Just nine days after being hired as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman scored a significant win on the recruiting trail.
Tyson Ford, one of the top defensive ends in the 2022 recruiting class, announced his verbal commitment to the Irish on Monday. A product of John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Ford chose Notre Dame over Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri and others.
Ford listed those four schools as his top choices last month. The Sooners emerged as his perceived favorite but not for long. The Irish hiring Freeman from the University of Cincinnati on Jan. 9 caught Ford’s attention.
“I really think the Marcus Freeman situation changed things a little bit,” Ford told the Tribune in a phone interview Sunday night. “I’ve been talking with him ever since he got there really. He was telling me it was a great opportunity to study, get a degree and play football at a school as prestigious as Notre Dame. And that it was an opportunity that you can’t turn down.
“After that conversation with him, we talked for a long time. I thought about it. I made pros and cons of each of my schools. I realized Notre Dame was the best choice.”
Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, told the Tribune last week that Freeman brings the potential to be a five-star recruiter. Freeman helping secure Ford’s pledge could be the start of him meeting that lofty expectation.
Lemming evaluated the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Ford a couple months ago and offers him a four-star-plus rating. He holds a four-star rating on Rivals and 247Sports. Rivals ranks Ford as its No. 5 strongside defensive end and No. 64 overall player in the 2022 class. 247Sports pegs him as its No. 10 weakside defensive end and No. 181 overall.
247Sports and Rivals now rank Notre Dame’s five-player class No. 6 and No. 7 nationally. Offensive linemen Joey Tanona and Ty Chan, tight end Jack Nickel and linebacker Nolan Ziegler are also verbally committed to the Irish this cycle.
“He’s one of the premier pass rushers in the country,” Lemming said, “and he will get better. He’s got that potential once he gets more strength. He has the length. He has a great first step. He’s got the quick hands. He’s got really good instincts. And he is a terrific athlete.”
Because he’s a high school junior, Ford will not arrive at Notre Dame until June 2022. The Irish recruited Ford at defensive end but may slide him to other positions, including outside linebacker, in Freeman’s versatile scheme.
Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston deserves credit for Ford’s recruitment, too. He has heavily pursued Ford since offering him a scholarship last April. Freeman entering the mix simply brought the extra ingredient the Irish needed to land Ford.
“I love the coaches there. They have a winning mentality. They develop players well. They put them in the league,” Ford said. “But the most important thing is the academic part of it. An opportunity to study at Notre Dame is one I couldn’t turn down. I thought about it for a long time between Notre Dame and Oklahoma. I came to the conclusion that Notre Dame was the place for me.”
Whether Elston would remain on staff after being passed up again for the Notre Dame defensive coordinator job became unclear after Freeman's hiring. The longtime assistant under head coach Brian Kelly was reportedly connected as a candidate for Purdue’s defensive coordinator vacancy. But Elston's actions on the virtual recruiting trail seem to indicate he's not ready to leave yet.
And on Monday, the Boilermakers reportedly hired Brad Lambert as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
“As far as I know, he’s 100-percent committed to Notre Dame,” Ford said. “He was the first one to call me. He’s a great guy. He really wants to win. They really made me a priority there at Notre Dame. That’s what I love about them.”
Elston is considered one of the best recruiters on the Irish coaching staff. He helped sign several four-star defensive linemen who are currently playing at Notre Dame: Jayson Ademilola, Isaiah Foskey, Jacob Lacey, Howard Cross III, Rylie Mills, Jordan Botelho and Gabriel Rubio. He also served as the lead recruiter for five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Ford became the next big fish. The Irish are expected to continue to recruit at a high level on defense. Freeman is already resonating with other top 2022 recruits like defensive end Cyrus Moss and linebacker Sebastian Cheeks.
As a defensive coordinator for the Bearcats, Freeman showed his recruiting chops. He helped assemble the No. 1 class among Group of Five programs in the past two recruiting cycles. Those efforts translated on the field. Cincinnati boasted the No. 3 pass-efficiency defense, No. 8 scoring defense, No. 13 total defense and No. 14 run defense nationally last season.
“I saw what he did with the defense at Cincinnati,” Ford said. “He told me what his plans are at Notre Dame. He’s the perfect coach to get them over the playoff hump they’ve been trying to get over the past two or three years.
“He’s a great guy. He’s a real talker, but he speaks the real. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. He’s going to push the potential out of you if you like it or not.”
Blessed to be a Notre Dame Man!!!— Tyson Ford (@T2Cold7) January 18, 2021
Appreciative of everyone that supported me along this process, but now it’s time to get to work!!🍀🍀🍀#GoIrish#NotreDame#FightingIrish#Committed @TomLoy247 @SWiltfong247 @JHMerrittJr pic.twitter.com/38KKtMxdqF
Let’s Gooooo!! Sack the QB!!🍀#FTB— Mike Elston (@CoachMikeElston) January 18, 2021