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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Freeman's top-down recruiting approach offers tantalizing hope for Notre Dame

December 15, 2021

He said it at his introductory press conference, and he said it again Wednesday inside Notre Dame Stadium – his first formal appearance in the Fighting Irish’s venerable home as head football coach.

Marcus Freeman is going to lead by example from his spot atop college football’s most hallowed program, and Freeman especially is going to run recruiting directly through him.

It’s a stark change for Notre Dame, and though Freeman did not remotely indicate disappointment in Notre Dame’s 21-man 2022 signing class inked Wednesday, Freeman also left no doubt he expects – demands – the Irish elevate recruiting to a new pinnacle.

Starting at the top.

“Well, I think, one, your staff will follow the leader,” Freeman said. “If I'm the hardest working -- and I hope we're all hardworking -- but if I'm the most aggressive and try to form a relationship with these recruits, I hope I set an example for the rest of our staff that this is how we're going to do things.

“We're going to outwork everybody in the country. We're going to do things that no one else has done. We want to be unique in how we develop relationships. So I hope to set the standard. I hope to set the standard of the example. I'm not a guy that wants to just say, ‘You do this, You do that,’ instead of, ‘Hey, I'm going to be the example.’”

Despite an unexpected transition that essentially unfolded over the weekend after Thanksgiving and across the opening week of December, the Fighting Irish largely held together a class that is long on foundational pieces for the offensive line and upgrades the depth and athleticism at the linebacker position, among addressing other needs.

No, Notre Dame did not sign enough wide receivers, and yes, depth at that position is a real concern moving forward.

But Freeman’s fastidious approach already is resonating with his assistant coaching staff, as well as members of Notre Dame’s football support staff.

“You don’t want to be the black sheep,” said offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, talking about Freeman’s hard-charging recruiting approach and how that sets the standard for everyone else.

Rees doubled-down, saying he believed Freeman would lead Irish recruiting efforts to, if not unprecedented heights, then certainly levels not seen at Notre Dame in perhaps decades.

"What Free said about to be a great program, you have to start at the top in recruiting,” Rees said. “When we were going through everything over the last couple weeks, that is something that I firmly believe in. I saw it for the last 11 months. He's someone that's going to raise the level of recruiting at Notre Dame.

"When it starts there and Mike (Elston) alluded to it, it has a natural effect to trickle through the entire staff. As competitors, you don't want to be the black sheep. You don't want to be the one that's not carrying your weight. As an entire staff, we're going to challenges and pushed to recruit at the highest level. That's why I say we're not going to stop attacking and we're going to go get the best players in the country. That's not going to stop. I think his ability to allow voices from the room and allow ideas - ultimately, it's his decision and he's going to choose which direction we go in, but ultimately he's going to say this is a new way of doing it. We're going to look outside the box a little bit and we're going to be able to affect guys in different ways.”

Rees said simply being able to tell any recruit, at any time, that Freeman has made himself available would reflect a dramatic change and provide dramatic impact on the program’s recruiting efforts.

Already, Notre Dame has seven commitments in its 2023 class – a five-star prospect and six consensus four-stars – in a group that already has populated early top-5 rankings for next year’s haul.

"Look, there's no one in the program bigger than Marcus right now,” Rees said. “When you have the ability to say, 'Hey, I have the head coach at any time. Just reach out and he's going to get back.' That makes an impact.

“Those kids want to talk to the head coach. That builds a level of trust. That builds a level of importance and when they get here to campus, it's not a first introduction.”

After 14 states, and more than 8,000 miles, Freeman seemed undeterred. His approach will be the defining example.

“You know what, if these kids don't know who the head coach is and have a personal relationship with the head coach, you're at a disadvantage,’ Freeman said. “I've seen obviously people I've been around that have shown, hey, if they have a relationship with the head coach and they have a really good one, that you've got a chance to not only land the recruit but to get the most out of them.

“That's what I want to do. That's the example that we'll set for me, and that's what I'll try to do.”

In other words, it’s a new era in Notre Dame recruiting. 

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