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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Notre Dame Recipe For Success | Evaluate, Recruit, Develop

November 12, 2021

Irish Sports Daily Publisher Mike Frank has always been a huge proponent of looking at consecutive years together as the most accurate method to measure recruiting classes and their potential impact on a program.

The idea of coupling Notre Dame’s 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes from a defensive perspective is especially tantalizing given the Irish’s fast start on that side of the ball with the current high school junior class.

But what shouldn’t be overlooked is what the Irish already appear to have done on the offensive side of the ball when looking at their 2022 and 2021 classes together.

At the most basic level, upgrading a college football roster can be broken down into three phases:

Evaluating Talent
Recruiting That Talent
Developing That Talent

It’s extremely obvious Notre Dame’s recruiting department and offensive coaching staff has been crushing it in all three areas of late. It’s a team effort that begins with Dave Peloquin and Bill Rees in the evaluation part.  These two have to get it right in the first place before they propose their evaluations to the coaches to decide on who to recruit.  Then it goes to Aaryn Kearney and Dre Brown and their entire recruiting staff to put the full court press on for each prospect, and then it’s bolstered by the coaches selling ND’s message.

Multiple members of the 2021 offensive class have already provided crucial depth for Notre Dame this season. At times, it’s been in emergency situations, but the youngsters have been up to the task at virtually every opportunity, and often shining way above expectation when called upon.

Blake Fisher was an elite-level prospect a few hours from Notre Dame’s campus, so there was no way the coaching staff was going to be miss him, but the Irish still had to beat virtually every major program in the country to land him.

After earning the starting left tackle job in camp, Fisher has been sidelined with an injury since the opener, eventually paving the path to the field for Joe Alt, a much less-heralded recruit.

Alt has been a steadying presence as a true freshman at left tackle

A three-star prospect by most services, Alt spent the bulk of prep career playing tight end at 6-7, 260 pounds. Instead of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU and Texas A&M, the Irish were competing against programs like Iowa State, Kansas State and Minnesota. But the Irish’s evaluation convinced them Alt was a player they had to have.

"His demeanor, his makeup, smarts, pedigree,” Brian Kelly said recently of Alt, whose father John was a Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“When you take a kid that size who is not fully developed, you're banking on his want and desire to be great, and we just saw that he had all those intangibles that in our mind, this kid had a high, high ceiling because he had that drive. Intrinsically, he was going to do all the things necessary to be a great offensive lineman.”

The staff certainly nailed that evaluation, and he’s already been developed in the early part of his career to the point where he can be counted on to play one of the most important positions for a Top 10 team.

You can see similar successes in all three phases when it comes to players like Tyler Buchner, Deion Colzie, Lorenzo Styles and Logan Diggs.

The Irish were on each prospect relatively early, fought off other top programs to land commitments – in some cases, recommitments – and in a matter of months have gotten each up to speed to the point where they are making meaningful contributions in situations that matter.

Mitchell Evans is one prospect the Irish didn’t offer until a bit later in the process, but tight ends coach John McNulty had been communicating with him long before offering, establishing a relationship. Evans was a do-everything kid who mostly played quarterback for his high school squad, but McNulty and the Notre Dame evaluators recognized him as somebody with the tools to compete in one of the program’s most competitive position rooms and he’s doing so already.

And we’ve seen virtually nothing from Fisher or fellow offensive linemen Rocco Spindler and Caleb Johnson, a pair of major recruiting victories for Notre Dame who the staff remains extremely high on, but early returns on all of them are very positive.

Irish fans should be excited about Steve Angeli

It’ll be about year before we can try to measure how well the staff does in terms of developing the 2022 recruiting class, but when it comes to evaluating and recruiting talent, they’ve once again done an amazing job.

Tommy Rees and the Irish offensive staff were extremely patient when it came to recruiting the quarterback position for the 2022 class and didn’t send any scholarship offers out until the eve of that group’s junior season.

Steve Angeli‍ was one of just two signal-callers to land an offer from the Irish last August. At the time, he was a prospect who hadn’t even been the full-time starter on his own team. Of course, Bergen Catholic head coach Vito Campanile raved about Angeli’s potential and Rees and the offensive assistants saw it as well.

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Angeli announced his commitment to the Irish almost 10 months later and while he did have offers from schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, LSU and Oregon among several others, the reaction at the time from the fan base seemed a bit understated.

After leading Bergen Catholic to the top spot in the state rankings last season, Angeli has taken his game and his team to the next level this season. Since the summer, word has been trickling out of New Jersey that Angeli is better than advertised, even from many who were high on him in the first place, and the film backs it up.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t do a ton of talking, but 2022 Texas running back JD Price‍ has always seemed to be overlooked a bit…well, until this season kicked off and he started putting up irregular stat lines on a regular basis, going over 180 all-purpose yards in seven of his team’s 10 games with 15 total touchdowns.

Lance Taylor does a great job showing recruits the results of current and former players and Price could be one he’s telling today’s middle-schoolers about in a few years.

And what about Iowa tight end Eli Raridon‍? Irish fans were certainly excited about landing the legacy prospect whose athleticism offered obvious promise of a high ceiling, but did they expect to see that manifest itself so quickly? Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, but McNulty and the Irish coaching staff certainly did.

“He’s a stud!” one source familiar with the staff’s thinking told Irish Sports Daily as Raridon began a dominating and eye-popping senior season at Valley High School this fall. “No one really knows what he looks like in person, haven’t seen him because of COVID. He’s a total freak.”

In March, the Irish landed a commitment – seemingly out of nowhere – from Louisiana wide receiver Amorion Walker‍. There were plenty of questions at the time, some had to do with whether Notre Dame was reaching for a player who had lost virtually all of his junior season to injury.

By the time Walker started crushing the summer camp circuit and receiving major offers in droves, those questions changed from whether the Irish should take him to whether they’d be able to keep him.

That’s still up in the air in a sense, but Notre Dame’s staff deserves a ton of credit for keeping him in the commitment column this long and there’s genuine reason to believe he’ll remain there. On the other hand, there’s little question he probably would have never been there in the first place if the Irish hadn’t trusted their initial evaluation and/or been concerned about what other schools were or weren’t doing.

Many were all over Notre Dame receiver coach Del Alexander earlier this year when multiple wideouts hit the transfer portal, but they didn’t seem to have the same energy when it came to Alexander’s accomplishments in the 2022 cycle.

In addition to landing Walker, Alexander sealed the deal on a pair of top West Coast receiver targets in CJ Williams‍ and Tobias Merriweather‍. In fact, Merriweather’s father specifically said as much to ISD immediately after his son’s commitment.

“I think they give him a hard ass time and they just need to chill out,” Dom Merriweather told us. “I just think sometimes people need to chill out and let the coaches do what they do. I think Del and Coach Rees did a great job.

“They always approached us in the right way for our family and what makes us tick. They really tried to understand who we were as people and then recruited to that. I think ultimately, that's why they ended up getting Tobias' commitment.”

Merriweather’s father credits Alexander and Rees with successfully reruiting Tobias

Few – if any – coaches have been critiqued as much this year as offensive line coach Jeff Quinn. But in addition to reeling in a stellar 2021 class with Fisher, Alt, Spindler and Johnson, he’s back with four more already in 2022. Some may end up being successful examples of Evaluation/Development while Ohio’s Aamil Wagner‍ is already a glaring highlight of good ole-fashioned recruiting.

Fans weren’t the only ones under the impression that Wagner was all but ticketed to Kentucky, where his older brother had been hired as a graduate assistant. Quinn and his crew could have given a token effort down the stretch and claimed to focus their energy on more likely targets.

But they recruited Wagner extremely hard until the end and for a kid who already knew plenty about the academic and religious aspects of Notre Dame, there is zero doubt the genuine relationships he built with Quinn and the Irish staff proved crucial in pulling off a last-minute upset for a truly elite prospect.

Recruiting rankings provide plenty of value and are important on National Signing Day, mostly because it’s pretty much the only way to measure things at the time. But all of those grades should be considered incomplete until those recruits become actual players in a program on the field.  What we’ve seen, especially on the offensive side of the ball thus far, is Notre Dame’s evaluations have been outstanding, and many freshmen have already made a significant impact far exceeding anyone’s expectations.  Rankings are important, but actual play on the field is more important.  

Signing top talent has been a huge aspect of Notre Dame’s recent run of success, but so has properly evaluating players to fit their culture and system and then developing those players to do so.

It may not provide immediate satisfaction the way National Signing Day does, but it’s been damn fun to watch.

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