Marcus Freeman extends ND's linebacker recruiting hot streak with Drayk Bowen's commitment

Tyler James
ND Insider
Drayk Bowen, left, announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Wednesday night. Bowen is a four-star linebacker recruit in the 2023 class from Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean.

HIGHLAND, Ind. — Before Marcus Freeman became Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator and before the Irish extended 2023 linebacker recruit Drayk Bowen a scholarship offer, Freeman and the Cincinnati Bearcats became the first school on Bowen’s offer list. 

The offer came in July 2020 as Bowen prepared for his sophomore year of high school at Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean and Freeman prepared for his fourth season as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator. 

Seven months later in February 2021, Freeman offered Bowen a scholarship in his new role as Notre Dame defensive coordinator. The relationship only continued to grow from there, with Bowen making visits to Notre Dame’s campus in June, July and October. Freeman even made a trip to Lowell, Ind., last month to watch the four-star recruit play a road game.

That relationship strengthened again Wednesday night when the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Bowen announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame over fellow finalists Clemson and Auburn. 

Q&A:Drayk Bowen shares why he picked Notre Dame

Commitment lists:Notre Dame's updated 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes

"Recruiting me for over a year and a half, it really showed he cared, and he wanted me to be with him," Bowen said of Freeman after announcing his decision live on CBS Sports HQ from R-Bar and Grill in Highland. "That meant a lot to me personally, because I knew that I was going to a place that I was cared about and where was going to grow.”

When the NCAA’s recruiting dead period, which was imposed as a COVID-19 precaution in March 2020, was lifted on June 1, Bowen spent the day visiting Notre Dame. It marked the start of a busy two-month stretch for him.

He juggled campus visits to Notre Dame, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, LSU, Michigan and Tennessee with a travel baseball schedule playing for the Indiana Bulls out of Indianapolis and a preseason practice schedule ahead of his junior football season at Andrean. Bowen made day trips from Indianapolis to Andrean to make sure he could play baseball games without missing football practice. He only spent 13 days at home.

That dedication is why Andrean head football coach Chris Skinner believes Bowen will be able to play both football and baseball in college, as he intends. Bowen met with Notre Dame baseball coach Link Jarrett while on campus in October for Notre Dame’s home football game against Cincinnati. 

“It’s not going to be easy,” Skinner said. “He realizes that. That’s been an important part of this recruiting process. What schools legitimately want to work with him and help him be successful in both? The big thing is time management and time commitment. I saw that play out this year.” 

Bowen ended his sophomore baseball season earlier this year hitting .400 with 16 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and 26 runs scored, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana. He played all over the diamond defensively. 

But Bowen’s ability to cover so much ground as a linebacker was what really ignited his recruiting process. He primarily played outside linebacker as a sophomore for Andrean before moving to inside linebacker for his junior season. 

“During this recruiting process when you talked to a lot of these colleges, they actually had him on their board as both inside and outside, which is pretty rare,” Skinner said.

“A lot of schools had him both inside or outside depending on how his frame eventually fills out and scheme-wise depending where they want him. That versatility is what makes him a really good high school athlete but has been attractive to a lot of these schools.” 

Skinner also gives Bowen the football as a running back. Through 11 games of his junior season, Bowen has rushed 97 times for 632 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, Bowen tallied 82 tackles, six tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Andrean (8-3) will play Whiting (5-6) on Friday for a Class 2A sectional championship. 

Bowen actually told Notre Dame's coaching staff of his verbal commitment when he was on campus for the USC game last month. He knew he had seen enough of the Irish and the other schools pursuing him.

Merrillville (Ind.) Andrean standout linebacker Drayk Bowen picks Notre Dame on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in an announcement at R-Bar and Grill in Highland, Ind.

"I was just talking with my family, some mentors," Bowen said. "We really just talked it out kind of what the pros and cons were of each school. I knew that Notre Dame was the place once I figured out I couldn’t find something wrong with it."

Following Bowen’s sophomore season, CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming deemed him a five-star recruit and compared him to Notre Dame All-American safety Kyle Hamilton. 

“He’s a smasher,” Lemming said. “He’s a hitter. He has great instincts.  

“He reminds me somewhat of a linebacker version of Kyle Hamilton. He can really get to the ball in a hurry. His instincts have him getting to the ball just like Hamilton’s instincts. They can fly to the ball better than most people.” 

Bowen hasn’t received five-star status from Rivals or 247Sports, but he’s not far off from reaching it in the future. Rivals ranks Bowen as the No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 22 overall in the 2023 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 4 linebacker and No. 48 overall. 

The addition of Bowen gave Notre Dame its sixth four-star commitment in the 2023 class. He joined defensive ends Keon Keeley and Brenan Vernon, safety Adon Shuler, tight end Cooper Flanagan and running back Sedrick Irvin Jr. with his pledge.

Both Rivals and 247Sports peg Notre Dame's six-man class as second-best in the country behind Oklahoma's seven commitments for 2023. The Irish 2022 class of 21 commits is ranked No. 3 by both recruiting sites.

Notre Dame’s accumulation of linebacker talent has been impressive since Freeman joined the Irish staff. He inherited a commitment from four-star recruit Nolan Ziegler in the 2022 class and added three more four-star linebackers in his class: Joshua Burnham, Jaylen Sneed and Niuafe Tuihalamaka. 

All four of Notre Dame’s 2022 linebacker commitments were named among the 16 semifinalists for the high school version of the Butkus Award, which recognizes the best linebacker in the country.  

Irish freshman linebacker Prince Kollie won the high school Butkus Award last season. Only two Notre Dame recruits won it prior to Kollie since its inception in 2008: Manti Te’o and Jaylon Smith. Both Te’o and Smith went on to win the college version of the Butkus Award while playing for the Irish. 

“Notre Dame’s entering its renaissance linebacker era,” Lemming said. “They got Bob Crable and he had good guys around him. Then they got Manti Te’o. Then they got Jaylon Smith. But never this kind of a group before where you have so many of them.”  

“Those are the three best linebackers I’ve seen at Notre Dame: Crable, Te’o and Smith. Now they’re bringing in a group where they could have three of those kind of guys on the same team. That’s possible now, really.” 

The Irish aren’t likely to settle for just Bowen at the linebacker position in the 2023 class either. Sonny Styles, the younger brother of Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles, remains a top target as well.

The 6-4, 217-pound Styles plays safety at Pickerington (Ohio) Central, but he fits the mold of a rover linebacker in Freeman’s defense. 

“Notre Dame’s Tight End U,” Lemming said, “but now they could become Linebacker U like Penn State used to be if they can get (Bowen) and Styles.” 

Notre Dame football verbal commitments

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.