Notebook: Stanford and Notre Dame take separate recruiting paths

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

PALO ALTO, Calif. — The recent recruiting results for Notre Dame and Stanford have been somewhat similar.

In the last four recruiting cycles, each school has signed 12 recruits in the top 100 of the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Irish recruiting classes have finished as high as No. 10 in the country, and the Cardinal’s best have come in at No. 13 nationally.

The teams, who met at Stanford Stadium Saturday night resulting in a 38-20 Cardinal victory, are pursuing the same academically focused athletes. But the philosophies behind building those recruiting classes are quite different.

This past February, Notre Dame finished its 2017 class with 21 signed recruits. To get to that final product, the Irish extended 210 unofficial scholarship offers, as reported in the 247Sports database. The number sounds high, but it’s a regular practice in college football recruiting.

Coaching staffs typically target many more recruits than they can actually sign. It’s up to the coaches to juggle which of those non-binding scholarship offers are committable. In the modern recruiting landscape, a verbal offer is essentially a conversation starter used to gauge interest.

Stanford has gone in the other direction. The Cardinal signed a small class of only 14 recruits in February and used a reported 67 offers to get there.

“Now I know what other people do and you can look at it negatively or positively,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said on a signing day episode of The Audible, a podcast with Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, you know we’re going to offer a whole bunch of guys. Let’s say we need three corners. We’re going to offer 15.’

“Now for me, it feels like a game show. Who is the first to jump? The first guy jumps. ‘This guy jumped, OK, somebody’s got to be next.’ For me, that pressuring guys to commit is the exact opposite from the way I want to be. Which is, if we have two spots, I’m going to go after two guys.”

The Irish became casualties of Stanford’s systematic approach when cornerback Paulson Adebo flipped his commitment from Notre Dame to the Cardinal in January. He became the only cornerback to sign with Stanford in the 2017 class. He hasn’t played for the Cardinal this season.

“Over the last month or so, Paulson was the only corner on our list,” Shaw said on The Audible. “He was the only guy that we were recruiting. He was our guy.”

“We may have offered guys before and academically this happened or this didn’t happen. But we get narrowed down pretty well so we can actually communicate very directly, honestly and openly with as few individuals as possible. Because I think that’s a fair and honest way to do it.”

The philosophy makes sense, but it can be risky. By establishing itself as an annual competitor in the Pac-12 Conference, Stanford has built a recruiting reputation able to withstand the uncertainty. The coaching staff establishes relationships with recruits early in high school to better identify if Stanford will be a fit in the long run.

“You can’t mimic them,” said Scout/247Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins. “You can’t do it. The whole strategy of only offering one guy, Stanford’s able to sell that.

“But say you’re Penn State and you love one corner and this is your top guy. What if you lose that guy? Now all of a sudden you’re scrambling.”

The difference in recruiting tactics hasn’t hurt Notre Dame in the aggregate. The Irish have had higher ranked classes than Stanford each of the last five years.

When it comes to academically focused athletes, Stanford and Notre Dame will almost certainly be in the picture, especially if parents have a say in the matter.

“The built-in advantage is if you ask any mom or dad who their favorite school for their kid is, it’s almost always going to be Stanford,” Biggins said. “Notre Dame is up there too.”

Family matters

Saturday marked a reunion for the St. Brown family.

Kind of.

Notre Dame junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown — who has 26 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games this season — started against Stanford, a week after entering the concussion protocol in the first half of his team’s 24-17 victory over Navy last weekend.

Equanimeous’ brother, Stanford wide receiver Osiris St. Brown, did not participate and is set to redshirt his freshman season after choosing the Cardinal over Notre Dame and many others last February.

But those two weren’t the only St. Brown brothers represented at Stanford Stadium on Saturday.

Amon-Ra St. Brown — a consensus five-star wide receiver, ranked as the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2018 class by Rivals and the No. 2 wideout by 247Sports — also attended the game between two of his primary suitors.

A 6-foot, 191-pound senior at Mater Dei High School in Anaheim, Calif., Amon-Ra will choose between the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Michigan, Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma and many more.

But first, he soaked up the atmosphere in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday.

Maybe the next time Stanford and Notre Dame meet, all three St. Brown brothers will be playing.

Showing Love

A cranky ankle didn’t prevent Stanford running back Bryce Love from making his 11th start of the season. On the second play from scrimmage, Stanford’s Heisman Trophy candidate took a carry for 12 yards.

But the Cardinal didn’t lean too heavily on Love early. He totaled only 15 yards on his six carries in the first quarter before finishing with 125 yards on 20 carries.

That wasn’t enough to keep him from losing the national leads in rushing yards per game to San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny.

Destined for redshirts

Eleven Notre Dame freshmen had not seen game action before Saturday night’s game: offensive linemen Aaron Banks, Josh Lugg and Dillon Gibbons, defensive ends Kofi Wardlow and Jonathon MacCollister, linebackers Drew White and David Adams, defensive tackle Darnell Ewell, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, safety Jafar Armstrong and quarterback Avery Davis.

Of those 11, only Banks and Lugg made the travel roster to Stanford. If any of those freshmen did not play in the final regular-season game and don’t play in the bowl game, they will individually qualify for a redshirt season and maintain four years of eligibility.

Staff Writer Mike Vorel contributed to this report.

Stanford head coach David Shaw walks out of the tunnel before the Notre Dame-Stanford football game, Saturday at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)