawaii kids. … That’s the pipeline that they’re trying to establish, and if they can do so, you’re going to see an impact, especially their defense in a big way. Because the higher majority of the top-level players coming from that state tend to be defensive players.”

That same defense has become one of the staples of Notre Dame recruiting. Despite some sloppy play in the home-opener against Louisville, Driskell said there were some positive takeaways about the direction of defensive strategy going forward for prospective commits.

“Even though there’s a lot of mistakes on defense, we saw a very fast, athletic defense,” he said. “And that’s what they’ve been pitching to kids is, ‘Look, now that we’ve got our players in place, we’re going to be a lot more aggressive on defense, we’re going to play a lot faster on defense, we’re going to try to make a lot more plays.’ … I think kids are seeing that, which is not only going to help them convince the current commits of what they’re trying to do defensively. But it’s just another example of here’s more evidence to kids about what kind of defense we want to be.”

While the Notre Dame coaching staff always has its eye on the recruiting scene, Driskell said this conversation won’t kick into high gear until closer to Oct. 12 when USC pays a visit to Notre Dame stadium.

“We’re going to have some important recruits coming in from Virginia, but the USC game is going to be the big recruiting weekend,” he said. “That’s going to be the one where a lot of the current commits are coming. … Right now, Notre Dame is really focused on their team, building their team, knowing that two of the first three games are on the road, there doesn’t seem to be as much of an emphasis on recruiting and getting kids on campus.”

Driskell credited Bill Rees, the director of scouting for Notre Dame football, as a key addition to identifying talent and said his role in the program has had a significant impact.

“He’s the guy who’s behind the scenes doing a lot of evaluating, doing a lot of the organizing,” Driskell said. “He to me has one of the best eyes for talent that I’ve seen of someone who’s working at Notre Dame for a long time. He’s got a tremendous background and talent. … Obviously, the coaches have to go out and land the kids, but he’s been a big part of that.”

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