How will Notre Dame's season impact recruiting efforts?

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The College Football Playoff committee ranks Notre Dame as the No. 3 team in the country for the 2017 season.

247Sports pegs Notre Dame’s 18 verbal commitments in the 2018 class as the No. 9 recruiting class in the country.

Yet the latter has little to do with the former.

Sure, the 18 recruits committed to the Irish believed that the football program would get back on track from a 4-8 season, and had faith that something like a 7-1 start to the 2017 season was possible. But only two of those commitments waited to see how the start of the season played out before giving the Irish their pledges.

Safety Paul Moala and wide receiver Geordon Porter, both three-star recruits, have committed to the Irish in the last two weeks. Based on the other schools pursuing Moala and Porter and the way both recruits fit in the program, it’s not hard to imagine them both committing to Notre Dame without the Irish pushing into the College Football Playoff conversation.

Still, the hot start to the season should pay dividends for Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts.

“Where it’s had the immediate impact is you’re not worried about losing anybody,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “Right then and there, you’re not fighting to keep your own. You can pursue your top-of-the-board targets this late in the process and still have a legitimate shot at landing them.”

Some of those top targets include five-star wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and four-star cornerback Kyler Gordon. Before the season, the Irish could have been considered long shots to pull either recruit from the West Coast. Both have since made official visits to Notre Dame.

“If you look at a guy like Amon-Ra St. Brown, I didn’t think Notre Dame had a great shot at him anymore,” Wiltfong said. “Now, I think they’re in the thick of it. Does that mean they will get him? No. But they’re at least in it now. Kyler Gordon — they’re in it. Will they get him? Time will tell. If they were 4-3, you wouldn’t feel good about it.”

The offseason overhaul of Notre Dame’s coaching staff allowed for the Irish to build some recruiting momentum in the offseason. Targets were buying into defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s promising new scheme and current players were raving about the work done by new director of football performance Matt Balis.

The progress promised has been delivered on the football field. The Irish have yet to allow an opposing team to score more than 20 points, and the players appear stronger, faster and in a better position to dominate throughout the game.

“Those two hires have completely changed the compass of the program,” Wiltfong said. “Now we’ll see how they finish. Every team they play in November has a winning record right now. Notre Dame’s going to be favored in all those ball games, but they still have to play them.”

Elko has become an established name with Notre Dame’s defensive recruits. Not only has the defense played well, but the recruits have contact with Elko through social media and on the phone.

But can Balis and the rest of Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning staff become a valuable part of the recruiting pitch? Wiltfong thinks so.

“It’s one of the most important things kids look at when they take their visits. I don’t think Notre Dame did a good job selling it before,” Wiltfong said. “It helps if your strength coaches are personable and can connect with kids when they’re on their visits. I don’t know if those guys on campus do or don’t, but I do know that they can coach and develop.”

In the final months of the 2018 recruiting cycle, Notre Dame has a chance to overhaul its initial outlook with a handful of recruits. Talented players who committed elsewhere or had written off the Irish could be reconsidering the resurgent program.

“There’s an opportunity for one or two guys for that to happen with,” Wiltfong said. “Who it will be, it’s hard to say right now. But they could come back around on a guy that could play anywhere and land a guy.”

It may also be too late to dramatically impact the finish of Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Swinging a recruit is hard to do in a short period of time. But the Irish were able to do so at the finish of the 2017 cycle by adding six commitments in the final month.

There shouldn’t be a similar scramble to end the current recruiting cycle — at least not with a flurry of new offers. Those deciding on Notre Dame near signing day will likely be recruits the Irish have been recruiting for a long time.

That should allow for Notre Dame to continue to build relationships with recruits in future classes and get a head start while recruiting from a position of strength.

“It really helps you set the tone for 2019 and beyond, because right now kids that are starting the recruiting process, their initial impression of Notre Dame is a team that’s competing for championships,” Wiltfong said. “Notre Dame has gotten a lot of young kids on campus. Kids that are just now beginning the process, they’re seeing a Notre Dame football team that’s a national title contender.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame wide receiver target Amon-Ra St. Brown, a 2018 recruit, mugs for the camera while walking around campus before the University of Southern California at Notre Dame football game. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)