Thinking big boosts Notre Dame recruiting

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The biggest events provided the biggest gains for Notre Dame’s 2016 football recruiting class.

The recruiting calendar last cycle was built around three main events: a junior day in March, the Irish Invasion camp in June and the USC game in October. By signing day in February, 13 members of Notre Dame’s 23-man 2016 recruiting class visited for one of those events before committing to the Irish.

With the tweaked blueprint working better than it has it recent years, the Irish will try to recreate that success in the 2017 recruiting cycle. Three of Notre Dame’s 2017 commits joined the class following a visit for the Irish Invasion.

Notre Dame’s next big recruiting event is scheduled for Saturday. It will be Notre Dame’s second junior day of the year, following the previous event in January.

More than a dozen recruiting targets in the 2017 class are expected on campus. Visitors will get a chance to tour campus, meet some of Notre Dame’s coaches and players, and watch the Irish at their third practice of the spring.

The visitors list for last year’s junior day event included defensive end Khalid Kareem, running back Tony Jones Jr., cornerback Julian Love and long snapper John Shannon, all of whom ended up signing with Notre Dame.

At that time last year, Notre Dame’s coaching staff and recruiting office had recently been reshuffled. A year later, the same personnel remains with a more concrete plan for how the 2017 cycle should unfold. The success in the last recruiting class has already shaped the process.

Before the 2016 class had signed, Notre Dame had already planned out the dates for its next junior day, Irish Invasion and marquee home game. According to recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, who took over the position following Tony Alford’s departure for Ohio State in February of 2015, Notre Dame didn’t have last year’s Irish Invasion date set until March of 2015.

“We have to pump that information out quicker to get more guys here on campus,” Elston said on signing day. “I think we doubled what we did the year before at the previous Irish Invasion. We got a tremendous amount of success in all the classes to come.

"We’ve done a very good quality control of that. We’re very aware that those are big dates for us. We have to continue to grow that to make it better.”

Better planning and organization should produce more visitors. A campus visit always provides a potential turning point in the recruitment of a prospect.

Love, who committed to Notre Dame immediately following last year’s junior day, said the Irish offered a better presentation of their program than other schools. He previously visited Iowa, Indiana and Illinois for junior days.

“Notre Dame was more personal,” Love said. “Notre Dame's practice alone really set it apart, because it was very intense, high-tempo, and they kind of included you in drills. You didn't participate, but you were standing right next to the drill and could ask as many questions as you wanted. It was like you were part of it."

Making the visit personal to a recruit can be challenging with so many recruits on campus. But the Irish have been successful in managing those numbers. Being one of many to visit on a certain day can give a recruit confidence that he measures up to other talented players.

“They're trying to build a team and put talent around talent,” Love said. “It's a huge compliment to visit with other top recruits. It's an honor to be part of a Notre Dame recruiting class."

The Irish Invasion, an invitation-only camp which has run in its current format for the last three years, is also expected to grow in size. Elston said one of the ways he hopes to draw in recruits to the event is to provide information on the exposure that comes to it.

Because media members and recruiting services are allowed to attend Irish Invasion, a recruit has the opportunity — even if he doesn’t receive a Notre Dame scholarship offer — to receive more attention if he stands out against top competition.

For instance, Elston said he wants prospects who receive invitations to the Irish Invasion to know how many prospects who attended last year’s event eventually signed FBS scholarships. A strong performance could even help boost a player’s recruiting ranking down the line.

Notre Dame safety signee Jalen Elliott entered last year’s Irish Invasion as three-star recruit and the No. 53 multi-position "athlete" in the 2016 class, according to Rivals. By signing day, Rivals rated Elliott as a four-star recruit and the No. 15 safety.

For Elliott, the event also led to his commitment. Elliott gave his pledge to Notre Dame’s coaching staff while on campus for the first time. If not for the camp, Elliott said he likely wouldn’t have visited Notre Dame until the fall, for a game.

“Having all that talent on campus at one time was the biggest thing they enforced when I was there,” Elliott said. “They told me to not think of it as a recruiting trip, but another camp to prove yourself with some of the best talent in the country. That's how I looked at. But being on a great campus like Notre Dame, you had to take that in as well."

Receiving an invitation to the Irish Invasion was a personal milestone for Elliott.

“I felt like I owed it to them to go out there and work as hard as I could," Elliott said, "and try to be the best that I could against some of that talent."

Both Love and Elliott attended the USC game, which produced six more commits for Notre Dame’s class. They played the role of recruiters for some of the top targets who visited. That’s just another positive of focusing your efforts on big event recruiting.

"It helps a lot, because the guy who has committed knows more about the school than most people,” Love said. “We're kids, so when we're talking to other guys, it's better than hearing it from a coach. Because all coaches basically say the same thing.

"So it makes the program different. It's not just what the coaches say. It helps to get a different prospective from younger guys, like us."

Recruiting with big events doesn’t make Notre Dame different. It’s become a growing trend nationally, especially with summer camps in past several years. But as 2016 proved, it can make Notre Dame better. 


The following recruits committed to Notre Dame eventually after visits to South Bend for one of the major recruiting events hosted by the Irish last year:

2016 CLASS

Junior day: LS John Shannon, CB Julian Love, RB Tony Jones Jr., DE Khalid Kareem

Irish Invasion: WR Kevin Stepherson, S Jalen Elliott, S Spencer Perry, WR Chase Claypool, WR Javon McKinley, S Devin Studstill

USC game: DE Daelin Hayes, CB Troy Pride Jr., RB Deon McIntosh, Kareem, McKinley, Studstill

2017 CLASS

Irish Invasion: TE Brock Wright, TE Cole Kmet, OL Josh Lugg | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Linebackers coach Mike Elston at the Notre Dame football practice at LaBar Practice Complex on Saturday. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ