Florida has been ripe for Notre Dame football recruiting

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s trips to Florida for football games haven’t been very successful during the Brian Kelly era.

The head coach has lost all four games he’s played in the state with the Irish. But that hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from finding recruiting wins in Florida.

Twenty-five recruits from Florida high schools have signed with Notre Dame since Kelly took over the program following the 2009 season. No state has provided his recruiting classes with more players — Ohio is second with 20.

Clearly, the Irish understand Florida’s reputation as a recruiting hotbed.

“Everyone recruits well down there in terms of numbers,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “It's a matter of impact players. They've done OK by that standard.

Wide receiver commit "Kevin Austin, who's coming in next year for them, could be an impact player for them. There are a lot of good ball players down there. If you're Notre Dame, you should be able to get some players.”

Notre Dame found its most success in Florida in the 2016 class, with seven recruits from the state signing to become Irish. Notre Dame had just finished a successful 10-3 season in 2015. The year prior, the Irish just barely came up short in 31-27 loss at No. 2 Florida State, the defending national champions.

"A lot of time it doesn't matter who wins or loses,” Lemming said. “As long as you're competitive and get a lot of publicity in the game. That really helps. The kids all want to know what's going on lately, who's looking good and who's getting the attention."

The spotlight will find the Irish on Saturday. When No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1) plays at No. 7 Miami (8-0), recruits nationally will be paying attention. The Hurricanes will have a long visitors list, and the Irish will have a chance to spoil the recruiting weekend in South Florida and spin it in their favor.

Notre Dame has already received three verbal commitments in the 2018 class from recruits in Florida: Naples Gulf Coast tight end George Takacs, North Fort Myers cornerback Joe Wilkins Jr. and Austin. Only Austin, a product of Coconut Creek (Fla.) North Broward Prep, has been labeled as a four-star recruit by both Rivals and 247Sports.

The Irish are still pursuing a couple of high-profile recruits in Florida in the 2018 class: Tampa Berkeley Prep offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere, a five-star recruit according to 247Sports, and Bradenton IMG Academy defensive back Houston Griffith, a four-star recruit.

Running backs coach Autry Denson, a Florida native, leads the Irish recruiting efforts in the state. He’s helped Notre Dame sign 11 recruits in Florida in the last two recruiting cycles. The stakes were high for Denson as he replaced former recruiting coordinator Tony Alford as Notre Dame’s ace in the Sunshine State.

However, it remains to be seen if Notre Dame’s Florida hauls have been more quantity than quality.

“A lot of times Notre Dame doesn't go after the A-list guys (in Florida), but there are enough second-level guys that are outstanding,” Lemming said. “It's tough to beat Florida, Florida State and Miami on top kids. Besides those three, Notre Dame can normally get in there with some of the other top programs and do a good job. (Denson)'s done well, particularly with skill position players.”

Notre Dame hasn’t left Denson to recruit Florida on his own. Particularly in his first year, which resulted in the seven recruits from Florida signing with the 2016 class, the Irish coaching staff made a concerted effort to keep momentum in Florida.

Some of the recruits who have signed since Denson arrived at Notre Dame have already made impacts for the Irish. Running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh, safety Devin Studstill and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson — all three-star recruits in the 2016 class, according to Rivals — have been contributors this season. Freshman offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, a four-star recruit out of IMG Academy, has rotated with Tommy Kraemer all season long at right tackle.

Two former Notre Dame recruits from Florida have already transferred out of Notre Dame: four-star offensive lineman Parker Boudreaux (Central Florida) and three-star safety Spencer Perry (South Alabama).

If Notre Dame’s going to take a chance on what some consider three-star recruits, Florida’s not a bad place to do it.

"Better than any other place in the country,” Lemming said. “Those guys are still blue chippers. Because there are so many good players down there, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Georgia and Alabama can only take so many."

Wilkins, who committed to Notre Dame on Monday, falls in that category. He didn’t have offers from any of the major programs previously mentioned, but the Irish identified the 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete as an answer for their cornerback needs.

Expect Notre Dame to keep pushing for more recruits in Florida. A win on Saturday night would only improve the opportunity for the Irish in the 2018 class and beyond.

“Whenever Notre Dame has a high profile of doing well on the field,” Lemming said, “that also enhances recruiting the farther away you are from home.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Tony Jones Jr. (34) celebrates a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN