Relationships figure to be the primary reason why Will Shipley would choose Notre Dame.
The four-star running back’s bond with the Irish football coaching staff and ND’s verbal commits are unlike his dynamic with those from the other schools courting him, he said. Shipley said he has also long felt like he’s Notre Dame’s top target in the 2021 recruiting class.
Notre Dame run game coordinator Lance Taylor has played a significant role in making the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Shipley feel that way. Andy Capone, Shipley’s head football coach at Matthews (N.C.) Weddington High, told the Tribune that no out-of-state coach visited their school during the winter more than Taylor.
The two are in contact multiple times per week, Shipley said on the Tribune’s “Pod of Gold” podcast, recorded Thursday night.
“I can confidently say that’s 100 percent one of my best relationships that I’ve created in this college recruiting trail that I’ve been on,” Shipley said of Taylor. “Just how genuine he’s been for my family and me. How much he cares.
“It’s never just about football with him. He’s always asking how my mom and dad are doing, how’s my brother, how’s the schoolwork going. That stuff means a lot, because in this football recruiting world, you’ll get coaches who only care about one thing. And that’s football.”
Throughout the interview, Shipley emphasized his connection with Taylor and others at Notre Dame. He said he feels closer to Notre Dame’s eight commits than any other group of verbal pledges at other schools.
Quarterback Tyler Buchner knows Shipley from their days competing against each other on the summer lacrosse circuit during middle school. Shipley knows offensive tackle Blake Fisher so well that he sent him a birthday card in the mail a few weeks ago.
“He’s been so great for my family and me, giving us all the information that we need,” Shipley said of Fisher. “And I think over time, it has just developed us into becoming more like brothers than friends.”
Which school Shipley will ultimately choose remains unclear, but Notre Dame and Clemson are thought to have separated themselves from the rest. A commitment within the next month seems to be the most likely scenario for Shipley, who’s ranked as the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back in the 2021 class. Rivals pegs Shipley as the No. 36 overall prospect nationally regardless of position, while 247Sports slates him No. 45.
Here’s a closer look at Shipley’s recruitment and other highlights from his interview:
• Virtual visits: One missing element in Shipley’s Notre Dame recruitment was his feel for the locker room. He had only trekked to South Bend once — for Notre Dame’s Oct. 12 home game against USC.
By offering individualized virtual visits, the Irish looked to cater to Shipley and others in similar situations. Shipley heard recruiting pitches from approximately a dozen Notre Dame players, including quarterback Ian Book and incoming freshman running back Chris Tyree, within the past few weeks.
“I got to see the game day atmosphere. I got to see all the academics stuff. I’ve gotten to spend time with all the 2021 commits,” Shipley said. “But I really wanted to spend time with the players and get that locker room vibe. So I’ve been talking to a bunch of them. It has really helped.”
Shipley’s virtual experience called for a collaborative approach from Notre Dame’s coaches, players, commits, administrators and notable alums.
James Shipley, Will’s father, talks often with Tom Mendoza. The business school Will would enroll in at Notre Dame, the Mendoza College of Business, is named after Tom Mendoza. Professor Chris Stevens, one of the three original developers of the Keurig Premium Coffee System, also spoke with Shipley.
Adam Sargent, Notre Dame’s associate director of academic services for student-athletes, provided a personal academic presentation for Shipley this week.
“He made it known how hard it was going to be,” said Shipley, who would enroll a semester early, in January. “That’s something that I’ve always wanted. I never wanted to just walk out of a place with a degree and it not mean anything. At a place like Notre Dame, it means something.”
• Notre Dame vs. Clemson: How much Shipley likes Notre Dame and Clemson became clear. Shipley said he feels drawn to the spirituality prevalent on both campuses.
“That’s a huge thing for me and my family. Both of them do such a good job of that,” Shipley said. “Both programs are so awesome. They’re both honestly a perfect fit for me.”
Shipley also likes their recruiting approaches, even if they are much different from each other. He said Notre Dame is recruiting him harder than any other school. Clemson does not spend as much time communicating him, a tactic well-received by Shipley because of his loaded schedule.
The distance from Matthews, N.C., and the weather in South Bend won’t be much of a determining factor in his decision, Shipley said.
“I think the academics are better at a place like Notre Dame,” Shipley said. “Clemson, they are still great, but at a place like Notre Dame, you really don’t get too much better academics-wise. To have that football and academics, and respect in both areas, I think Notre Dame really has the step up on that.”
• June visit: Notre Dame tentatively plans to host two recruiting weekends in June (12-14 and 19-21) if health officials deem such a gathering to be safe.
Whether coaches and recruits and their families would need to take precautions — like practicing social distancing or wearing masks — remains to be seen. Shipley hadn’t been told of those possibilities but would make the trip regardless, as long as the visit would be considered safe.
“If I’m uncommitted or I’m committed to Notre Dame, then I will 100 percent (visit),” Shipley said. “I think my family and I wouldn’t shy away from driving, if that’s the only option. We want to get back on campus. Notre Dame was the very first visit that we set in the spring period.
“It was devastating that we didn’t get to take that visit (March 20-22). It was probably going to be one of the most fun and exciting recruiting trips, just because all of the 2021 commits were going to be there.”
• Final decision: In the past month, Shipley alternated between the idea of announcing a commitment in April or doing it later.
The initial plan to commit in April was derailed once the COVID-19 pandemic canceled four of Shipley’s spring recruiting visits. After more deliberation, Shipley returned to the idea of speeding up his decision. He already intends to announce his commitment through a video on social media.
“I’ve been able to check off all the boxes with Clemson and Notre Dame just with the information that I’ve received,” Shipley said. “I’ve gotten all that stuff, but now it’s really down to just making a decision.
“I don’t know when that’s going to happen, to be frankly honest with you. It could be next week, or it could be a month from now. But I am looking to be committed. I am looking to find my home as soon as possible.
“It’s gotten to be a lot. This recruiting process has gotten to be a lot. I look forward to just being able to find my home and just be able to be happy with that and not look back.”
• Coronavirus impact: The pandemic hardly curtailed Shipley’s day-to-day exercise routine. With a home gym and nearby field available, Shipley is capable of meeting his athletic demands.
“I have been very fortunate, very lucky,” Shipley said. “I have a really nice setup in my backyard. When we moved into this house, we had a little shed in the back. We kept over the years continuing to add to it. I’ve got dumbbells, a really nice bench and squat rack, treadmill, a Peloton.”