Notebook: Notre Dame RB coach Autry Denson gains appreciation for Georgia talent
Autry Denson will always ride for Florida.
He was born there. He became a high school football star there.
After a record-setting career as a running back at Notre Dame, he returned there to start an NFL career.
Then Denson became a high school football coach in Florida. He quickly landed his first college football job there too.
So when it comes to Florida, the Irish running backs coach understands he's biased.
"When you're born and raised in Florida," Denson said, "it's the belief that football was created here, anywhere else they do not play football on our level."
Now that he's been asked to help Notre Dame's recruiting efforts in Georgia, he's gained a greater understanding for how loaded Florida's neighbor to the north truly is.
"It's been humbling to see how good the talent is in Georgia and having to actually admit to it," Denson said. "It's been fun. Recruiting is recruiting. It's relationships. As long as people know you care and you're sincere. I give them the truth, and I allow them to choose. That's universal."
Twenty-eight of the recruits in the Rivals 250 for the 2019 class come from Georgia. Only Florida (38), Texas (30) and California (29) have more recruits on the list.
The Irish were active recruiting in Georgia during the evaluation period earlier this year. Twenty-two recruits from the state have already reported Notre Dame offers in the 2019 class.
In addition to Denson, recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said safeties coach Terry Joseph will be helping recruit in Georgia. Other regional recruiting tweaks include Polian working in Texas and wide receiver coach Del Alexander working in Southern California.
Despite Notre Dame's national recruiting scope, Polian said he wants to make sure they aren't forgetting about the Midwest. The 27 recruits the Irish signed in the 2018 class came from 15 different states and Washington, D.C.
"There are Notre Dame guys from ocean to ocean, but we really need to start within that 400, 500-mile radius before we start," Polian said. "We're not going to build our roster from 2,700 miles away. It's just not going to happen. We have to reemphasize the five-, six-hour drive guys. Then spread our wings from there."
Tommy Rees coached at Notre Dame for almost a full year before he was allowed to hit the road to recruit. That's because Rees, hired as Notre Dame's quarterbacks coach last January, wasn't officially a full-time assistant coach until January of this year.
Head coach Brian Kelly hired Rees before the new NCAA rule allowed college football programs to have 10 on-field assistant coaches. When the rule became effective on Jan. 9, Rees could start making his way onto the recruiting trail.
"It's been fun. I really enjoyed it," Rees said. "You get to meet a lot of great high school coaches around the country. You get to go to a lot of areas. You get to represent a great university. You'd be amazed – probably not amazed – but if you walk through a door wearing a Notre Dame logo, it attracts a different kind of attention."
Rees hit his first recruiting speed bump when quarterback Cade McNamara dropped his commitment to Notre Dame's 2019 class in March. Rees helped evaluate and recruit McNamara last summer when the Irish offered and eventually received his verbal commitment.
Now Rees and the Irish coaching staff have to identify which quarterbacks they want to pursue to replace McNamara. So what does Rees look for in a quarterback recruit?
"The first thing you want is, 'Hey, does this kid understand what Notre Dame is really about?'" Rees said. "The second thing is you want a kid that's smart, tough, loves to compete, is going to be able to come in and really mesh well with this university and mesh well with this program."
Brian Polian just can't seem to stay away from Hawaii.
In his first stint as an assistant coach with the Irish, he famously helped bring linebacker Manti Te'o to Notre Dame. Less than a year into to his return to South Bend, Polian gave Notre Dame an advantage in signing defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa in the 2018 recruiting class and securing the transfer of safety Alohi Gilman from Navy. Both Tagovailoa-Amosa and Gilman hail from the Aloha State.
Now Polian is trying to fish a couple more recruits out of the Pacific Ocean. The Irish have offered a pair of 2019 offensive lineman from the islands: four-star recruits Julius Buelow and Enokk Vimahi.
Polian's predilection for Hawaiian talent isn't simply because he likes the weather.
"Hawaii football has always been a little bit under recruited," Polian said. "It's really, really good. It's not just good players where you say it's bad football overall but there's some good players. Hawaii football is fantastic. It really is. They're well-coached. It matters to people a great deal."
Hawaiians aren't necessarily well-kept secrets any longer. After freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Myron's cousin, helped Alabama win the national championship in January, the attention on the state only magnified.
The Irish will have to rely on the relationships developed through the successful pursuits of previous players to continue to ride that recruiting wave in Hawaii.
"You're seeing schools that wouldn't traditionally go there," Polian said. "For us, it's relationship driven. I have found in my experience, we have found in our experience, that the Hawaiian players will follow other Hawaiian players if they feel like there has been a good experience."