Recruiting focus in New Jersey should be priority for Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s trip to New Jersey this weekend should serve as a reminder of the recruiting talent found in the state.

In the past year, Notre Dame’s coaching staff turned its focus to Western Pennsylvania as an area it could harvest for top prospects. A combination of strong relationships, skilled players and personalities that fit at Notre Dame allowed the Irish to find success in and around Pittsburgh.

A similar formula could allow New Jersey to become a more fruitful territory for the Irish. Notre Dame signed at least one player from the state in each recruiting class from 2012 to 2015. That streak ended in February and will likely remain dormant in the 2017 recruiting cycle.

But with defensive linemen Justin and Jayson Ademilola, twins from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, committed in the 2018 class, the Irish have shown an understanding of New Jersey’s importance.

“We’ve targeted the East Coast really,” recruiting coordinator Mike Elston said in August. “It’s a good footprint for us. There are a lot of subway alums (loyal fans who didn’t graduate from Notre Dame) out there. There’s a lot of good interest in Notre Dame. We want to do a better job on the East Coast.”

Unfortunately for the Irish, they aren’t the only Midwest school to identify New Jersey as valuable territory. When Urban Meyer took over the job at Ohio State after the 2011 season, according to CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, one of the first calls he made was to St. Peter’s Prep head coach Rich Hansen. Lemming was with Hansen when he received the call.

“Urban told him it was the first call he made, which I’m sure he told to all the other coaches. But (Hansen) didn’t have a player that year,” Lemming said. “Urban knew from getting (safety) Will Hill years before to Florida from there that the coach was going to have a lot of players.”

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh did more than make a phone call to a prominent head coach in New Jersey when he started in Ann Arbor. Instead, he hired one. Chris Partridge, who served as Paramus Catholic’s head coach from 2010 through 2014, joined Michigan’s staff as director of player personnel in January 2015. A little more than a year later, Partridge received a promotion to linebackers coach and was named the 2016 National Recruiter of the Year by Scout.

With the help of Partridge, Michigan signed five of the top eight recruits from New Jersey in the 2016 class, according to state rankings by Rivals. Five-star defensive lineman Rashan Gary, who played for Partridge at Paramus Catholic, became the gem of the Wolverine class.

The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry extended to the recruiting trail in June when both schools hosted separate satellite camps on the same day in New Jersey. The talent in the state has been well-recognized. At least nine recruits were given four-star ratings or higher by Rivals in each of the last four signing classes.

And while the 2017 class appears to be a down year in New Jersey, there appears to be plenty of promise available in the 2018 class. Rivals ranks eight New Jersey products among the top 250 recruits in the class. That doesn’t include the Ademilola twins already committed to Notre Dame.

While both Ohio State and Michigan have found success in the state, it should remain a priority for Notre Dame to make sure it doesn’t get squeezed out of the competition. One advantage for the Irish? Many of the top programs in the state are Catholic schools.

“Notre Dame always has an advantage when it comes to a Catholic school. Less than they did 50 years ago, but still it’s an advantage,” Lemming said. “What you have to do is cultivate relationships. If you’re in North Jersey and cultivate relationships with certain coaches, you’re in business. Those guys can deliver an enormous amount of talent.”

NEW JERSEY TO NOTRE DAME

Six recruits from the Garden State have signed with Notre Dame under head coach Brian Kelly.

2015 class: QB Brandon Wimbush

2014 class: OL Quenton Nelson and DE Andrew Trumbetti

2013 class: CB Rashad Kinlaw

2012 class: S Elijah Shumate

2010 class: CB Bennett Jackson

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

Quarterback Brandon Wimbush (12) and offensive guard Quenton Nelson (56) are two of the six New Jersey products to sign with Notre Dame under head coach Brian Kelly. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)