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Thomas: Where Ben Morrison ranks among recent Irish recruiting steals

Within just weeks, three-star cornerback recruit Benjamin Morrison claimed a starting job within the vaunted Notre Dame defense. Morrison came to South Bend as the second-highest cornerback recruit in the class, with many figuring four-star Jaden Mickey to challenge for early playing time. Mickey has played some very important snaps for the Irish, but it is the previously little-known Morrison that has carved out a regular role. Where does Morrison rank amidst recent Irish recruiting steals? The Irish have molded several lower-rated recruits into dominant starters, but did any get off to as fast a start as the Phoenix, Arizona, native? 

Where does Morrison fall

Morrison came to Notre Dame ranked as the 311th-best recruit per 247 and the 35th-best cornerback. He received a .9000 grade on the dot from 247. Morrison wasn’t an early enrollee, so the headlines centered around Mickey and his brash confidence at the spring game. But after a strong camp and preseason, Morrison forced his way into the cornerback rotation. He played 29 snaps in the opener at Ohio State. He usurped the starting role a few short weeks after.

A three-star recruit that was seemingly a depth addition to a strong class, Morrison looks like one of the best recruiting steals for the Irish in recent memory. To compare him to recent and similar recruiting steals, I looked at the litany of Irish three-star recruits that became big-time contributors for the blue and gold. In order to create this list, a combination of how quickly they became a starter and their overall impact on the team over their career was considered. 

Recent Recruiting Steals

7. Logan Diggs

Diggs filled a big hole late in the 2021 recruiting cycle for Notre Dame. The Irish went hard after eventual Clemson commit Will Shipley, and they needed to pivot late. They grabbed Diggs, ranked as the 504th-best player and 35th-best running back. While Diggs never was RB1 as a freshman, Diggs appeared in eight games, filling some critical roles especially when eventual fifth-round draft pick Kyren Williams was drafted. 

6. Jarrett Patterson

Patterson wasn’t exactly a highly underrated recruit, but he did enter Notre Dame ranked as the 25th-best offensive tackle in the country and the 369th-best player. However, Patterson has established himself as a linchpin of the Irish offensive line in recent years. As a sophomore, he started all 13 games of the 2019 season at center. He’s moved around between tackle and center over his career, but outside of missing the end of the 2020 season due to injury, Patterson has been a full-time starter since cracking the lineup. 

5. Clarence Lewis 

In a bit of irony, Lewis, who just largely lost his job to Morrison, comes in at No. 5. Given recent events and Lewis’s struggles, it’s easy to forget he came in as a freshman and took over a starting role on a College Football Playoff-bound team. Lewis played in nine games as a freshman, taking over as a starter in November. He entered as the 727th-ranked prospect and 58th-ranked cornerback. He stays lower on the list given he has since been surpassed on the depth chart. 

4. Benjamin Morrison

For now, Morrison slots in at No. 4. He’s got a lot to prove, but after becoming a starter by Week 3 of his true freshman year, and given the fact that he wasn’t an early enrollee, his rapid ascent merits a rise up this list. 

3. Kyren Williams

One of the best skill position players out of Notre Dame in the past few years, Kyren Williams didn’t come to South Bend with otherworldly amounts of hype. His .8918 recruit grade was modest, and he clocked it at No. 367 on the 247 recruit rankings. Even within the running backs, he was only ranked No. 24 on the list. Of course, Williams became a starter as a sophomore and pushed the Irish to a playoff berth in 2020. His 140-yard, three-touchdown effort against No. 1 Clemson, including a 65-yard touchdown run on his first rush of the game, remains a legendary performance. He finished his career with back-to-back 1000-yard seasons before departing for the NFL. 

2. Joe Alt 

Alt was almost forced into a starting role with underperformance and injury issues along the Irish offensive line. But after entering at left tackle against Cincinnati, Alt took over the starting job against Virginia Tech. He stabilized Notre Dame’s most questionable position and emerged as the clear starting left tackle for at least the next three years. Alt has almost seamlessly transitioned into this season as a starter, performing as the Irish’s best offensive lineman for most of the season. It’s easy to forget he entered with a .8862 prospect grade, rated as the 408th-best recruit in the country. 

1. Kurt Hinish

Kurt Hinish has been exceeding expectations long before he surprisingly made the Houston Texans roster this past preseason. Before that, Hinish entered as the 520th-ranked recruit and 43rd-ranked defensive tackle in the 2017 class. He immediately became a contributor as a freshman, appearing in 12 games in his first year. He had his coming out party in the USC rivalry clash, totaling a then-career-high three tackles against the Trojans. Ultimately, his collegiate career-high would amount to 10 in the 2022 matchup against Navy. Hinish played in 63 games over five years for the Irish, totaling 28 tackles and 2 sacks. The nose guard jumped from little-known three-star recruit to starting lineup staple for half a decade, earning the No. 1 spot on this list.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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‘Keep making it go up and up’: Freeman, Irish confident as massive underdogs

When Notre Dame opened as a 13.5-point underdog to Ohio State back in May, head coach Marcus Freeman made waves with his response.

“Make it 14,” Freeman said. 

Well, he got his wish and then some. The Irish enter their Saturday showdown with the Buckeyes as 17.5 point underdogs.

“We’ll use that in the team meeting today,”  Freeman said on Monday. “I remember the one time we were on College Gameday [when Freeman made the ‘make it 14′ comment], I said just keep making [the spread] go up and up.”

Freeman’s brash confidence is not meant to be disrespectful to Ohio State. He’s repeatedly referred to the Buckeyes as a great team and a great program. But he does have well-placed confidence in his roster, a team that has several potential first-round draft picks and a roster that saw several players forgo NFL Draft aspirations last year to return for a national championship run.

There are questions to be sure. First-time starting quarterback sophomore Tyler Buchner has talent. But does he have the composure to stay level-headed in a manic environment? Can one of his targets in a thin wide receiver corps establish themselves as a true No. 1 target? Can any of Notre Dame’s three running backs make up for the missing production of Kyren Williams? Can the Irish secondary contain Ohio State’s aerial attack?

Freeman has done so many things right over the course of his tenure as head coach at Notre Dame. But of course, there’s one blemish — the one game he’s actually coached. The Irish came out hot in the Fiesta Bowl, taking an early 28-7 lead against Oklahoma State. But they ultimately fell, 37-35 in a game that the Irish failed to make necessary adjustments down the stretch.

Recruiting wins are great. There is legitimacy in building off-field momentum. But if Notre Dame comes out and loses by 20, a lot of that built-up goodwill is going to dissipate. No recent Irish regular season game has generated the type of emotion and build-up of this contest. The nine-month ramp-up since both teams finished their successful 2021 seasons has created palpable tension and hype as the matchup nears. And now, the challenge for the Irish lies in playing with the right level of emotion.

“The emotions you have … we get to go play a great team. We get to play in a great, hostile environment. You get the emotion, the excitement about going into a place like that and getting to compete against a great program like Ohio State,” Freeman noted. “How can you keep it contained and focus on the things that matter, and that’s the preparation. And that’s what we can control between now and Saturday. We have to be very intentional and have a great week of preparation.” 

For Freeman, there could be added emotion in making his regular season head coaching debut against his alma mater. But he continues to remain adamant that this isn’t the case for him, referring to himself as “emotionless” in the matter.

“My focus is Notre Dame football and preparing this team. And then when we get to September 3rd, Ohio State happens to be the opponent,” Freeman said.

Instead, the Irish’s head coach is focusing on harnessing the inevitable emotions of his players and applying those emotions in a beneficial manner on the gridiron.

Freeman’s embraced this throughout the offseason and summer and fall camps. He knows the environment will be hostile. But he wants to emphasize that the Irish are still playing football. He’s tried new tactics, such as moving a Notre Dame practice to a local high school, just adding to the idea that no matter where they’re playing or practicing, the mission remains the same. He’s added a new level of intensity to Irish practices, something that current players have lauded.

For a program that has frequently found itself boat-raced against elite opponents, starting fast and generating early momentum is important. As such, Freeman has added competitive twists to practice that frequently come in the form of early competitions between the offense and defense. Usually, these additions come right out of stretching, boosting the competitive nature of the practice instantly. This includes red zone drills, receiver-defensive back one-on-one competitions, and more.

“We try to start practice with some openers and different situations. The minute we’re done with stretching, we go right to a competitive situation,” Freeman explained. “It’s a mindset, but it’s also about execution … starting fast has been important for us since the day I became head coach. You can’t start slow against a team like Ohio State.” 

For nine months now, the college football world has watched Marcus Freeman build momentum for this Notre Dame program that hasn’t been seen in years. Now, they’ll watch him take center stage in Columbus, Ohio. His group of gold-clad underdogs will be in tow, now underdogs of 17.5 points. 

But why not make it 18? To quote Freeman, why not “keep making it go up and up”? The Irish will be ready regardless.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Chris Tyree ready to step into bigger role for Irish

Chris “The Jet” Tyree’s role as the understudy at the running back position has come to an end following the departure of Kyren Williams to the NFL. Once known as a can’t-miss recruit, Tyree will have the chance this season to prove that statement true. There’s no doubt that Tyree has big shoes to fill. But he feels he is ready to take on the role of an offensive leader.

“I think I’m a lot more confident in my game than I have been in the last couple of years,” Tyree said. “I’m a lot more poised as well. It’s just about me having confidence in my ability and executing my job out there.”

Tyree will certainly be one to watch this season, especially this weekend at The Horseshoe. The prime-time meeting of No. 5 Notre Dame versus No. 2 Ohio State is a matchup all about running the ball effectively and controlling the line of scrimmage. Doing so is likely a necessity for Notre Dame to have a chance to bring home an upset win. Freeman has frequently emphasized the importance of the run game in this matchup.

“That’s something that you wanna hear from your head coach — knowing he has confidence in us and is giving us the opportunity to really affect the game,” Tyree said.

Tyree hopes to bring other aspects of his game to the offense as the Irish suit up under the lights. His ability to make plays in the passing game out of the backfield can help shake things up.

“I understand that I have to affect the game without the ball in my hands as well,” Tyree said. “I’m just being consistent every play no matter whether I’m getting the ball or not.

Tyree will certainly play a major role in the running duties but will share responsibilities with fellow running backs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime, not to mention sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. Referring to Buchner as a “playmaker,” Tyree speaks to Buchner’s mobility and how that can benefit the offense.

“It’s simple, he makes plays,” Tyree said. “No matter if he’s throwing the ball, whether he’s running it, making checks, making reads, communicating with the offense. That’s what you’ll see from him.”

The infectious energy from camp, along with the preparation and talent present in Tyree and the rest of the offense, make the Irish no joke against the Buckeyes, despite national skepticism. One thing for certain, though — this weekend’s game is a massive one.

“It’s two powerhouse programs going at it week one,” Tyree said. “It’s those games you dream of as a child — playing in those Saturday night football games. We just know that we have to take it one game at a time. If we can come out with a ‘W’ it would be a really great start to the season, so that’s our focus right now.”

The Irish are going to need to lean on Tyree in a big way. If he can play to his full potential this weekend, the running game should not skip a beat despite the absence of Williams. Tyree can help contribute to an explosive offense and make plenty of highlight-reel, game-changing plays.

Tune in Saturday night at 7:30 pm on ABC to watch Tyree and the Irish take on the Buckeyes.

Madeline Ladd


Contact Madeline at mladd2@nd.edu