Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD

Clark Lea Talks Foskey, Defensive Haul & More

February 6, 2019

Clark Lea got the final piece to his first recruiting puzzle on Wednesday, when 2019 California defensive end Isaiah Foskey‍ announced his pledge to Notre Dame.

“Isaiah is a long and athletic edge player who we’re really excited about,” the Irish defensive coordinator told today. “We think he will come in and have an impact immediately. He’s got a chance to be a great pass rusher. He comes from a high school that’s a fit school and a great family, so we’re thrilled to have him.”

But most of Lea’s work was done several weeks ago as 12 of the 13 defensive players in the class publicly signed during December’s early period.

“We addressed some needs in the class certainly, but more than that, I think we got a bunch of winners,” said Lea. “We got guys from good programs, guys we built relationships with that really went deep. They chose to come to Notre Dame because they want to play in the gold helmet. I think there’s something to be said for that. I think that’s the kind of culture we want to create around here.

“We’re excited. These guys will have a long road ahead before they are contributors, but I think we have some in this class who are capable to make early impacts, so we’re going to give them opportunities to compete. That’ll be a great thing for our depth.”

The Irish brought in more early enrollees with the Class of 2019 than ever before with 10 total and four on defense.

“It’s been really impactful,” Lea said of the freshmen who arrived on campus last month. “I think they’re still working through just getting their cleats in the ground so to speak with the winter conditioning aspect. These guys have really never been through a program that is going to be this thorough and this taxing. There’s an adjustment that takes place.

“For them to have this time in the winter and build on their frames and obviously have spring practice heading into the summer, they’re going to be conditioned to be ahead of the curve. They’ll feel like sophomores by the time we get to fall camp. I think most importantly, the remainder of the class that has yet to enroll, these guys will have the chance to really take them under their wings and show them the course. From a program standpoint, it’s excellent because these guys are learning our standards now. By the time we’re lining up to play, they’re going to feel like veterans.”

Lea sees benefits to the early signing period, now in its second year.

“You’re not spending resources through the season wondering whether or not a player you’re recruiting is going to come,” he said. “You have an idea exactly of who is in so to speak earlier. Beyond that, when you have positions of need that you need to address and a prospect is not coming to Notre Dame and when he tells you early, you can redirect your attention to go after that position and build the depth you need on the recruiting board. That’s helped.”

But it also prevents the Irish from taking a serious look at some prospects who may come on the radar later.

“It’s always nice to be able to evaluate senior film,” he said. “Sometimes when guys are making decisions so early, you fill the class up and lose the chance to do that.”

Lea took over as defensive coordinator a year ago, Notre Dame had already formed strong relationships with many of the players in this class and defensive tackle Jacob Lacey‍ had already committed.

“Some of that when the transition happened was just me creating comfort for them and saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t going to change that much,’” Lea recalled. “‘You’re going to have a coach and coordinator who believes in you.’ That just gave them peace of mind.”

Lea embraces the responsibility of being even more heavily involved with the Class of 2020 and beyond.

“I think my involvement is going to be way more important in terms of influencing these guys’ decisions. For me to take an active role and try to dig deep in relationships, I’m excited for that. It’s a challenge because you’re going to really have to cast a wide net. For me, not just focusing on the linebackers, but seeing defensive linemen and players in the secondary and texting and calling and being in touch with them, that’s just more on your plate. But at the end of the day, when you’re trying to build a culture, you get excited about that opportunity.”

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