Notre Dame football recruiting: How much hype will Irish create?

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- When the Notre Dame football team played Arizona State in Arlington, Texas, in October for its annual Shamrock Series game, one of the benefits was that the Irish staff was able to bolster awareness among Texas prospects.

Coach Brian Kelly watched cornerback Nick Watkins in person the night before the Irish played, and a gaggle of prospects were on hand the following night to see ND beat the Sun Devils at AT&T Stadium.

Watkins committed less than a month later, the familiarity and awareness no doubt aiding in landing him.

So, can the program receive a perception bump in the New York area when ND plays Rutgers in the Dec. 28 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium?

“I think it can,” Kelly said. “And I’ll say it this way: That area in particular is a very strong area in 2015 in particular. That’s a strong recruiting area, and so I think it can be a very good thing for us to be out there.”

The Irish have already been out there in recent years in terms of landing players from not just New York, but more importantly, fertile New Jersey.

The current ND roster includes two scholarship players from New York in Jarron Jones (Rochester) and Ishaq Williams (Brooklyn). Williams, a highly sought member of the 2011 recruiting cycle, watched the Irish play in person the last time they were at Yankee Stadium, a 2010 win over Army in that year’s version of the Shamrock Series.

Just as important, if not more so, is the impact on Jersey players. Long considered one of the nation’s top producers of talent, parts of New Jersey are a hop, skip and a jump from Yankee Stadium. In fact, current Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese said his home in Verona is about a 20-minute drive from the ballpark in the Bronx.

Calabrese is one of five Jersey players on the roster, along with cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and Rashad Kinlaw, safety Elijah Shumate and nose guard Tyler Stockton.

The class that will sign on Feb. 5 includes players from both states — defensive end Jay Hayes plays at Poly Prep in Brooklyn, while offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and defensive end Andrew Trumbetti come from across the Hudson in New Jersey, Nelson at Red Bank Catholic and Trumbetti at Demarest High.

CBS Sports Network analyst Tom Lemming identified a number of 2015 prospects, the current juniors, as prime prospects, and sees the bowl game as a chance to make an impression.

“What really helps is the publicity Notre Dame will get in the New York papers as well as the two big north Jersey papers, especially considering the majority of the top players in (New Jersey) are in the northern part,” Lemming said. “On top of that, the majority of those guys are at Catholic schools.”

The built-in recruiting benefits of the Shamrock Series games, though, seem to outweigh those of a bowl game.

Notre Dame can offer recruits tickets to the Shamrock Series games, although the staff cannot have direct contact with the prospects at the games. The bowl game is a strict neutral-site game.

“There’s no similarities between having that off-site and when you go into a bowl-game situation other than we can open it up to coaches for practice, so there is that potential connection,” Kelly said.

Following the 2008 season, when ND played in the Hawaii Bowl, a local linebacker prospect by the name of Manti Te’o was able to attend practice because the day practice started was within the contact period. This year, the NCAA recruiting calendar was adjusted and the entire bowl season is a dead period, meaning no prospects at practice.

The big benefit this year, though, is the publicity ND can stir by spending roughly a week in a large metropolitan area that is a major media market. Notre Dame has historically had strong ties to New York, and when the Irish played there three years ago, it was a big deal. How the hype from this game compares to the one against Army remains to be seen, but there will be publicity.

“Having a bowl game and being that visible is important,” Lemming said.

With the 2014 recruiting cycle grinding toward its finish, Kelly and his staff continue to place more emphasis on the following year, one that gains importance in the New York/New Jersey area.

“I think years sometimes change in terms of recruiting,” Kelly said, “but that’s been a good area for us, and I think it’s going to be a good one for us with this particular game being out there.”


Twitter: @BobWienekeNDI

Carlo Calabrese (44) is a former New Jersey high school player recruited by Notre Dame.