Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD

Brian Polian Staying Ahead Of Changes In Recruiting

February 7, 2019
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Brian Polian understands change is inevitable and when it comes to recruiting, the Notre Dame assistant has learned to embrace it.

The most obvious change on Wednesday was the extremely low-key atmosphere. In the past, the first Wednesday of February represented the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work on the recruiting trail, but this year resulted in the Irish publicly adding just one prospect to their program. The other 21 members of Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting class went public with their signings during December’s early period.

“The Signing Day in February is totally anti-climatic,” Polian acknowledged during an interview with UND.com. “I’m here in a polo shirt. This time two years ago, I was in a tie pacing around the room.”

The Irish recruiting coordinator said he believes the early period, in its second cycle, benefits the Irish.

“The guys who want to be at Notre Dame, want to get it done,” he said. “We don’t have very many prospects who are going to take the thing all of the way out because they enjoy the recruiting process so much or like to be a part of the drama.

“I think the guys that pick Notre Dame know exactly what they’re looking for. They know exactly what they’re getting into and the fact that they can make that decision official before Christmas and go on about their senior year is valuable. It also clears up your board pretty quickly.”

With so much of the work complete before the holidays, the staff can use the time previously reserved for making sure it didn’t lose any commits, putting in work on top targets in future classes.

“What we’ve done a better job of this year was taking that three-week period when we were out in January and really getting a terrific jumpstart on the 2020 and ‘21 classes, being in their schools, talking to their coaches, getting the transcripts,” Polian explained. “We’ve spent the last two and a half days really setting up the ‘20 board. We have a much clearer picture right now of who we’re focused on than maybe we did a year ago.”

More than a decade ago, Polian was a member of a previous Notre Dame staff when the program first began accepting early enrollees. Back then, the Irish never had more than a handful in a given year.

Meanwhile, 10 of the 22 members of the current class are already on campus.

“There was a time that, personally, I didn’t know how I felt about guys walking away from the last six months of their high school experience,” said Polian, who now says it’s “incredibly valuable.”

“There’s no denying that when we line up for spring ball and we get those practices and come back in August, those guys are further along and more prepared to try and help you win.”

Polian gave credit to head coach Brian Kelly, the entire coaching staff and the administration for helping those youngsters get acclimated as quickly as possible.

“I think for them, the football part is probably the easiest part,” he said. “(Punter) Jay Bramblett‍ came up here from Alabama and two weeks into his time, we had a polar vortex. I’m sure he’s adjusting to life on campus.”

It’s clear Polian is happy with the class as a whole, especially with what the Irish added in terms of length and speed. He understands the attention and excitement that come with winning high-profile recruiting battles, but singled out one player in particular as a prospect they’re very high on who came with much less fanfare.

“There are guys like Jack Kiser who has just been phenomenal in his short time here who was a small school guy from the state of Indiana that probably not a whole lot of people knew about,” Polian said of the early enrollee linebacker.

“I think we’re going to look up in two or three years and say, ‘Boy, what a great get that was.’”

Isaiah Foskey

The one guy the Irish did add on Wednesday, California defensive end Isaiah Foskey‍, was a big one, according to Polian, who pointed to his “length and versatility.”

“He’s a terrific looking kid,” he continued. “There’s going to be major upside for him as a defensive end because he played tight end and d-end in high school. We know there’s going to be great development and his ceiling is really high. I think it’s also important to recognize that we’re getting one of the top players in the West out of a program that is one of the most storied in the country from Concord De La Salle, a really fit school in terms of its academic profile and its culture.”

That’s the same school that produced former Irish stars Aaron Taylor and Derek Landri.

“Those are two really good names that have come here and had a lot of success,” said Polian.

Polian added that Foskey comes from a “great family” and reiterated how he was a great fit for Notre Dame.

The coach went deeper on what the Irish look for in terms of fit. Not surprisingly, a desire to succeed academically was at the top of his list.

“Not every player we recruit is a 4.0, we understand that,” he said. “But there have been a lot of young men in our program who will graduate here with a 2.8. They worked their tails, but academics were important in their lives.

“I’ve heard some other schools sell kids on, ‘Hey, you can take half your classes online.’ That conversation is not happening here and we make sure we’re very clear about what the expectations are, but also what the rewards are going to be and what graduating from this University is going to mean for these young men.”

He also mentioned the fact that Notre Dame is a faith-based institution, but Polian didn’t focus on religion.

“With that comes some standards and expectations and we make sure that everybody is aware of that,” he said. “This is a different campus culture.

“I think (Director of Athletics) Jack Swarbrick said it best when he talked about, ‘This is an other-centered university. We’re looking for other-centered people, not self-centered and service.’  That kind of equates to being a good teammate and not being a selfish person. I think that culture kind of permeates this whole place, which frankly makes it so fun to coach here. These are wonderful young men that we get to work with. I think our guys recognize that and embrace it.”

And then he mentioned the “unique stage” Notre Dame offers.

“There are a lot of people who are going to cheer these guys on and the standard that we set in terms of a very simple mission in terms of graduating our players and trying to compete for a national championship. Those are our goals. It’s not real complicated. If they embrace it and can see themselves on that journey, then they fit here.”

 
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