How Notre Dame defeating Clemson is impacting Irish recruiting in the 2021 class and beyond
One phone conversation with Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn last week had Irish commit Pat Coogan convinced.
“I knew it. I knew they were going to win,” said Coogan about Notre Dame’s 47-40 second-overtime victory over then-No. 1 Clemson on Saturday.
Coogan, a three-star offensive lineman from Marist High in Chicago, is a lifelong Irish fan and verbally committing to Notre Dame’s 2021 class in April. He has since immersed himself with recruiting. Coogan often communicates with various recruits across the country, looking to convince them to consider the Irish.
After interacting with a few key Notre Dame recruiting targets this week, Coogan foresees the Irish will capitalize from beating the Tigers with more wins in the foreseeable future. Not just on the field, but also on the recruiting trail.
“Top ten class, that’s where I think it’s headed,” Coogan said. “Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun. I really think we are going to carry the momentum into December, January and I think we are just going to keep rolling.”
Finishing that way would be fitting for what has been a roller coaster of a recruiting cycle for Notre Dame.
The Irish boasted the nation’s No. 1 class heading into last winter. During the week of the Camping World Bowl in December, head coach Brian Kelly proclaimed Notre Dame can and should recruit at a top-five level.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, spoiling those aspirations.
From mid-October 2019 until July, the Irish landed a commitment from just one 2021 recruit on offense: Coogan. Notre Dame plunged to the 20s in the national recruiting rankings. The Irish also saw three recruits decommit from their class: three-star offensive guard Greg Crippen (March), four-star wide receiver Deion Colzie (March) and four-star cornerback Philip Riley (September).
Notre Dame’s inability to host recruits for on-campus visits largely contributed to those struggles. Since March, the NCAA has mandated a recruiting dead period because of the ongoing pandemic. Coaches and recruits are prohibited from face-to-face contact on and off college campuses. The dead period is expected to be extended again to April 15, according to a report from CBS Sports this week.
Concocting a virtual strategy took Notre Dame some time. Then the Irish started to surge late in the summer. They received pledges from four-star offensive lineman Rocco Spindler, four-star linebacker Prince Kollie and four-star receiver Jayden Thomas. Colzie committed to Notre Dame again in September. Riley is expected to flip his commitment from USC to the Irish soon.
Upsetting Clemson should continue to fuel Notre Dame’s recruiting momentum. Approximately one month remains before the three-day early signing period in December.
The No. 2 Irish (7-0, 6-0 ACC) will look to remain unbeaten when playing Boston College (5-3, 4-3) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. EST on ABC) at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
“This year more than ever, when kids are struggling to get to campuses and they can’t meet with coaches on visits, what you do on the field is of huge importance,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “It’s a way to make a big impression. Notre Dame being undefeated, beating Clemson, being a top four team in the country, those are things that speak to the final few prospects that Notre Dame is recruiting in 2021.
"And it certainly gives them momentum right now in 2022.”
Rivals and 247Sports rank Notre Dame’s 2021 class No. 11 and No. 15 nationally, respectively. The Irish now look capable of cracking the top 10.
Unforeseen roster attrition appeared to free a few more spots than expected for Notre Dame this cycle. Larger recruiting classes tend to translate to a higher spot in the recruiting rankings. The Irish are looking to add at least one more cornerback, safety, defensive end, linebacker and running back this cycle.
They are still targeting several four-star recruits in 2021, including defensive end Kelvin Gilliam, safety Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, cornerback Ceyair Wright, offensive lineman Caleb Johnson, and running backs Donovan Edwards and Byron Cardwell.
Wiltfong said that by beating the Tigers, the Irish proved they already are recruiting at a top-five level. And he echoed Coogan’s sentiment about how they could finish this class.
“They are not done,” Wiltfong said. “How they finish, I’m not completely sure. But I think they are going to land a few more. And then obviously in 2022 again, Notre Dame has got a chance to finish with a top 10 class this year and they have a shot to really get some roots down to make sure they do that again next year.”
Will Schweitzer keeps an eye on Notre Dame defensive ends Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes.
The Irish recruited Schweitzer to play Hayes’ position at vyper defensive end. The Los Gatos (Calif.) High product flipped his commitment from Nebraska to the Irish in August. So Hayes and Ogundeji trading sacks in the second overtime against Clemson made Schweitzer imagine what could happen during his Notre Dame career.
“That was my favorite part of the game,” Schweitzer said. “When (Ogundeji) got that sack, I was going crazy. And then Daelin (Hayes) got one right after that. I was hyped. I could tell (defensive line) coach (Mike) Elston was hyped on the sideline. I could just tell. It’s just good to see those guys making plays and showing out for the position group. That helped seal the game, so that was huge.”
Other recruits on defense also took notice, which is significant when considering a majority of Notre Dame’s remaining targets in the 2021 class are on defense.
“They are special. (Buck linebacker) Shayne Simon, that guy is a baller,” said three-star Irish linebacker target Kahanu Kia. “And shoot, they held (Clemson running back) Travis Etienne to what, 28 yards? That’s the front seven right there. The DBs were awesome too, but the linebackers had things going.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play rover, but (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah) is something else, man. You just know that dude is going to make a play every single game. He’s good.
"And those inside linebackers, they are not always going to make the flashy plays. But it just shows when you look at the running stats, that they had that on lock.”
Kia trekked to Notre Dame over the weekend, taking advantage of a loophole in the dead-period rules. Kahanu did a do-it-yourself visit with his father, former University of Utah defensive end Nate Kia. As long as recruits are not joined by coaches, they can walk around college campuses.
Within the last week, Kia also conducted do-it-yourself visits at Utah, UCLA and Stanford. He had never been to South Bend until last weekend. Kia comes from Punahou School in Honolulu. Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau and former Irish stars Robby Toma and Manti Te’o attended Punahou.
“We were able to walk into the business school. It was open,” Kia said. “Obviously, we couldn’t go into the facilities or anything, but just walking around it you could see, ‘OK, this is where you would be. This is where you would be practicing.’ That was cool. A lot of the buildings were open. It was pretty free walking around campus. So just seeing all the places that you are going to be was pretty cool.”
The Irish coaching staff does not discourage do-it-yourself visits. They provide recruits recommendations on what to see before they arrive on campus. After these trips, they contact recruits virtually to see how it went.
With the dead period likely being extended again, more recruits could take do-it-yourself visits to Notre Dame in the coming months. Ceyair Wright plans to do so next month. Other 2021 targets also are thinking about visiting South Bend at some point.
If more 2021 recruits visit Notre Dame, the Irish should have a better chance to capitalize on beating Clemson by winning on the recruiting trail. The Irish already look to be Kia’s favorite.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Kia plans to announce a decision in the coming weeks. As a Utah legacy, he will heavily consider the Utes.
“I don’t know how I could’ve made this decision without being in South Bend, being in Utah, being in Palo Alto,” Kia said. “... Seeing them win that game, and now they are No. 2 in the nation, they proved themselves. They beat Clemson. It definitely opened your eyes like, ‘OK, this is a legit power school that is going to be at the top of college football.’ It really just opened my eyes."
Langston Patterson did not need to take a do-it-yourself visit when he went to Notre Dame on Saturday.
While Kia watched from his hotel, Patterson had the ability to attend the game against Clemson. The four-star inside linebacker in the 2022 recruiting class qualified for a different loophole of sorts. His older brother, Kane Patterson, is a sophomore linebacker for the Tigers.
The Irish prohibit ordinary recruits from attending home games this season. Only Notre Dame students, faculty, staff members and family members of players are permitted. Visiting teams receive a small allotment of tickets as well. The stadium capacity is capped at 20 percent (15,525).
It was Patterson’s first time to South Bend. The Nashville (Tenn.) Christ Presbyterian Academy product attended a few Clemson games this season but none on the road until Saturday. He said Clemson is not currently recruiting him.
“The culture and the atmosphere at Notre Dame is insane,” Patterson said. “For about 20 percent of what they allowed in, it felt like 100 percent of some places. The fans were electric. Even with 20 percent, it was really cool to see. I’d really like to see what it’s like at 100 percent. It was rocking at 20 percent. It was crazy.”
How Notre Dame’s win over Clemson will impact its 2021 recruiting class should show in the coming weeks. But how the Irish victory will affect their 2022 class may not be apparent for several months. High school juniors, like Patterson, are not eligible to sign until December 2021.
“Some of these 2022s may be a long way from making a decision,” Wiltfong said. “But they now have an extremely positive impression on Notre Dame that goes beyond the graduation rate and that success off the field. And Notre Dame has had a lot of success on the field. But this is just a win that they haven’t had in a long time against an opponent like Clemson, who is one of the premier programs in college football."
With Patterson, Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea holds a recruiting advantage. Lea has strong recruiting ties in Tennessee, his home state. He also played high school football with Patterson’s head coach, Ingle Martin, at Montgomery Bell Academy a couple decades ago. They are still friends.
“Anyone who coach Martin talks super highly of, I certainly trust coach Martin,” Patterson said. “He’s a great coach and really a trustworthy man. As I’ve gotten to talk to coach Lea, I really like him. He is very honest, very straight to the point and I really like him a lot.”
Offensive lineman Joey Tanona, tight end Jack Nickel and linebacker Nolan Ziegler comprise Notre Dame’s commits in 2022. 247Sports and Rivals peg the class No. 7 and tied for No. 10 nationally, respectively.
Lea and defensive analyst Nick Lezynski communicated with Patterson virtually before and after his visit. The rest of the Irish coaching staff did the same with several key 2022 targets.
“The game is just something that is a spark on the trail,” Wiltfong said. “I would imagine that they took advantage of it right away with getting Brian Kelly, their coordinators and coaches on the phone with some of their priority targets and sharing that excitement that they have right now with those kids.
“I think that’s the No. 1 thing you try to do after a big win, is try to make these prospects feel as much a part of it or feel as much of the energy as they can while they are going through their process.
“Brian Kelly talking to them 10 days from now is still great. But Brian Kelly talking to a top target on the heels of a Clemson win and he’s got that extra edge in his voice, the kids just watched the game and they are excited about it, now they are sharing it and talking about it.
“Not too many college football programs get those opportunities each recruiting cycle to win a game like that and then take it on the trail and let prospects be part of it.”