Recruiting efforts slowly take focus

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With the Irish coming off a second consecutive 8-5 season, and a late season recruiting fade that saw elite recruits like Ronald Darby and Deontay Greenberry leave at the eleventh hour, Notre Dame’s recruiting philosophy changed.

The 2013 recruiting class that became one of the most decorated groups in the modern era wasn’t always that. It started modestly — with a collection of players that came straight from the profile Brian Kelly and company was looking for.

If the 2012 class tried to cherry pick players from across the country, the 2013 class decided to build a steady base before reaching wide. Anchored by the early commitment of Steve Elmer, the Irish plucked lower-profile names that fulfilled both needs and provided a great cultural fit. Jacob Matuska was a positional profile recruit, but a nice fit out of Bishop Hartley in Ohio. James Onwualu came from the familiar confines of Cretin-Derham Hall, but lacked the prestige of previous CDH recruits.

Hunter Bivin, Colin McGovern, Mike McGlinchey — all three linemen that fit the mold and continued to build a foundation for the class. Adding Malik Zaire, another profile player from a Catholic school in Ohio gave the class its quarterback. Adding Rashad Kinlaw and Corey Robinson, who had his lone offer from Notre Dame, continued building momentum and a lot of comfort. It was only after a dozen recruits, that the Irish landed Jaylon Smith, a true five-star, elite prospect.

And from there the floodgates opened.

Of course, helping matters was an undefeated regular season. That type of momentum can’t be discounted when you look at the names the Irish landed down the stretch. Cole Luke turned down Texas and Oklahoma to come to South Bend. Greg Bryant turned down everybody. Tarean Folston was one of the earliest targets on ND’s board. Max Redfield was the elite safety the Irish never landed. Durham Smythe walked away from a Texas commitment because he liked the way the Irish offense featured athletes like him. And Eddie Vanderdoes was the perfect recruit. An elite defense player that also stood up USC and chose Notre Dame on Signing Day.

There are some that look at the current Irish recruiting class and see a group that’s behind schedule. But that’s almost missing the point. Every group is built with a different footprint, necessitated by different circumstances. Coming off a national championship appearance and carrying more momentum into next season than any since Lou Holtz, the Irish coaching staff finds itself in a very envious position where patience is truly a virtue.

With the six commitments, you can still get an idea of what needs are pressing. Linebacker Greer Martini fills a hole that’ll come when Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese depart after the season. Wide receiver Justin Brent adds another intriguing skill possibility, and gets the Irish another elite talent out of Indianapolis. Jimmy Byrne and Sam Mustipher continue to build the depth on the interior of the offensive line. Andrew Trumbetti is the type of defender that Bob Diaco and Kelly seem to love — a long, strong big power/edge player.

The foundation of this class seems to be growing in a similar fashion. Meanwhile, we can only watch as the Irish take dead aim at elite recruits, building a case that’s far more persuasive than it’s ever been.

Recruits like running back Sony Michel spent time on campus, no doubt influenced by former teammate Michael Deeb. Blue-chip backs like Nathan Starks, at an elite feeder program (Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas), took in practice with his high school coach. Another big time prospect, Elijah Hood, has been hounded by the Irish staff. Freak athlete/jumbo tight-end/wide receiver Mark Andrews saw campus this weekend, and sees a perfect fit in Tyler Eifert. Josh Malone of Tennessee provides the Irish coaching staff with another opportunity to bag their white whale — an elite receiver that’s somehow evaded this group.

While previous coaching staffs turned the Blue-Gold weekend into a recruiting extravaganza, it’s worth noting that the Irish made their mark this year at the annual coaching clinic, where invited speakers often times had an elite recruiting joining them. Seeing guys like Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, and Marc Trestman is a lot more impressive than an intrasquad scrimmage.

Some wonder what effect the departure of Tim McDonnell will have on the Irish’s recruiting efforts. Behind the scenes, McDonnell served a critical role in coordinating the recruiting efforts for Kelly and coordinator Tony Alford. Yet it’s clear that Kelly is confident that there’ll be dozens of names lining up for a shot to join his staff. And he’s right.

Whatever changes take place behind the scenes, it’s clear that there’s truly a rhyme to the reasoning here, just as there has been for everything this staff has done.

Now everyone will have to simply show some patience as they pursue it.