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Freeman, Golden, Rees discuss Class of 2023 commits, NIL after National Signing Day

| Wednesday, December 21, 2022

After an eventful morning that saw Notre Dame sign 24 of their 26 verbal commitments in the Class of 2023, head coach Marcus Freeman and his coordinators spoke to the media.

On the De-Commitments

On a broad scale, this was another successful recruiting effort by the Irish. They landed a consensus top-10 class, but that rank fell closer to 10 than it was at the beginning of the day. That came largely because of the de-commitments from Peyton Bowen and Jayden Limar, who both flipped to Oregon. The Ducks pulled off no less than four flips on the day. In an age where NIL is gaining steam, questions about whether Notre Dame was losing commits due to money became a popularly asked question. Freeman didn’t really want to dwell on it. 

“If [acquisition fees] are gonna be the reason you come here, it’s gonna be hard to keep you here,” Freeman said. “It’s still about getting the right guys here…if you’re coming here for NIL and don’t get that instant gratification of playing right away, it’s gonna be tough to keep you.” 

Defensive coordinator Al Golden added that the transfer portal can play an additional role in recruiting, which Notre Dame must consider, but there are advantages that come with recruiting for the Irish. “The portal has made an impact, there’s no doubt about that. We’re not immune to the irregularities of recruiting, some of the sideshows…” Golden commented, “What’s nice about recruiting at Notre Dame is that you’re attracting a pretty qualified kid who wants what you represent.” 

On the class as a whole

Freeman, understandably, wanted to spend more time discussing the 24 players that signed with the Irish on Wednesday. “We’re extremely excited about this ’23 class. First time we’ve had a top 300 player at every position,” the first-year head coach said. “It’s a close group that’s [mostly] been committed since before the season.”

Indeed, 19 of the 24 signees on Wednesday committed prior to the start of the fall season. Four-star defensive end Brenan Vernon has been committed the longest. His signature on Wednesday made good on a verbal commitment from June 29, 2021. 

“I think the guys that we got…they understand the value of Notre Dame,” Freeman said. “They want to play the highest level of college football…they have to understand that they’ll really have to sacrifice in the classroom…do the difficult things it takes to get a Notre Dame education. We want ultimate competitors that want to compete against the best.”

Among other highlights, Freeman noted that the recruiting class boasts an average core GPA of 3.46 and features a player in the top 300 at every position for the first time in program history. They also recruited heavily in Texas, nabbing four players from the Lone Star State, their most in 20 years. 

On RB Jeremiyah Love

Marcus Freeman: “He’s extremely talented that does multiple different things. We wanted to address overall speed. He’s a track kid. Runs track, does a lot of the jumps. Plays multiple positions on both sides of the ball. We’re looking at him at the running back position. He brings a unique talent to the offensive side of the ball. A unique individual. A great set of parents. He’s gonna be a huge asset to this program.”

Tommy Rees: “We have a really good running back room. That doesn’t mean Jeremiyah can’t play early. You look at a guy that can help you in other aspects of the game. He has [speed]. He has shown the ability to play outside and from the backfield… Jeremiah because of the speed, because of the versatility, because we felt like he was the right kid to come into the room and he knows how to work hard.”

On QB Kenny Minchey

Tommy Rees: “Quarterback recruiting is an imperfect science. We’re thrilled to have Kenny and his family be a part of Notre Dame. We went into the offseason with a group of guys that we were interested in. Kenny had camped with us, so there was a relationship that was built early on.”

“The ecosystem of the quarterback room is very important to us. That’s something we’re trying to uphold. We didn’t want to add a guy just to add a guy. We didn’t want someone to come in just to fill a number…we want to always bring someone in that we believe has the intangibles and the physical traits to compete here and be the guy, and that’s what we found in Kenny. The more time we spend with him and his family, the more we know and believe he’s the right guy to lead this class. He’s a guy that we look to in the future as a guy that can lead this program.” 

Rees on the Minchey injury: “He was throwing yesterday…He showed a lot of ‘want to’ to be out there for his teammates. He’s got the all-star game coming up, which he’s playing in and throwing. The medical progress that’s been made — a lot of these injuries that were big deals no longer are. It was pretty minor and we don’t expect any holdup.”

On ATH Brandyn Hillman

Marcus Freeman: “I’ll let the coordinators wrestle this one out and figure out what side of the ball he’s on. He can make plays on offense with the ball in his hands as a quarterback, as a wideout. On the defensive side, being a safety. He is physical and ball-hawking on defense, punishing, making plays on offense. He’s one of those guys that you watch the film and say ‘he’s a football player. Get him into your program and figure it out.’ He’s tall and long and has great athleticism, and he’s physical, tough and intelligent. That guy will make us better. Where? To be determined, but that guy will make us better.”   

Al Golden: “He could play safety. He’s big enough to be a rover. What’s not to like about him? He’s a team captain. Any time you can get a quarterback, you’re taking a player that his high school coach deemed him good enough to give him the keys to the car. When you look at the competitive nature of the kid and his makeup, and the family background he has, I’m really excited about him.” 

On TE Cooper Flanagan

Tommy Rees: “Coop, he’s probably the one that doesn’t get talked about enough. Senior year, we’re talking to some people out there that we trust. Cooper Flanagan is the best player in the Bay area — that was the consensus from all the people we know and trust out there. The thing about Cooper is that he’s asked to play like a real tight end. At De La Salle, his hands are in the dirt. He is blocking a defensive end, he is working a combination with a tackle. He splits out, goes out for a real route tree.

“This isn’t a hybrid receiver that doesn’t want to put his hand in the ground. Exactly what he does translates to how he’s gonna be asked to be utilized at Notre Dame. We’ve had freshmen tight ends play for us. He knows how to do the things that are hard for young players, which is play in the box as a tight end. That’s something he’s been asked to do and translates really well to our scheme.” 

On the linebackers

Marcus Freeman on Drayk Bowen: “You see his film, you see his work ethic, you meet his family, and you say this is a Notre Dame kid…he’s coming to every single home game. He loves this place, and he’s probably our best recruiter. He talks to every single one of those recruits, and they all respect him…He did a great job of continuing to keep this class interconnected…Drayk was vital in keeping this group together.”

Al Golden: “I think the biggest thing in that group is you’re looking for four-down players. Guys that can play the three downs on defense and then also on special teams. I think all three of those guys have a chance to do that. Length is important because you want to have the ability to play multiple fronts. You’re starting to see more length in that room. With Drayk and [Preston Zinter],  they definitely can do that, and Jaiden [Ausberry] has shown that he can be a really good sub linebacker too.”

On the offensive linemen

Tommy Rees: “I think the group of five we got personifies what Coach Hiestand is looking for in an offensive line class. I think having direct flights from Charlotte to South Bend helps tremendously with two of them. You get around each guy, the families of each person, and you start to get a sense of what it means to be an offensive lineman at Notre Dame. The character it takes, the mental makeup it takes. Hiestand’s success has been well documented and well earned with the production he’s had and the players he’s developed. You look at the mental makeup of these five and what they’re about and they fall right in line with what we’re trying to build as a culture in that room.”

On the wide receivers

Marcus Freeman: “[Size and speed] were a priority. But production was probably the biggest thing we were looking for, making sure they’re the right fit. And I think we addressed those needs with Rico [Flores Jr.] being out there in California, an extremely talented player. Jaden Greathouse, comes from an extremely talented program in Texas. Braylon James…just talented, speedy, athletic. Kaleb Smith is a unique talent…when he decided to open up [his recruitment], I think we got a special one.”

Tommy Rees: “We want the right people and the right players. I remember watching Jaden Greathouse his sophomore year and thinking ‘what an unbelievable player, he’d be great to coach’. I remember watching Rico Flores and thinking ‘I hope we can reach this kid all the way out in Sacramento’ and we did. And I think with Braylon and [Kaleb], we were able to build relationships throughout the process.”

“We’re not about filling spots or having numbers. We want guys that can truly compete and we truly believe that if you can add competition to any room, that’ll only whittle out the guys that can’t make it. And it’s going to raise the level of everyone else in the room. You look at Bama a couple of years ago, they had all those first-rounders. Ohio State has all those first-rounders pushing each other. That’s the culture we’re trying to build. Stuckey has done an unbelievable job bringing talent into our room that is able to push one another, and I’m excited to see where it goes.” 

“You look at Greathouse and you look at Rico, you look at two guys who are pretty polished. Two guys who are physically probably able to come in and compete. Guys that understand the nuances of running routes. You look at guys like Braylon, a little more like Tobias. Very high ceiling – long, rangy, can run. Has a great frame — he’s gonna add 10, 15 pounds and be a physical presence on the outside. You look at KK, you look at the smoothness, the speed with which he plays is very deceiving. You watch the film and think ‘this kid really slipped through the cracks’. I think you have a great blend of polish, of upside, of size and speed…we have live evaluations on all these guys and you can see guys that can catch the ball outside the framework of their body, have strong hands, make catches in traffic.” 

“We just want guys that can produce. Right now, we are tall out wide. The guys we’re bringing them in, none of them go smaller than 6-foot. Braylon is probably 6-foot-3 and some change. You’re adding a really good combination of length and speed. Rico and Jayden aren’t built like high school kids. Physically, they have the ability to manage playing inside a little bit because of their strength.” 

On the defensive linemen

Marcus Freeman: “You look at the ins and you look at the Boubacars and the Brenan Vernons. We would like length. That’s something we’re looking for. You would like length at every position. Our ends are a little bit longer than what we got at our tackles in Devan [Houstan] and Armel [Mukam]. But we don’t sit here saying you have to have a certain height, a certain arm length.” 

Freeman on Armel Mukam. “Very intelligent kid makes a lot of plays…You get to know him as an individual and you say ‘he’s an intelligent young man, loves the game of football and has those intangibles that we’re looking for.’ I’m dang glad we got him because I think he’ll do some great things for us.”  

Al Golden: “I think they’ll all have a chance to compete early, and that’ll be important for the depth. Boubacar has length, he’s rangy. Probably in that 240-pound range right now, and we’ll get him up to that 255-260 range I’m sure. Brenan brings physical assets. He’s strong, he’s tough, he’s a competitor. Devan is another guy that brings size instead, Mukam brings strength. I’m excited about this group, excited to get them here and get them going.”

On the secondary 

Marcus Freeman: “[Micah Bell is] fast man. Both [Bell and Christian Gray] are unique individuals. Corners are all different. Micah Bell, some of his track times are crazy. He’s fast. He makes plays on both sides of the ball. He is a really good football player. Christian Gray, the length, the athleticism, the competitiveness that he brings [to] that position is something that I think will translate right here to Notre Dame.”

Al Golden: “Christian — great mentality, great attitude, competitor. Just one of the backbones of this class. Never wavered. Unbelievable relationship that he and his family forged with our coaching staff here. Really excited about his prospects and ability to make an impact. And then with Micah, speed, that’s really hard to find. He can play corner, he can play nickel. I’m sure Coach Mason is gonna try to get him to return kicks and punts. One of the faster kids in this class overall.” 

Al Golden: “For Adon [Shuler]…I had a chance to watch him practice live in the spring. Here’s a guy like Hillman, he’s playing wildcat quarterback. Adon’s a really physical player and a competitor. Ben [Minich], is a really smart player. Physically tough and versatile. You love those guys that can play multiple positions. That group…can’t wait for them to get here.”

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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