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Notre Dame Football

Despite Transfer Portal Hoopla, Recruiting Remains the Lifeblood of Notre Dame Football

December 20, 2023
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Notre Dame signed a top-10 class according to all three premier national recruiting services: 247 Sports, On3 and Rivals. 

It should be a joyous occasion for Fighting Irish fans. Only, the early signing period felt like an afterthought this year, given the chaos of the transfer portal, the ever-spinning coaching carousel and the lack of recruiting drama (à la Peyton Bown).

Despite all the additional December hoopla, recruiting remains the lifeblood of Notre Dame’s football program, even if the 2024 National Signing Day lacked the hoopla compared to previous years. 

“Our core and our foundation is going to be based on high school recruitment,” coach Marcus Freeman said. “We don't want to continue to major in the transfer portal, and we haven't. We've hit specific needs, which we'll continue to do. 

“But if you're able to bring somebody out of high school, you have them here, and they understand what this place is about. That's more important than anything.”

The transfer portal works both ways, which is why it’s so crucial that Notre Dame keeps stacking complete classes. 

The 23 players in the 2024 class could nearly field an 11-on-11 scrimmage, with the only missing piece being a fifth offensive lineman (an intentional choice after signing five in each of the prior three cycles).

That way, Notre Dame can better withstand the inevitable offseason departures for the 2024 season and beyond.

“We addressed a lot of different needs,” Freeman said. “It's a well-balanced class.”

Recruiting is still the best venue for bringing in the type of top-tier talent a program needs to contend seriously in the College Football Playoffs.

Since Brian Kelly arrived in South Bend, 63 Fighting Irish football players have been drafted, but only two of them transferred into Notre Dame: 2020 sixth-round safety Alohi Gilman and 2021 seventh-round wide receiver Ben Skrownek.

Both turned out to be quality professional football players still on active NFL rosters. Skrownek caught two passes in the Los Angeles Ram’s 23-20 victory in Super Bowl LVI, while Gilman is the starting free safety for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Still, neither was on the same level as a Kyle Hamilton or a Michael Mayer.

Those types of players will continue to develop in-house.

“A guy like Ben Morrison comes in here, and he's a great player,” Freeman said. “I'm sure there's many people that would love to have Ben Morrison on their team, but he understands the value of this place. He understands what this place provides. We're as competitive as anybody else in NIL, and so he doesn't want to go anywhere else. 

“That, to me, is so important that you continue to bring the right guys in here that are good players, who believe in this place, and that will continue to be the nucleus of the team.”

There’s a solid chance this class provides a difference-maker everywhere on the field. 

Tight end is the only position group where Notre Dame failed to land a Rival250 prospect (Rivals still ranks Jack Larsen as a four-star).

Signee National Rank Pos. Rank
LB Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa 22nd 2nd
WR Cam Williams  35th 10th
OT Guerby Lambert 42nd 3rd
QB CJ Carr 50th 5th
S Brauntae Johnson 67th 5th
APB Aneyas Williams 145th 2nd
WDE Loghan Thomas  191st 7th
IOL Peter Jones 208th 10th
CB Leonard Moore 209th 24th
DL Bryce Young 215th 13th
RB Kedren Young 246th 16th

The class is headlined by four top 50 prospects: linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, wide receiver Cam Williams, offensive tackle Guerby Lambert and quarterback CJ Carr. 

Of the group, Freeman believes Viliamu-Asa is the odds-on favorite to play early, calling the soon-to-be early enrollee the most college-ready player in the class. 

“As a football player, he is a physical tackler, physical block destructor,” Freeman said. “There are a lot of traits that he has that make him one of the highest recruited linebackers in the country. But to get him here, get him here early, he’ll have a chance to compete right away, I’m sure.”

Williams must become a polished route-runner to reach his potential, but he adds the next-level speed that the offense desperately needs. ISD’s Jamie Uyeyama believes Williams is the best wideout prospect Notre Dame has signed since Michael Floyd, only he has the potential to take the top off the defense like Will Fuller. 

Lambert is the third-best offensive tackle prospect in the country. He also shouldn’t have any issues adapting to Notre Dame’s academic rigors. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound lineman chose Notre Dame over Harvard.

“He fits everything this program looks for,” Freeman said.

Carr is the highest-rated quarterback prospect Notre Dame has signed in more than a decade. 

He also likely ensures that the program stops the unsustainable practice of adding a transfer signal-caller each offseason — especially after doing so in three of the last four seasons.

“I can't say I'm never gonna go into the portal to get me another quarterback,” Freeman said, “because it's more of a numbers thing than anything, but I would love to make sure that we continue to develop the guys we have in-house to lead this program.”

According to at least one recruiting service, 19 different players earned a four or five-star rating. 

The four consensus three-stars were cornerback Karson Hobbs, defensive end Cole Mullins, linebacker Teddy Rezac and safety Taebron Bennie-Powell, but that’s because each is still raw. A boom-or-bust prospect may come with risk, but it is also better than signing a technically developed recruit whose ceiling guarantees mediocrity. 

Even better, Notre Dame went the extra mile to ensure each 2024 signee was worth betting on. 

“Again, we evaluate off of what we see on film and what we see live and in person,” Freeman said. “We got live evals on every single one of those players that committed to us, which hasn't been something we've done before. But rankings matter too, right?

“Those are important. They keep score, and we always say we want to win.”

 
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