Notre Dame focuses recruiting on Florida, California

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Ultimately, recruiting comes down to supply and demand.

In the Midwest, for example, the supply is somewhat limited. There are great players, sure, but too few to satisfy the unyielding barrage of suitors. And so, programs are forced to expand their reach.

In Rivals’ current list of the top 100 prospects in the 2016 class, two states are tied at the top — Florida and California, each with 18.

Now compare that to the states that neighbor Notre Dame. Indiana has zero. Illinois has one. Michigan has two. Ohio has four.

With more demand than ever for premier talent, and more competition than ever for the players on its doorstep, Notre Dame’s strategy has shifted to the coasts.

“They struggled in the Midwest this year,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “With James Franklin, Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer recruiting in the Midwest, California and Florida become extraordinarily important for Notre Dame. There’s a lot of Catholic schools in Florida and in California and Notre Dame has to cultivate those Catholic schools in those two states.”

Considering that logic, the results shouldn’t surprise. Notre Dame currently owns six commitments from Florida players in the 2016 signing class, more than any other state, and three of those prospects (safeties Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson) have already enrolled. Three more pledges have come from the state of California, the most Irish commits from the Golden State since 2011.

With less than a month until signing day, here’s a look at how the Irish have flourished in each state — and what might be coming next.

Florida

Autry Denson didn’t need much time to make a strong impression.

That’s evident both in how quickly Notre Dame’s running backs coach made headway in recruiting Florida, and how immediately his enthusiasm impacted the job he left behind.

“(Former Purdue head coach) Danny Hope, who was on Denson’s staff for two weeks at USF, told me at that time when he left for Notre Dame that he thought Autry Denson was going to be a star recruiter,” Lemming said.

“He was very impressed, even though he only knew him for two weeks. He has done just that.”

Of course, few could blame Denson — Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher — for leaving South Florida after barely a month to work at his alma mater.

And since his arrival, the Florida native has certainly proved his worth. Despite the season-ending injury to starter Tarean Folston, he molded former wide receiver C.J. Prosise into a 1,000-yard rusher and mentored freshman phenom Josh Adams.

As for recruiting, the proof is in the prospects.

Notre Dame’s six Florida commits are the most in at least two decades, as the Irish continue to poach premier athleticism in one of the country’s most talented regions. Two of those players, Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh, are running backs, and each said Denson’s presence impacted their own decisions.

“Florida players are starting to realize that there’s other schools besides the ones in Florida that are good,” Jones Jr. said. “I think he plays a big role in all the Florida guys.”

Of course, Denson hasn’t done it by himself. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand took the lead in swaying four-star lineman Parker Boudreaux, and tight ends coach Scott Booker and assistant head coach Mike Denbrock reeled in Stepherson at the Irish Invasion last summer. In the coming week, linebackers coach Mike Elston will fly to Orlando in hopes of convincing four-star linebacker Jonathan Jones to join the club.

But Denson — a guy who once left Florida to find success at Notre Dame — is now finding success in Florida, for Notre Dame.

California

“I’m going to make it work,” Mike Sanford told him, and Ian Book wasn’t sure exactly what he meant.

Book, a three-star quarterback commit, had previously been recruited by Sanford at Boise State — so much so, in fact, that Book visited Boise, Id., and considered verbally committing thereafter.

But when Sanford left his alma mater to become the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Book lost interest.

Then, his phone rang.

“He said that he could only talk about Notre Dame so much, and that he wanted me to visit,” Book said. "So I went out there and visited, and once I did I knew that I wanted to go (there).

“He’s the main reason I’m going to Notre Dame.”

Sanford seems to have that affect on people. On Saturday, four-star wide receiver Javon Mckinley announced an identical decision.

“He’s a real adaptive guy,” McKinley told The Tribune last week. “He really gets into the lingo with the younger guys around this age. He does a really good job recruiting.”

Added Book: “I would say being a young guy, a guy that’s played the game, he has a lot of energy. Obviously his name speaks for itself at such a young age, what he’s doing. I think he understands the game of football, but he understands that it’s more than just football. Everyone loves him that I know.

“He gets along great with the guys. He seems like he’s one of the players, but at the same time, he’s coaching.”

And recruiting. Four star athlete Damian Alloway, who is teetering between Notre Dame and UCLA, could eventually become the fourth California recruit in the 2016 cycle to commit to the Irish. Denbrock, who also contributes in California, was responsible for the commitment of defensive back D.J. Morgan as well.

But McKinley, especially in Will Fuller’s wake, may be the catch of the class.

“He’s a legit game-breaker,” Lemming said. “He’s a guy that Notre Dame needs to spread the defense out now that Will Fuller’s leaving. Of all the players they bring in this year, he might be the most important.”

When it comes to states, it’d be hard to argue that any are as important for the Irish as Florida and California.

Even on opposite oceans, it seems, there’s no shortage of supply.

mvorel@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Four-star wide receiver Javon McKinley announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army All-American Bowl.)

The following players are committed to Notre Dame from Florida and California in the 2016 signing class.

Florida

S Spencer Perry (Rivals/247Sports three-star recruit)*

WR Kevin Stepherson (Rivals/247Sports three-star recruit)*

S Devin Studstill (247Sports four-star/Rivals three-star recruit)*

RB Tony Jones Jr. (Rivals/247Sports three-star recruit)

OL Parker Boudreaux (Rivals/247Sports four-star recruit)

RB Deon McIntosh (Rivals/247Sports three-star recruit)

California

WR Javon Mckinley (Rivals/247Sports four-star recruit)

S D.J. Morgan (Rivals four-star/247Sports three-star recruit)

QB Ian Book (Rivals/247Sports three-star recruit)

*Early enrollee