Notre Dame buys billboards promoting football program, players for national recruiting blitz

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

In the final month of the NCAA’s COVID-induced dead period for recruiting, Notre Dame football turned to billboards to promote its players and remind recruits that its program pulls prospects from all over the country.

The messages on the digital billboards are simple. They feature a rotation of Irish players identifying where they’re from and a reminder of where they went.

The billboards just outside of St. Louis includes junior running back Kyren Williams and freshman defensive tackle Gabe Rubio. The message is the same for both of them: “I’m from St. Louis and I chose Notre Dame.”

The billboard encourages people to visit, the official website for Notre Dame athletics, and includes the Twitter handles of the players pictured.

“We wanted to make a splash in the big cities that we recruit,” Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Mike Elston told The Tribune. “We’ve been there before. We’ve recruited them. We’ve had success. We have current players on our roster that are from those areas, and we wanted to showcase that.”

In a normal recruiting cycle, Notre Dame’s coaches would be out on the road in May serving as walking billboards themselves. Those trips offer opportunities to evaluate prospects but also serve to remind prospects already with ND scholarship offers that the Irish are still interested in them.

As the Irish try to accomplish those things from campus, the billboards are doing the traveling for them. By Saturday, social media posts revealed billboard locations near St. Louis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Jersey City, N.J., Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla.

Notre Dame has been recruiting a number of prospects in those areas, including 2023 tight end Mac Markway (St. Louis), 2022 linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka (Los Angeles), 2022 tight end Holden Staes (Atlanta), 2022 linebacker Sebastian Cheeks (Evanston, Ill.), 2022 running back Gi’Bran Payne (Cincinnati), 2023 tight end Duce Robinson (Phoenix), 2022 defensive tackle Donovan Hinish (Pittsburgh), 2022 cornerback Jayden Bellamy (Oradell, N.J.) and 2023 wide receiver Carnell Tate (Bradenton, Fla.).

Notre Dame has offers out to multiple recruits in most of those areas.

The new billboards will be paired with increased communication from Notre Dame’s coaching staff in the areas that have been assigned to each coach.

“Strategically we’re looking at May as if we were on the road,” head coach Brian Kelly said last week. “So making our presence felt from our office. What does that mean? It means that in your geographical recruiting areas, you’re Zooming coaches. You are making your presence known within your geographical area.”

Notre Dame's coaches identified on Twitter the areas they were focusing their attention for Thursday: Elston in the DMV (D.C., Maryland and Virginia area), associate head coach Brian Polian in Indiana, tight ends coach John McNulty in New Jersey, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman in Cincinnati, cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens in Louisiana, offensive line coach Jeff Quinn in Michigan, running backs coach Lance Taylor in Charlotte, wide receivers coach Del Alexander in Arizona, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees in Kansas City and safeties coach Chris O'Leary in Tennessee.

The billboards also send a message to Notre Dame players and recruits about the program’s willingness to support their pursuit of earnings when the name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation eventually passes. Notre Dame football players should be able to take advantage of the audiences they’ve gathered on their social media accounts. Promoting a player’s Twitter handle can help him grow that audience.

“It shows the families of players that we’re recruiting and the players that we’ve signed that we mean what we say,” Elston said. “We’re going to showcase them. We’re going to put them up on Broadway, and they’re going to have a chance to strengthen their brands.

“When the NIL stuff does pass — whenever that’s going to be — their brand is going to be stronger, because they’ve co-branded with Notre Dame’s global brand. They can have a bigger platform than what they came here with.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period on March 13, 2020, and will finally end it after more than 15 months. During a dead period, college coaches can’t have face-to-face contact with recruits on or off campus. The recruiting calendar will shift to a quiet period on June 1 for FBS schools, which will allow recruits to have contact with coaches during visits to college campuses.

Linebacker Jack Kiser is featured on a Notre Dame football billboard outside of Indianapolis in Noblesville, Ind.
Offensive lineman Blake Fisher is featured on a Notre Dame football billboard outside of Indianapolis in Noblesville, Ind.
Notre Dame has paid for billboards across the country promoting its football program and players. This billboard, located near St. Louis, features Irish freshman defensive tackle Gabe Rubio.