Indianapolis on the rise as talent-rich area for college football recruits

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The reasons are hard to pinpoint, but the numbers back it up: Indianapolis has become a hotbed for college football prospects in the Midwest.

When Notre Dame travels to Indianapolis on Saturday to host Purdue in Lucas Oil Stadium for the annual Shamrock Series game, the Irish won’t just be playing in the capital city of a basketball state. They will be playing in a city regularly producing Division-I football players.

The proliferation of powerful high school programs, the emergence of the Indianapolis Colts and the success of past recruits have all helped raise the profile of Indianapolis as a football city. In 2013, MaxPreps, a national preps sports website, ranked Indianapolis as the No. 3 metro area for high school football behind only Los Angeles and Dallas. It beat out fellow Midwest programs Cincinnati (4), Chicago (5) and Cleveland (6) in the top 10.

In the current 2015 class, Indianapolis holds two four-star prospects and 10 three-star prospects, according to Rivals. Ten classes back, in 2006, it had zero of either.

“It’s definitely growing,” said Rivals Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt. “The last three or four years we’ve seen an influx of talent coming out of Indianapolis.”

“There are other regions of the state — Fort Wayne’s had some good talent come out lately, the northwest side has had a few guys here and there. Indianapolis leads the way in overall resurgence for the state of Indiana in terms of Div. I college football talent.”

Including the 2015 class, Indianapolis has produced 40 recruits in the last five years with three-star ratings or higher from Rivals. In the five classes previous to that, it only produced 20.

The increase has put Indianapolis in good company. In the same stretch, only Cincinnati (57) and Cleveland (47) have produced more recruits with three-star ratings or higher in the Midwest. Detroit (32) and Chicago (26) are close behind. The numbers do not fully reflect recruits from the suburbs surrounding some of those major cities.

“All those cities are kicking out good talent year in and year out,” Helmholdt said. “Those are kind of the headliners, and Indianapolis is right in that group.”

Notre Dame has reached into the area for top recruits with regularity. Wide receiver Justin Brent, linebacker John Turner, defensive tackle Sheldon Day, and offensive linemen Nick and Zack Martin all made the jump from Indianapolis to South Bend. The Irish already hold a commitment from Park Tudor defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum in the 2015 class. Senior linebacker Asmar Bilal, a four-star prospect, is the next Indianapolis target at the top of Notre Dame’s list.

The program Bilal plays for, Ben Davis, helped start the Indianapolis dominance in the state. The Giants won seven state championships under head coach Dick Dullaghan from 1987 to 2002. The success challenged the fellow Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference members to raise their games to keep pace. The conference formed in 1996.

“It just kind of progressed from there,” said Indianapolis Star sports writer Kyle Neddenriep, who is in his seventh year of covering prep sports in the area. “The facilities got better. The weight rooms got better. It was a bit of an arms race there for a while. Carmel’s program has risen up. Warren Central. Pike has joined the conference and they’re very good. Those teams play each other all the time, and it forces you to get better or get left behind.”

The Indianapolis dominance is most evident in the state’s largest classification for high school football. No team from outside the greater Indianapolis area has won a state title in the highest class since Penn in 2000. Those programs typically are littered with future college football players.

At the same time Indianapolis high schools were controlling state championships, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts solidified themselves as annual contenders in the NFL. The success spawned a deeper fan base that reaches young kids and linked football to the city.

“It’s really a Colts town. I don’t think there’s any denying that,” Neddenriep said. “It’s definitely a Pacers town too, but the Colts have raised the profile of football here immensely. The Colts are deeply involved in the community. They’re in some high school summer events.”

The Irish will use the same venue, Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Colts this weekend. It’s the same location of the football state championships and various regular season games.

“Having a nice venue like Lucas Oil has helped as well,” Neddenriep said. “They host a lot of high school games there. Kids now grew up watching the Colts. That’s kind of their team. I definitely think that’s part of it too.”

Unlike a few past Shamrock Series locations, the Irish don’t necessarily need a stronger grip on recruiting in the area. Indianapolis recruits can easily drive up three hours to South Bend for a campus visit. NCAA rules allows Notre Dame to provide prospects with tickets to Saturday’s game, but the Irish coaching staff cannot interact with the recruits in person as they can at typical home games.

Notre Dame recruits nationally, but continuing to have a presence in Indianapolis should continue to be fruitful. It provides talent and requires less searching.

“You go down through the last few years and usually when Notre Dame has wanted a guy, they’ve pretty much been able to get him down here,” Neddenriep said. “The Notre Dame brand definitely resonates here.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame defensive tackle commit Brandon Tiassum recently played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Indy recruiting chart