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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Chad Bowden | In Focus | Recruiting Championships

May 12, 2022

Earlier this spring, Chad Bowden had a top Notre Dame recruit and his family in the office during a crucial unofficial visit.

The Irish’s Director of Recruiting laid out the decision in front of the young man quite clearly.

That recruit’s mother saw Bowden’s message as a pivotal moment of the entire process.

“He said, 'Look, I want you to come here, but if this is not the place for you, that's OK,’” the mother recalls. “‘Go find the place that is the place for you.' You do not hear that at schools.

“The bottom line for me was, 'If this isn't the right fit for you, go find your right fit. I mean, I'm going to be upset because I want you to come here, but you need to do what's best for you.'

“You do not hear people say that.”

Once Bowden and the staff at Notre Dame lay out everything they have to offer, they aren’t going to engage in arm-twisting.

“We want people that understand the value of this place, the education, the degree,” says Bowden. “We want people that understand the difference of what a Notre Dame degree will do. We want people that truly value who we are and that's being real.

“I think that's the most important thing in recruiting today; just being real, being honest, being real and explaining to them what this really is.”

That message is clearly being received.

“With Chad, one of the things that stood out was just his honesty,” the same mother says. “He is who you see. He's super high energy, which is always fun, but I think he doesn't really know how to mince words. He seems like sort of a no-nonsense kind of guy. Not a lot of chit-chatty, small talk, but he's going to get straight to the point.”

At 28 years old, Bowden has found tremendous success in the world of recruiting – first at Cincinnati and now at Notre Dame – because for him, being real is enough and it’s why he followed Marcus Freeman from Cincinnati to South Bend.

“I'd be coaching high school football right now if I didn't work for Marcus because some of this industry doesn't align with what I want to do,” he says.

Bowden still remembers his first-ever conversation with Freeman, then Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator. Freeman asked the new student intern what he wanted to do.

“I said, 'I want to go coach JUCO football or high school football and make an impact,’” Bowden says, seemingly with the same genuine enthusiasm he had when he first uttered those lofty goals.

“And I'm still going to do that. Whenever I'm done with Marcus, that's what I'm going to do.”

The Irish identified elite DE Keon Keeley as a top talent early in the process.

But there is still plenty of work left to do before he’s done with Marcus.

Part of that work came this offseason when Freeman brought in several new assistant coaches.

“He hired genuine people that care about kids, just as he does,” says Bowden. “Marcus hires people that value the same things that he does.”

Tight ends coach Gerad Parker is one such fit.

“Man, what a hire,” Bowden says. “Unbelievable recruiter, but he cares about these kids. Ask anybody that's ever played for him.”

Al Washington and Brian Mason are guys Freeman and Bowden worked with at Cincinnati.

“These are people that care about kids,” says Bowden. “It's bigger than football to these guys.

“Coach Washington's doing meetings, I mean, I've never seen a guy do one-on-one meetings with every player every day in my life.”

Chansi Stuckey certainly fits.

“He was almost a pastor and now he's our receivers coach,” says Bowden. “Coach Freeman did such a great job of hiring these coaches and bringing in the right people that align with his core values and what he wants this place to become.

“It's not just a business. This is a family. When you have a guy that genuinely cares about family…it seeps through the entire team. Everyone feels like they're part of a family and they should because their head coach cares about them and is going to bring in people that genuinely care about the players.”

Being real and forming relationships in recruiting dovetails perfectly with evaluating talent and doing so as soon as possible.

“Getting in on kids early, I think is everything, especially nowadays because you have to be able to create relationships with these kids early,” says Bowden. “They have to become comfortable with you.

“I think that's been the biggest adjustment since I've gotten here is trying to get this place to evaluate earlier opposed to waiting on junior film after three games. No, we have to evaluate their sophomore film and we have to be able to project. We have to be able to get these kids to camp. We have to be able to get these kids on campus. We have to fight.”

Take a look at the Irish’s current 2023 recruiting class and you’ll find prospects who are much more highly-regarded today than they were when the Irish first made their moves.

“Now all of a sudden the kid's a five-star, that's called an evaluation success,” Bowden says. “That's not, 'Oh, you guys beat them out' or whatever. No, all these other teams are just late.

“We have to continue to evaluate, project and be smart. To me, that's how we're going to be able to win national championships.”

And Bowden is emphatic about that last statement.

“Notre Dame's going to win a national championship under Coach Freeman,” he says. “I have no doubts about it and we're going to have the number one recruiting class in the country whether they rank it number one or they don't.”

Brenan Vernon, Adon Shuler, Drayk Bowen & Cooper Flanagan are poised to be a part of the nation’s #1 recruiting class, according to Bowden.

Bowden isn’t going to wait around for the recruiting title.

“This next year's class is going to be the best class in college football history, in my opinion,” he says. “And not just because of the rankings, but because of the camaraderie between the players that we're bringing in and how much they love each other and the type of young men that we're bringing here and also their skill/talent level.”

While he acknowledges not being able to say exactly when the Irish will claim their next national title, he insists it will happen.

“We're going to win a national championship at Notre Dame,” he says again with emphasis. “We will. We're going to bring this place its first national championship in 34 years. I don't know when it's going to be. I don't know if it's this year. I don't know if it's next year. All I know is I know we're going to do it because I know we're going to continue to bring in the best players in the country that fit this place.

“Again, I don't know when it's going to be, but it will happen.”

The young man who Bowden encouraged to go elsewhere if he didn’t recognize the value of the Notre Dame degree could be part of the team that makes it happen.

Sam Pendleton‍ did understand the opportunity being laid out in front of him and committed to the Irish shortly after that conversation with Bowden. 

Chad Bowden | In Focus | Backstory Pt. I

Chad Bowden | In Focus | Backstory Pt. II

Our series will continue tomorrow with Bowden’s thoughts on NIL

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