Latest Notre Dame commitment not indicative of renewed Florida interest

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s 470-day drought came to an end on Wednesday.

Greg Crippen became the first Florida product to commit to the Irish since cornerback Houston Griffith verbally pledged on Dec. 12, 2017. Like the 2021 offensive lineman Crippen, Griffith came from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

The Irish once made a concerted effort in recruiting Florida, signing 29 players across Brian Kelly’s first nine classes. Ohio came in second with 21 Irish signees through the 2018 cycle.

Because they withdrew from their heavy presence, the Irish netted zero 2019 signees from the Sunshine State.

“They have always recruited nationally, but I think they have broadened down south a little bit more just to find kids that fit that culture,” IMG head coach Kevin Wright said. “We are a great place, because they can come here and find kids from all over the country on a football team.”

The Irish instead turned to Georgia. That resulted in them signing three 2019 Georgia recruits — linebacker JD Bertrand, cornerback K.J. Wallace and safety Kyle Hamilton. Kelly spoke to ND Insider’s Eric Hansen about this tactic via WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat radio program.

“It was an intentional geographical shift,” Kelly said after the Dec. 19 early signing period. “We felt the profile fit better in the state of Georgia. The kids that we were going to recruit from schools had the football that we were looking for that was similar to the athlete that was in Florida. So it was an intentional decision on my part.”

Crippen’s commitment neither suggests another shift or a renewed interest. ND’s recruitment of the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder began before he came to IMG from Milton (Mass.) Academy last year.

Now only select schools, areas and recruits in Florida pique ND’s interest. Larger meccas like Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami are rich in talent. Private, Catholic schools like Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade-Madonna Prep and Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas produce players that fit the Irish mold. IMG’s varying crop of high-caliber talent leads to a few ND targets per cycle.

For the most part, the Irish won't waste their time elsewhere in Florida.

“I think they should definitely make sure that every base is covered,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “Florida is just the number one state in the country for talent. There’s always going to be players with (good) grades.

"And another thing about Florida kids, they are willing to travel. A number of them leave the state.”

Of the 138 2020 recruits the Irish have offered, 12 are Florida products. Just two of the 40 2021 recruits to add ND offers hail from Florida. Most of these recruits come from those aforementioned schools and areas.

From Jan. 24, 2018 to Jan. 5, 2019, the Irish offered only two Florida players.

“I think they would be making a mistake if they don’t stay in Florida,” Lemming said. “There’s so much talent down there … If you are Notre Dame, you have to have a presence in Florida.

“Their presence in the past few years wasn’t very good.”

Former Irish running backs coach Autry Denson handled plenty of ND’s recruiting efforts in Florida. He recruited offensive linemen Robert Hainsey, Parker Boudreaux and Dillan Gibbons, linebackers Jonathan Jones and Drew White, safeties Devin Studstill and Spencer Perry, running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh, receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Joe Wilkins Jr., tight end George Takacs and defensive end Jonathon MacCollister.

That mixed bag perhaps did not match the effort induced. Also, 41 percent of Kelly’s Florida recruits transferred. The Irish have now turned to being more selective, plucking specific types of players from certain areas. Crippen was one of them.

“They are able to recruit nationally because of the brand, but they are going to find places and try to identify kids,” Wright said. “They come from programs or areas, have grown up in systems that are going to prepare them best to go to Notre Dame and be successful.”

The right fit

Crippen transferred to IMG late, arriving on Aug. 25, which was a week after school began. That didn’t stop him from starting at left guard six days later in a 49-14 thumping of Norland.

“I go down there every year, and that team is absolutely loaded,” Lemming said. “They have All-Americans at every single position. So normally it’s the seniors or the great juniors that start. So starting as a sophomore, particularly on the offensive line, that’s quite an accomplishment. They have so many good offensive lineman down there.”

The sudden move stemmed from Crippen wanting to compete among the best. Crippen started all season and is now emerging as one of IMG’s leaders this spring. With a police officer as a father and a firefighting mother, Crippen embraced the challenge.

“We are a very blue-collar family,” Crippen said. “Just hard work can get you anywhere — that’s what I believe in. You can get anywhere with hard work. We aren’t the brightest people or the most wealthy, but we work our butts off to do great things.

“That’s what I’ve done. Going to IMG, when I first got there I didn’t know anyone. It was tough … I had to work really hard to fit in and know the plays. I had to earn their respect.”

A third visit to South Bend last Thursday resulted in Crippen earning an offer. He committed to the Irish six days later.

Another intriguing Floridian

Michael Redding III, another IMG product, made his first trip to South Bend on Thursday. The 2020 receiver said he’s far from a commitment and plans to announce his decision after the upcoming season.

Notre Dame ranks atop his radar, though. Redding is already looking to schedule a return via an official visit. Boundary receiver Chase Claypool stood out to Redding in the morning practice he observed.

“He had a really good practice,” Redding said. “He didn’t drop a single ball, ran every route like he was supposed to, created a lot of separation. I enjoyed watching him and Kevin Austin, too. He was making a few plays.”

The 6-2, 190-pound Redding projects to play Claypool’s outside receiver position. 247Sports considers Redding as a three-star recruit, ranking him as its No. 65 receiver and No. 366 overall player. Rivals tags Redding as a four-star recruit, slating him as its No. 7 receiver and No. 41 overall player.

Crippen will look to recruit Redding, as well as fellow 2021 offensive linemen Blake Fisher of Avon (Ind.) High and Landon Tengwall of Olney (Md.) Good Counsel.

“He’s a very intelligent kid,” Wright said. “He’s a kid that takes honors AP classes, he works in the community doing community service, he’s in chapel on Wednesday nights and he’s the last guy to leave the football field.

“From an athletic standpoint, you are talking about a kid that’s 6-2, thick receiver who can run. He will block and do all the things without the ball in his hands as well.”

The Irish hosted three other 2020 recruits this week. Offensive lineman Roger Rosengarten visited on Monday, defensive end Mitchell Melton stopped by on Wednesday and cornerback Clark Phillips III came on Thursday. ND expects a handful of visitors this weekend.

Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy’s Greg Crippen (74), a 2021 offensive lineman, committed to Notre Dame on March 27.