Marcus Freeman’s recruiting impact was felt defensively within his first few weeks at Notre Dame in January. Hauling in consensus four-star commitment after consensus four-star commitment led to the Irish class rising to its eventual No. 7 ranking, per rivals.com, despite losing the pledge of safety Devin Moore after Brian Kelly abruptly left for LSU.
Freeman was so assured of those defenders, he outright made them a lesser priority when named head coach, instead focusing on securing the offensive commitments, confident the defensive class would otherwise stick together, as it did.
The focus before Freeman’s promotion had been on linebackers, in part because Notre Dame’s roster has a coming roster crunch at linebacker. The Irish have no current sophomores at linebacker and only two freshmen, one of whom may take a two-year mission yet as an active member of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Once the current upperclassmen matriculate through the program, Notre Dame will be desperate for linebacker depth, something that already showed itself this season.
“We wanted to address the linebacker position,” Freeman said Wednesday. “And that’s something we were able to do with signing four guys at that position.”
Not just four guys, but a quartet of consensus four-stars with three of them within the top 200 of rivals.com’s overall rankings.
“Those are huge additions to this class,” Freeman said. “We needed it.”
A few more specific thoughts from Freeman on the linebackers and from defensive line coach Mike Elston on the trio of linemen all signed last week …
FREEMAN ON LB Jaylen Sneed
“He’s a kid that is intelligent and cares about academics, right? You have to care about your education if you want to make it here at Notre Dame. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. You don’t have to be a 32 ACT. You have to care about school. You have to care about doing things the right way. You have to want to work hard and understand it. I’m not always going to take the easy route.
“And that’s who Jaylen Sneed is. And that’s where you got to dive in to see, ‘Hey, does this person care about his academic future? Does he care about life after football?’ If you do, then Notre Dame is going to be a great opportunity for you.”
ELSTON ON END Tyson Ford
“He was the first commitment, built a great connection with him and coach Freeman helped close the deal with that one. Tyson is just a big, athletic, physical player. He’s going to take some development. He’s not at a big school where there’s a bunch of coaches there that are helping him daily with the little things that make a great defensive lineman.
“It’s great he’s coming in mid-year because he’s going to learn a lot of that, he’s going to get a lot of development very early. It’ll be exciting to see him go down to the All-American Game and stack up with those guys.
“Know what I love about Tyson? And I didn’t know this prior to him coming on an official visit was, he’s really a sponge in football. He wants to know football. He wants to sit there, sit next to you, watch film. What should I be doing here? What should I be looking at? What should I be thinking about? That’s going to be huge. Sometimes when a young man is that talented, it comes easy to him and he doesn’t learn how to study the game, and the fact that he loves the game and wants to study it, that’s going to be big.”
ELSTON ON TACKLE Donovan Hinish, KURT’S YOUNGER BROTHER
“Donovan Hinish, he’s a more athletic Kurt. I know he’s a more athletic Kurt, and he’s probably a little bit stronger than Kurt coming out of high school. So I’m super excited for him, he’s just going to be a pit bull, bulldog inside, like his brother has been. With maybe a little bit more athleticism in there, and I’m not afraid to say that because Kurt knows I would say that.
“We’ve had a lot of success with Kurt, and his family, we know what we’re getting into. I love that sign. Donovan is going to be great.”
ELSTON ON END AIDAN GOBAIRA
“Then Aidan Gobaira, we got on him early, we watched him do some drill work when coach Freeman first got on campus, and we were deciding who we wanted to target. We targeted two major defensive ends, and it was Tyson Ford and Aidan. We watched at a combine Aidan had gone to, we watched his junior film and some workouts, and we knew exactly what we would be getting, a big tall athletic, high-motor player that has great athleticism that is going to be an elite pass rusher, so he’s exciting for that Vyper position.”
EARLY SIGNING PERIOD COVERAGE
Things We Learned: Notre Dame didn’t hire Marcus Freeman for this recruiting class, but his effect on it was undeniable anyway
Notre Dame’s offensive signees in the words of coordinator Tommy Rees
Consensus four-star defensive end Aiden Gobaira
Consensus four-star safety Nolan Ziegler
Consensus three-star quarterback Steve Angeli
Consensus three-star defensive tackle Donovan Hinish, Kurt’s brother
Consensus four-star linebackers Jaylen Sneed and Joshua Burnham
Punter Bryce McFerson, former Wake Forest commit
Consensus four-star running back Jadarian Price
Tight ends Eli Raridon and Holden Staes
Consensus four-star defensive end Tyson Ford, the first commit to Marcus Freeman back in January
Cornerbacks Benjamin Morrison and Jayden Bellamy
Consensus four-star linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka, former USC commit
Consensus four-star receiver Tobias Merriweather, the only receiver in the class
Consensus four-star cornerback Jaden Mickey
Five offensive linemen complete Irish class of 2022, including quartet of four-stars