After the final additions sent in their national intention letter to the Guglielmino Athletic Complex, Notre Dame announced Wednesday the recruitment of 21 players in 2017. There are several ways to see the end of what is an easy-to-change recruitment period for Irish people:
Retrieval of the glass half full:
Two and a half months after ending the embarrassing season 4-8, the 2017 Notre Dame recruitment class was ranked 11th by 247 Sports, 13th by Rivals, 13th by Scout and 16th by ESPN. In fact, Notre Dame actually ranked higher this year in the composite Sports 247 ranking (11th) than in 2016 (15th), when Ireland came out of the 10-win season and Fiesta Bowl venue.
Almost collecting the top 10 after 4-8 and losing four assistant coaches at Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock, Scott Booker and Keith Gilmore is an impressive achievement (Greg Hudson is only a temporary defense coordinator, and Brian VanGorder is far from a reliable recruiter). Much praise must be extended by recruiting defense coordinator / trainer Mike Elston to lead the program’s efforts to safeguard what began as a fairly strong class of disintegration.
In addition, coach Brian Kelly points to the work of 15 verbally committed players who are stuck with their promises even when Notre Dame experiences a series of confusing defeats and significant training turnovers.
“We can’t be where we are today unless we have 15 student athletes who are committed to Notre Dame from beginning to end,” Kelly said. “Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure things that would happen there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminded them of the very difficult season we have. Then there they remain united because that is what they want to come to Notre Dame. “
Five of the players listed Brock Wright, offensive winger Robert Gainsay and Aaron Banks, who ran a tight start from tight, running back CJ Holmes and safety Isaiah Robertson, all of whom 247 sports were rated as four-star recruitment – and people like Cole Kmet’s tight ends, quarterback Avery Davis and offensive linemen Joshua Lugg have never wavered either.
That players who were stuck together helped Notre Dame maintain a good base after the NCAA mandated dead period was lifted after last month’s College Football Playoff title, and new coaches Brian Polian, Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Chip Long and DelVaughn Alexander were able to bring six additional late for class: Jordan’s safety Genmark Heath, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive midfielder Myron Tagovailoa, defensive midfielder Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive midfielder Kofi Wardlow.
Armstrong, Tagovailoa and Wardlow all fill the position of the red line of need, while adding more players to increase the pool of talent available to Elko is not a bad thing.
But the optimistic point of view here is that the pile is stacked against Notre Dame in recruitment, and they really show a good hand thanks to the full efforts of everyone in the athletics department.
“Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletics director, meets with our recruits,” Kelly said. “That’s not unusual. I don’t think it happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet new members.
“In many instances he has to be there to support our football program and talk to people who are recruited about where the program is and where it is going. There is a question when a family comes to campus. He reminds them of the investment we made in staff and what we do for now and for the future. So Jack’s involvement in this is very important to reach where we are now. “
Now, for a half-empty glass:
Notre Dame has six disabled players, five of which are in positions of need (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver). Only the final four-star defender Robert Beal jumped before the fall of Notre Dame was underway, and four of the six players who experienced decommitting were four-star recruits.
Notre Dame eventually replaced them with six late commitments, but five of the players who decided the end were a three star recruitment and one (Doerner) was a two star player. That is a good recipe for slipping from having a top-10 class to an outside class.
A common lament among fans is that Notre Dame has struggled to recruit five stars lately, and while it’s true that Ireland hasn’t done that since 2013 – Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield, who are ranked by 247 Sports – it’s not as big as the problem as seen. Just look at the difference in college success between Smith and Redfield as a prime example of how five star ratings do not guarantee success in college. Signing more four / five star recruitment than recruiting two / three star is far more important (a little more about that).
But the bigger problem with the 2017 class Notre Dame might have more to do with its 2016 class. Notre Dame lost ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks after the 2014 season and resumed all recruitment operations in response, which caused a bit of excitement in the 2016 class which, based on the season before, it should have been much better than that before.
The group last year could finally build on its legacy as a less heralded recruitment plant that led to success – the strong debut of 247 Three-star sports at cornerback Julian Love and wide-ranging recipient Kevin Stepherson was a good start – but there is a long way to go.
If 2016 should be a more transitional recruitment class, 2017 is a big missed opportunity. Going 4-8 with all the right recruiting intrigues on the spot is a striking weakness for the future of the program – even season nine wins can allow Notre Dame to hold on to some of the four missing star players and produce a top 10 ranking.
However, what is more important than the top 10 class is attracting more four and five star candidates than the two and three star ones. Notre Dame did not do that in 2017 (10 four-star recruits out of 21) or 2016 (10 four-star recruits out of 23) after achieving the benchmarks for each of the last three recruitment cycles. That’s an alarming trend given the correlation between signing the majority of four and five star candidates and winning the championship.
The last two recruitment cycles are, in that context, significant disappointments. While strong classes in 2014 and 2015 can sustain the playoff round soon after this fall, the future of the program may not be on a strong footing even if Irish engineers have a large turnaround in 2017. Classes next year are likely to be crucial to long-term success the length of the program under Kelly, assuming he is still there to escort the next recruitment group in February 2018.
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