Notre Dame football: Irish look to maintain recruiting momentum

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

All signs point to Notre Dame’s monster recruiting weekend for the USC game to being a success.

Most, if not all, prospects left with the Irish moving up their lists of favorite schools. CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who observed the weekend in person, raved about the job the Irish coaching and recruiting staff did on Saturday.

"The weekend couldn't have gone better,” Lemming said. “The electricity was in the air. The weather was good until it drizzled a little bit in the third quarter. Also, in the tunnel having David Robinson and Bon Jovi and the group Chicago all there, that leads to a lot of excitement not only with the kids, but their parents. It couldn't have worked out more perfectly.”

Fans wanting verbal commitments from recruits immediately following their visits may have been disappointed, but the Irish have seemingly set themselves up in a strong position in the marathon heading for the 2014 Signing Day.

“It was not just good, it was great,” Lemming said. “Talking to the players afterwards, I got the sense that they were all leaning toward Notre Dame. I think it's going to be something special … I wouldn't be surprised if at least half of them go to Notre Dame.”

While the goal may have been to try to receive a few verbal commitments in the days following the weekend, the absence of new pledges shouldn’t be a concern, said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

“A lot of official visits are setting the tone and really just trying to make sure the kids feel comfortable,” Farrell said. “It depends on how much pressure was put on to commit now. Like (tight end Tyler) Luatua, I think he wanted to commit but he's scheduled to visit Alabama where his brother is. I think he's really sort of tied in to taking that visit. If they did pressure him, it probably would have turned him off a little bit.”

Tennessee, Florida State and Clemson have all hosted big recruiting weekends this season, Farrell said, but didn’t receive a bunch of verbal commitments immediately following those either. The top prospects in a recruiting class tend to avoid making decisions in the middle of their senior season.

The onus falls on a staff’s assistant coaches to know when to push and when to be patient with the player they’re recruiting. Farrell compared the process to a boxing match – you can come out swinging in hopes of an early knockout and potentially leave yourself vulnerable in the later rounds, or you can pick your spots and make sure you’re in the fight for the entire match.

“You can certainly push a kid too far and turn him off,” Farrell said. “You can push a kid into committing and then he has second thoughts of it and he ends up backing out later. Every kid's different and you really have to temper your approach to each individual kid.”

“For instance, some of the California kids that were out there on the visit, I don't think pressuring them to commit on a visit in October would have really worked. They've had some trouble with California kids in the past flaking on them at the last minute. They just want to go slow with those guys and make sure that those guys know that we want you and will stay committed to you when you're ready.”

So the Notre Dame coaching staff is tasked with maintaining the momentum from a positive official visit into the winter. Lemming said the goal would be to get the recruits from farther away to commit by Christmas, because they may be swayed to take visits closer to home in January and February.

“The assistant coach becomes the most important thing,” Lemming said. “Mike Denbrock, you never have to worry about him. He's an outstanding recruiter and obviously so is Tony Alford. You have to worry about the other coaches staying on top of their guys."

With the 11 recruiting targets who used official visits to Notre Dame last weekend, the Irish need to hang on until December and make a final push down the stretch. The coaches will remind them of the strong impression made in October.

“In-home visits after December 1 are extremely important,” Farrell said. “You know it's a marathon and not a sprint. You stay on them. You tell them every day that you love them, and then you go out there and close in person after the travel restrictions are off. That's the strategy, I would imagine, for these kids with Notre Dame. Until the kids commit or until they're eliminated, they're going to be out there seeing those kids after December 1 every week.”

Farrell’s favorites

Of the current 16-player recruiting class for Notre Dame, Farrell highlighted recruits in three key categories.

Best prospect: "It has to be (offensive lineman) Quenton Nelson as far as the highest ceiling. He's a kid that if everything pans out, he could be a first-round NFL Draft pick. He has that type of ‘it’ factor. He's big, he can move, he's physical, he plays angry. He would be the guy that has the long-term potential.”

Immediate impact: “Justin Brent. He's playing out-of-position right now at running back, but they need slot receivers at Notre Dame. He is, I think, a great slot receiver and a guy that's going to enroll early and I could see filling in that role very early in his career.”

Sleeper: “Jonathan Bonner intrigues me. I don't think he's really a polished football player at all right now. He's a huge kid that can run. In that 3-4 defense, he could end up being a 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, 280-pound end who plays that scheme and holds the edge very well and can get up field for a pass rush. Right now he's extremely raw and kind of figuring out what he wants to do. The competition level isn't that great. He's either going to be a guy that's never going to play or he's going to be a guy that surprises us.”

TJames1@SBTinfo.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

http://www.southbendtribune.com/sports/college/notredame/football/article_5679d500-3ce8-11e3-b025-0019bb30f31a.html

Cornerback Nick Watkins (left, blue) and safety Payton Hendrix (right, green), 2014 prospects from Bishop Dunne in Dallas, take in Notre Dame's game against USC in Notre Dame Stadium as part of their official visits. Behind them is 2015 prospect Elijah Taylor, a defensive lineman from Cincinnati Moeller. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)