Notebook: Gauging the recruiting ramifications from Notre Dame's opener in Florida

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
A Florida State Seminoles fan does the chop as Florida State hosts Syracuse at Doak Campbell Stadium.

SOUTH BEND — A direct and tangible recruiting bump that Notre Dame supposedly gets from playing road games in recruiting hotbeds like Florida on Sunday night isn’t exactly an undistorted reality.

But it’s not inconsequential either from a recruiting standpoint, per Irish head football coach Brian Kelly.

No. 9 Notre Dame opens its season at Florida State in the 11th-ever meeting between the two schools, with the Irish looking to improve upon their all-time 25-5-2 mark in true road games to open the season.

Where the Irish benefit from a game like this checks a few boxes:

• It’s not Florida specifically but the totality of the variety of Notre Dame’s road venues that appeal to recruits, according to Kelly.

“Playing at different geographical sites, NFL sites, throughout the country, that all in its entirety entices student-athletes to look at our schedule,” Kelly said Thursday in a zoom with the media. “So that’s where we get a bit of a bump.”

• Being the only FBS game on Sunday — let alone prime time (7:30 p.m. EDT start time) and national TV (ABC) — also appeals to recruits.

• Playing Sunday night this week instead of Saturday also gives the Notre Dame coaching staff a chance to see and be seen by key recruiting targets in high school games this Friday night. The Irish won’t depart for Tallahassee, Fla., until 5:45 p.m. on Saturday.

“Those are the kind of things we look for in scheduling,” Kelly said. “Now it’s going to be a bit of a challenge coming back. We won’t have the off day. We have to put in for a waiver (from the NCAA) to get (permission for no day off).

“But our guys are going to get back at 4 a.m., on Monday, and we’re going to have to turn it right around and get ready for one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference, in Toledo Sept. 11).”

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The Irish conclude their 2021 regular season Nov. 27 in northern California against Stanford.

On Thursday, Notre Dame picked up its fourth verbal commitment of the 2023 class and first offensive player among them in four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior plays for northern California perennial power Concord De La Salle.

The Irish rank No. 1 in the national team recruiting rankings in the 2022 class, per, and No. 2 in the 2023 cycle.

A road trip with the future in mind 

Just three of Notre Dame’s 27 freshmen dot the Irish two-deeps for Florida State, with left tackle Blake Fisher as the lone starter among them.

But Brian Kelly is loading up the travel roster with first-year players anyway, because he sees Sunday night’s game a valuable experience for them, even if most of them are going to be bystanders.

“We normally take between 65 and 70 (players total), but we’re taking 80,” Kelly said of the expanded Irish travel roster. “And you can imagine the reason for that is the environment that they’re going to be going into. We want them to get that experience and get that feel of being on the road, the routine of being on the road — all that goes into it. 

“Most of these guys don’t stick around for four years. They're getting their degree. They’re going on to the NFL or other opportunities. So let’s get these guys an opportunity to see what it feels like in their true freshman year, because they’re probably going to be playing for us next year.”

The Irish open the 2022 season at Ohio State. 

Irish All-America safety Kyle Hamilton (14) and three teammates are making their mark in a crowded and competitive Notre Dame football podcast market.

Hamilton and Co. break their long silence

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton likes to do his talking on the field — and in his garage.

But after releasing the first two episodes in less than a week of the Inside The Garage podcast with roommates/teammates Cam Hart, KJ Wallace and Conor Ratigan a little over a month ago, Hamilton and the others essentially went radio silent.

Four four weeks.

Finally, episode No. 3 dropped Monday, and Hamilton said the plan is to do one a week on the players’ day off for the balance of the season.

The podcast is receiving a five-star rating, likely in part to the seemingly unfiltered — or very lightly filtered — content.

“(Coach Brian Kelly) approves,” Hamilton said, noting that Kelly is a regular listener. “We were kind of hoping for his approval, not completely knowing what he was going to say.

“But we’re glad he likes it, and we’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from everybody around the Gug, and even fans who listen to it. So we’re pretty excited about what it could be in the future.”

QB Coan keeping up with the Joneses

Hamilton’s assessment of the training camp No. 1 Irish QB Jack Coan had last month led him to a rather interesting comparison.

Mac Jones.

The Alabama quarterback, who Hamilton and the Irish faced in a College Football Playoff semifinal Jan. 1, advanced from the 31-14 Crimson Tide victory and subsequent national title to become a first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots.

“Why I say that, is because with both (Coan and Jones), you don’t really realize they’re there until they make a big play,” Hamilton said, “and that’s what a quarterback’s supposed to do. They don’t really make too many mistakes. 

“(Coan) really is the oil to the machine of the offense. He’s done a great job adjusting and becoming a leader for our offense and the whole team, really. I really applaud him for that. He’s a great guy, and he’s been a great leader for us.” 

Robinson remembers bitter end of 2014 matchup differently

Notre Dame’s last trip to Tallahassee, in 2014, was a matchup of top five teams with a controversial ending.

Wide receiver Corey Robinson appeared to cap a career night with a two-yard TD reception on third down to put the Irish ahead in the closing seconds. But offensive pass interference was called away from the ball, and QB Everett Golson’s ensuing fourth-and-18 pass with six seconds left fluttered into the arms of Seminole linebacker Jacob Pugh.

Final: No. 2 and defending national champion Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27.

Robinson finished with eight catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns and plenty of frustration — but not at the officiating crew.

Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Robinson runs in what would have been a winning touchdown reception in the final seconds of the 31-27 loss to Florida State on October 18, 2014, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. The play was called back because of offensive pass interference.

“From my perspective we had, I think, three chances to win the game in the last drive, which to me is — whatever — a call’s a call,” Robinson said on ND Insider’s Pod of Gold podcast before last year’s ND-FSU game. “I don’t really mind that part. It’s part of the game.

“The thing I’m frustrated with, we had two chances (on the same drive) before — on a go route I dropped in the corner of the end zone. It went right through my hands. And yeah, it’s a tough catch, but that’s why you play Notre Dame football. You live with those moments. You’ve got to come down with that.

“And then C.J. (Prosise) had a seam up the middle. … And then on the very last play of the game, I had a one-on-one situation into the boundary, and I beat my guy on a flag route. I think it was a wrong quarterback read, but whatever.

“The main point is we had four back-to-back-to-back-to-back chances to win the game. And that’s what the most frustrating thing was. It’s like, ‘c’mon man.’ We couldn’t capitalize on one.’”

Delay of game for youngest Kelly

The college football career of Brian Kelly’s youngest of three children, son Kenzel, has turned into a perpetual waiting game.

Now a sophomore/redshirt freshman at Grand Valley State — the NCAA Division II power that launched his father’s head coaching career — Kenzel and his teammates had their 2020 season completely wiped out by logistics related to playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This season, the 6-foot, 216-pound linebacker is sidelined — likely for the season — by a wrist injury that will require surgery, according to a GVS athletic department spokesman.

On top of that, even just simply cheering for his teammates is kind of on hold.

The 16th-ranked Lakers were supposed to have opened the 2021 season at home on Thursday against Edinboro (Pa.). A COVID issue involving Edinboro, first, pushed the game to Saturday before it was canceled all together.

GVS reached out to 10 teams to replace the game — at home or on the road — with financial incentives, and had no takers. So for now, the Lakers will instead open, at home, Sept. 11 with Colorado State-Pueblo.

Brian Kelly was the head coach at GVS from 1991 through 2003, winning Division II national titles each of his last two seasons there.

Kenzel Kelly was an All-Northern Indiana Conference selection in his senior season at South Bend Saint Joseph High in 2019, amassing 68 tackles, with nine tackles for loss and five sacks.

Navigating COVID-19 in 2021

Because of Notre Dame’s high team and campus vaccination rates, the social distancing and wearing of masks aren’t a part of ND’s weekly home football routine, for players and coaches, as they were in 2020.

Going on the road, however, feels like more of a rerun. The Irish will leave as late as possible the day before the game, getting their final workout in at home, and come back soon after the Florida State game. 

Players won’t be allowed to eat in the plane, and most will have single rooms at the team hotel.

“Again, we have to keep COVID as part of this,” Kelly said. “I would caution everybody that there are going to be — during the season — unavailable players like we had last year, where we’re going to go out on the field and you’re going to go, ‘Where’s No. 26? Or 32 or 57?’ And we certainly can’t comment on them, but I think you guys will be able to deduce what that, in fact, is. 

“So it’s still here. COVID’s not gone away. So there’s going to be those situations.”

Just not in the same proportions as last season.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI