What the Shamrock Series accomplishes for Notre Dame's brand, recruiting
A phone call from Alabama head coach Nick Saban did not register with Torii Hunter Jr. like he thought it would. Neither did an offer from Notre Dame.
The former Irish receiver — who signed in the 2013 class — had grown up watching the University of Texas and was interested in the University of Arkansas. As a Prosper, Texas native, he had hardly seen ND play.
Hunter’s unfamiliarity was so complete he did not know Notre Dame is located in Indiana.
“I had to Google where Notre Dame is,” Hunter said. “I had to ask my parents, and they were like, ‘I think it is in Illinois or something; I don’t know where it is, but I think it is somewhere up north.’
“I ended up looking it up and having to figure out that it is in South Bend, Indiana — not like Notre Dame, Indiana, or something.”
The Irish will journey to New York this weekend for the ninth rendition of the Shamrock Series. The annual neutral site game, which began in 2009, might not explicitly result in signed letters of intent. It can spread the ND brand while educating and sparking the interest in recruits like Hunter, though.
Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, polled dozens of top recruits a few decades ago. He asked where ND was located during a time when recruits could not cheat via the Internet.
“More than half of the kids did not know Notre Dame was in Indiana,” Lemming said. “They just knew about the mystique of the university, which I think adds to the mystique. They don’t know where it is — it’s like Oz.
“No one knows where Oz is. But it has a mystique to it, the yellow brick road and everything. Notre Dame, instead of the yellow brick road, has the golden dome.”
A quick Google search mitigates that lapse of embarrassment for recruits nowadays. But many recruiting hot beds — California, Florida, Georgia and Texas — are all far from South Bend. Some recruits may never witness the Irish in person.
ND can only offer so many official visits. Three Shamrock series games in Texas — San Antonio (2009), Arlington (2013) and San Antonio (2016) — helped lure blue chip prospects like former Texas five-stars Daylon Mack and Kyler Murray.
“Sometimes to get a kid to make an official visit, you have to get them unofficially,” Lemming said. “But if they are living in Dallas, San Antonio, New York or New Jersey, maybe they can’t afford to come unofficially. Maybe they are getting hammered by Alabama, USC, Georgia, Penn State and Michigan.
“Maybe having a game there — where they can actually come and see Notre Dame by such a short drive — is a major plus for Notre Dame.”
Saturday’s game against No. 12 Syracuse marks ND’s fourth Shamrock Series contest in the northeast. The Irish previously visited Bronx, N.Y. (2010); Landover, Md. (2011) and Boston, Mass. (2015).
High-end recruits are scarce in New York, but the Catholic leagues in New Jersey generate a myriad of four-star players. The Irish have three committed in the next classes — 2019 Metuchen (N.J.) Saint Joseph offensive tackle John Olmstead, 2019 Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph Regional defensive end Howard Cross III and 2020 Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic tight end Kevin Bauman.
Quarterback Brandon Wimbush, rover Shayne Simon and defensive linemen Jayson Ademilola and Justin Ademilola hail from New Jersey, with defensive end Jamir Jones from New York. Bauman will witness firsthand his second Irish game of the season this Saturday.
Head coach Brian Kelly learned of ND’s presence in New York — particularly with Subway Alumni — across visits to the area over the years. During an event in Staten Island a few years ago, he recalled asking crowd members to raise their hands if they graduated from ND.
“There was 250, maybe 300 (fans) in the room, and I think maybe there was a half dozen Notre Dame graduates in the room,” Kelly said. “It just goes to show the support for the university and the values of Notre Dame, especially in places in Staten Island, New York City, Jersey City and all the areas that have been staunch supporters.
“But also, (there is) pretty good football in that area. So it helps us in recruiting, too.”
ND scheduled two Midwest Shamrock Series games — the 2012 bout with Miami in Chicago and Indianapolis’ 2014 matchup with Purdue. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick dropped the proposed Orlando venue in 2012 and replaced it with Soldier Field.
Former ND linebacker James Onwualu attended the 2012 contest as a recruit. Michael Floyd, ND’s former star receiver, showed Onwualu around the city.
“I think the biggest thing about it is, when you sign up and you commit to being an ND football player, you know that you are going to be playing around the country,” Onwualu said. “You are going to be playing before the fan base in many different cities.”
Playing in the Midwest sometimes negates the recruiting positives, though. Onwualu already had committed before the game. Recruits within the vicinity of ND can simply attend a home game.
The only announced future Shamrock Series games are in the Midwest against Wisconsin — in 2020 (Green Bay, Wis.) and 2021 (Chicago).
“I don’t think they should ever do the Shamrock Series in the Midwest,” said Steve Wiltfong, a recruiting director at 247Sports. “There’s no upside. Who cares? You have your home games in the Midwest already. I honestly thought those were sort of copouts.
“I guess if you could play in a cool venue — but what is a cool Midwest venue besides Wrigley Field? And Northwestern is already playing in there.”
The series not only retracted a home game this season, but it also tacked on 1,264 round-trip air miles amid a tough five-game stretch. There’s no denying, however, what it can do for the brand, recruiting and fans afar.
“Nobody talked about Notre Dame in the South really,” Hunter said. “Nowadays, I see so many Notre Dame fans coming out the woodwork. I’m like, ‘Where were y’all when I was getting recruited so I could have asked these questions earlier?’”