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Irish attract potential program-changing group through aggressive recruiting push

| Thursday, October 24, 2019

As the Irish march along this season, they are making aggressive moves off the field in recruiting. Irish head coach Brian Kelly and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian are making a push to increase speed on offense, signing wide receivers Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles Jr. in the 2021 class, with five-star running back Will Shipley on the radar.

Mike Single, recruiting insider for Blue and Gold Illustrated, emphasized the Irish commitment to speed.

“Chris Tyree in the 2020 class is obviously one of the fastest players in the country. Jordan Johnson, the receiver in the 2020 class from Missouri, is fast as well,” Single said. “Xavier Watts is another receiver they’ve landed, and he’s very fast. Speed is the game, and that’s what Notre Dame is getting.”

Erin Fennessy | The Observer
Irish senior safety Alohi Gilman and graduate student linebacker Asmar Bilal complete a tackle during Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over USC at Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 12.

This slew of four-star recruitments is a windfall for Brian Kelly and his staff. The trio of Tyree, Colzie and Styles had offers from elite schools across the country, but Notre Dame was able to land them. While many have speculated recent Irish success and the trip to the CFP are driving these commitments, Single said this is only a small consideration for many recruits.

“It’s a small part of it. Colzie told me the first time he knew he wanted to come to Notre Dame was when he stepped on campus for the Ball State game last year. That’s not a marquee opponent, Notre Dame did not even look good that day, but that’s when he knew,” Single said. “Those things are all great, but it really comes down to, ‘Does the kid value Notre Dame, does he connect with the coaching staff, does he see a fit in the offense?’ That’s more important than national TV or playing against big-time opponents.”

The Irish have a strong but small 2020 class, with just 17 players committed. They have only one cornerback and no safeties among this group. Single said the Irish need to add defensive back help and are zeroed in two targets that will help them do it.

“They need to fill defensive backs. They are done everywhere else. The class is almost full, it’s just a couple more defensive back spots and that will be about it. Ramon Henderson from Bakersfield, Calif., and Isaiah Pryor, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, are two names to know,” Single said. “I think Notre Dame will get both, that will take them to nineteen commitments. From there, Notre Dame could be done or add a cherry on top on signing day.”

The Irish are not a particularly active team in the transfer portal, but have added stars like senior safety and captain Alohi Gilman through the portal in the past. As the team zeroes in on Pryor, Single said while the team is not focused on using the portal more often, when the right players appear Kelly and his staff are not afraid to pursue.

“It’s a need thing. If Gilman does enter the draft, the need for Pryor is even more. If Gilman does return, I think there’s still a need for a guy like Pryor, but if he leaves it’s even more so,” Single said. “It’s case-by-case. You look at it from a best-available standpoint. If there is a guy in there that you cannot turn down, sometimes you have to really look at that.”

Many writers speculate the Notre Dame Class of 2021 could be one of the strongest in the country, as the class is currently ranked number three overall, behind Miami and Texas. Single said the offensive class is already special by Notre Dame standards, and if the team can make some impact signings on defense, it could a program-changing group.

“The offensive class is already really special. The key is going to be on the defensive side. They have one commitment on defense in Gabriel Rubio, a defensive tackle from the St. Louis area. What they do at defensive line, linebacker and defensive back — that’s what is going to decide if this is a special class overall,” Single said. “On offense, they already have a pretty special unit, especially if they are able to add Will Shipley, the number one all-purpose back in the country.”

One of the players that makes the 2021 class so special is quarterback Tyler Buchner. He’s thrown for 2,746 yards and 34 touchdowns in just eight games thus far in his hometown of San Diego. Single said Buchner’s attitude is as impressive as his stats.

“He’s had a crazy good season. The competition he’s facing is not great, but if you’re Tyler Buchner, you can only control what you can control. He can’t control the teams he’s playing against. All he can do is go out there and play his best,” said Single. “He’s putting up 400 or 500 yards, sometimes more than that, every single Friday night. He’s a high school junior and gets all of this praise, but he keeps a level head. He doesn’t have much of an ego. He’s always giving credit to his teammates.”

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