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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Irish able to bolster recruiting with current play, upcoming commitment

Recruiting is a year-round endeavor for college football coaches. And, although the recruiting dead period has been extended through Jan. 1 by the NCAA, thus prohibiting any official or unofficial visits or evaluation days, there are other ways for Notre Dame to impress incoming recruits.

One such avenue, according to Irish Breakdown publisher Bryan Driskell, is to make sure the Irish get their highly touted freshman immediate action.

“The reality is, when you look at the Notre Dame offense the last 10 years under Brian Kelly, we just haven’t seen a lot of freshmen make impacts,” Driskell said.

The Irish did get a couple of freshmen on the field in tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree. Tyree had six carries for 20 yards with a long of 25 in the season opener against Duke, and he also returned four kicks for 90 yards with a long of 38. Mayer had three receptions for 38 yards and a key third down conversion for Notre Dame.

Freshman receiver contributions have been so low for the Irish the last decade that Mayer already surpassed former Irish players Chris Brown and Equanimeous St. Brown for receptions by a freshman. At the pace of three receptions per game, he would surpass Kevin Stepherson (25 catches) for the most in a single season by a Notre Dame freshman.

“You know, there have been some, but for the most part they haven’t seen [freshmen contribute], and I think that’s something that other schools are going to use against Notre Dame,” Driskell said. “‘Hey, you come here and play for Ohio State or play for Clemson, and you’re a freshman, you’re going to get a play, you’re going to get the football, you’re going to learn from a great player in front of you and also get a chance to play.’ So, I think being able to get young guys on the field is important for Notre Dame.”

Mayer was third on the team in receptions behind junior tight end Tommy Tremble, who had five for as many yards, and junior receiver Joe Wilkins, Jr. Wilkins and senior Avery Davis were the only wide receivers to catch passes and combined for six of 19 Notre Dame completions. Because of the wideouts’ lackluster effort, Driskell sees this as an opportunity for Notre Dame to cement the position as a strength with their recruiting effort.

“I think this is a big year for Notre Dame recruiting receivers,” he said. “They already have [four-star] Lorenzo Styles in the class. You’ve got [four-stars] Deion Colzie, Jayden Thomas and Dont’e Thornton. To me, you've got to land at least two of those guys. … You had a really good freshman class at receiver with [freshmen Xavier] Watts and [Jordan] Johnson and Jay Brunelle; you need to balance that with another outstanding class. That’s what the top programs do, and your offense is not going to be elite if you don’t have top-level receivers at all positions.”

Colzie had originally pledged to the Irish but de-committed in March when the coronavirus pandemic put all football activities on halt. However, Notre Dame still seems to be a choice in the Georgia prospect’s recruitment.

“The thing for Notre Dame, they did a great job when he de-committed; they didn’t give up, they didn’t back off, they stayed on him. And that was important,” Driskell said. “They kind of weathered the storm, the SEC storm of schools like Georgia and Florida coming after him. And, look, anything can happen in the next two weeks, but from all of my sources, it looks like Notre Dame has put themselves back in position to have a great chance to land him when he makes his decision on [Sept.] 28, and that would just be a huge boost to this class.”

Another area that Saturday’s Duke game highlighted as an area in need of a recruiting uptick is safety according to Driskell, especially after sophomore Kyle Hamilton went down with a sprained ankle.

“I think when you look at Kyle Hamilton and you see how good he is and then you see the drop off at the position after he gets injured, and you’ve had to move [graduate student] Shawn Crawford to safety, you’ve had to move [sophomore] KJ Wallace to safety to really shore that position group up, to me, there’s really only two high-level safeties on the roster,” he said. “One of them is Kyle Hamilton, obviously, and the other one is [junior] Houston Griffith, who I still think has a chance to be a really good player. But depth is an issue at the position. High-level talent is an issue at that position.”

The Irish attempted to fill the void left by the departures of captains and two-year starters Jalen Elliot and Alohi Gilman by picking up Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor. However, Pryor only seemed to be delegated to a special teams role against Duke and has been listed as the third-string strong safety on Notre Dame’s depth chart.

“Let's be honest about this. For the most part, players that are going to be grad transfers aren’t top-level players,” Driskell said. “They're good players — like [cornerback] Nick McCloud, good solid player. But if a guy was an elite guy that was going to help you go win a championship because of him, or a guy that was going to be somewhere even close to the level of a Kyle Hamilton, he's not doing a grad transfer — he’s going to the NFL. … When you look at the safety position specifically, it’s a very complex position. And it’s not a position that you necessarily want someone to have to come in and learn and only have one year to do it.”

Driskell said that Notre Dame would be better served putting their efforts into the recruiting arena than frequenting the graduate transfer market on a yearly basis.

“I just hope that Notre Dame doesn’t take, sort of, that easy way out of the grad transfer and does a better job recruiting and developing high school players that you can get four to five years out of,” he said. “That to me is the true way to make this an elite defense, because outside of quarterback, we haven’t seen a lot of grad transfers coming in and having big impacts on teams winning national championships.”