How Notre Dame refined its recruiting class with a quartet of flips

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune
Armel Mukam flipped his commitment from Stanford to Notre Dame

There was a time when Armel Mukam was locked into his football commitment to Stanford.

Mukam, a four-star defensive lineman out of Woodbury, Va., wasn't entertaining new visits or offers. That was until Notre Dame came calling in August.

"When Notre Dame offered me, I got the opportunity to compete for a national championship every single year and have a prestigious degree," Mukam said. "I talked with my family, coaches and when I committed to Notre Dame, I decommitted from Stanford."

National Signing Day:Meet the Notre Dame Football 2023 recruiting class

In this age of college football recruiting, classes are built from longstanding relationships with high school players, filling roster holes via the transfer portal and flipping commitments from other programs.

The Irish, who entered Wednesday's early signing period with the No. 6 2023 recruiting class, per 247sports took advantage of the latter to round out its current group of 26, of which 24 were signed by noon.

Mukam was one of four players over the past four months that flipped their commitment to Notre Dame and head coach Marcus Freeman.

Pope John Paul II's Kenny Minchey (4) looks to hand off against Brentwood Academy during the first quarter at Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tenn., Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

The others were four-star quarterback Kenny Minchey, once committed to Pitt; Chris Terek, a three-star offensive linemen who switched from Wisconsin; and Kaleb Smith, a three-star wideout who was committed to Texas Tech.

Until pen hits the paper, no commitment seems safe, and Notre Dame took advantage to load up on talent for next season.

"I was just doing," Mukam said, "what was best for me, my future and my family."

The recruiting trail has become more and more ruthless the past few years especially with the emergence of Name- Image-Likeness (NIL) money clouding the process. A commitment doesn't mean much to college coaches, because some still have plans to steal players until the clock hits 0:00.

More:100% loyal: Notre Dame football recruits look past 0-2 start, pledging to stay together

The early signing period closes Friday. Recruits who have not signed by then will have to wait until the regular period to do so, which runs from Feb. 1, 2023 until April 1, 2023.

Mukam, who plans to sign his National Letter of Intent this Wednesday with Notre Dame, said he has heard from coaches at Penn State and Auburn, asking if he was still locked into his decision.

Those text conversation were short-lived, but that hasn't been the case for all of Notre Dame's recruits this cycle.

The Irish had a handful of significant losses this recruiting cycle. Justyn Rhett, a four-star cornerback, flipped to Georgia in April.

Elijah Paige, a four-star lineman, committed to Notre Dame in June and decommitted in September. He has been part of USC's 2023 class since Oct. 3.

More recently, Notre Dame lost the commitment of four-star running back Dylan Edwards, who flipped to Colorado and new head coach Dion Sanders on Dec. 10. Five-star defensive end Keon Keeley was considered the crowned jewel of Notre Dame's class before decommitting in August and committing to Alabama on Dec. 12.

More:ND Football: How Chansi Stuckey is building a historic '23 wideout class

"We didn't get mad at him or anything," Mukam said of Edwards. "Everyone wished him good luck. At the end of the day you do what's best for you. If you don't feel like Notre Dame is your home, just flip your commitment. Don't come to Notre Dame if you aren't going to be happy and not ready to chase a (national championship)."

This isn't the first year Notre Dame has flipped recruits into its class.

Last year the Irish took Junior Tuihalamaka from USC. He saw limited action as a true-freshman linebacker. Running back Gi'Bran Payne also flipped his commitment from Indiana to the Irish in April.

"It's their journey and their decision," Smith's high school coach Chad Cole said. "It's the fit they want for their career and the future they see. ... It's a cutthroat business on both ends."

It's a completely different game from when Bob Chmiel was Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator in the 1990s under former head coach Lou Holtz. Back then Chmiel said "maybe 5%" of recruits across the country flipped once they made their decisions.

Chmiel and Cole, who has coached high school ball for the past two decades, pointed to social media as a major culprit for why this has increasingly happened in recruiting.

"It drives all the interest and allows faster access to what's going on," Cole said. " It's hard to block that out and to look over the fence and see the grass could be greener. It's dangerous, but it's a dangerous game. There are no guarantees on either side. "

Abilene High receiver Frederick Johnson tries to break a tackle by Denton Guyer's Peyton Bowen during the first half of Saturday's Region I-6A Division II semifinal at Globe Life Park in Arlington Dec. 26, 2020. Final score was 38-21, Denton Guyer.

Notre Dame felt a dose of that Wednesday afternoon when its highest-rated commitment, five-star safety Peyton Bowen of Denton, Texas, defected to Oregon. Four-star running back commit Jayden Limar is also reportedly being courted by Oregon and has yet to sign with the Irish.

Welcome to signing day in 2022.

Drew Pyne heading to Arizona State

Former Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne announced this week that he is enrolling at Arizona State to play for new head coach Kenny Dillingham.

Pyne, who started 10 games this season, announced Dec. 2 via social media that he was entering the transfer portal. Despite going 8-2 as the starter after stepping in for the injured Tyler Buchner, Pyne read the tea leaves and opted for preemptive action.

Buchner, who has three seasons of future eligibility after being sidelined in Week 2, had accelerated his rehab process after September surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Originally projected to be out until mid-January, Buchner is slated to start for Notre Dame (8-4) in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl game against South Carolina Dec. 30 in Jacksonville, Fla. He will be backed up by freshman Steve Angeli.

Pyne also has three seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the 2020 COVID bonus year when he redshirted. Lightly regarded as a three-star recruit out of New Canaan, Conn., Pyne ranks 20th nationally in passer efficiency this season. He finished the year with 2,021 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 164 of 254 passes (64.6%), good for a 183.7 passer rating.

Arizona State plays in the Pac-12 and finished 3-9 this season, which included the September firing of Herm Edwards following a 30-21 loss to Eastern Michigan. Edwards was 26-20 in five seasons. Dillingham, and ASU alum, previously served as offensive coordinator at Oregon, Florida State, Auburn and Memphis.

Notre Dame is expected to sign four-star QB Kenny Minchey from Hendersonville, Tenn. to its 2023 recruiting class and add an additional one from the transfer portal. Five-star recruit CJ Carr from Saline, Mich. is committed to the 2024 class.

78th Annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl 

  • Who: No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) 
  • When: Friday, Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: TIAA Bank Field (67,164), Jacksonville, Fla. 
  • TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame opens as a 4.5 -point favorite  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 3-1 
  • Last meeting: South Carolina won 36-32 in South Bend in 1984.