Once again, National Signing Day will come and go with Notre Dame hardly caring. This has been the Irish design since the early signing period went into effect five recruiting cycles ago, with the class of 2018, and something Marcus Freeman Will Likely carry forward into his tenure.
When Notre Dame signed 21 players in December, Freeman said he had made it a point to ink every commitment the Irish had, despite the chaotic two weeks that preceded the more pertinent Signing Day. Freeman’s hire had been reported only two weeks before players could sign their National Letters of Intent, and he could not get back on the recruiting trail until just nine days beforehand.
If ever there was a time to wait to make things official, that was it. Yet, he wanted those players signed, and they all did, including 16 four-star recruits. Notre Dame thus enters today with the No.6 recruiting class in the country, per rivals.com.
“Just so we know who’s coming in, who’s mid-year,” he said on Dec. 15. “We have 12 mid-year enrollees, and that’s huge for us.
“We wanted to get the guys that were committed signed. If you weren’t ready to sign today, we weren’t probably going to view you as committed to this place. So, that was our intentions, and that’s what happened.”
The February date is now a lesser event in every respect. A few of the country’s top recruits are able to take their time in this decision; nine of rivals.com’s top 100 players have yet to sign with a school. Some schools may target a few players late in the cycle with hopes of filling out a class. Otherwise, recruiting has moved onto the class of 2023 or the transfer portal.
“I’m going to lean on our staff and look at, ‘Hey, what roster needs do we need to address right now?’” Freeman said. “This could be transfer portal, so we have a little bit of wiggle room to look at, ‘Hey, what roster needs do we need immediately?’ Is it another high school kid, or is it somebody that we can go into the portal and address with a guy that has some college experience?”
Notre Dame has indeed raided the transfer portal since mid-December, pulling in an All-American safety from Northwestern, a veteran kicker from Arkansas State and a punter from Harvard. There was some thought that the Irish might find a receiver as a late recruit to sign today, but that has not been the case much since the early signing period took effect.
Consensus four-star defensive end Isaiah Foskey the last piece in class (from February 2019)
February recruiting drama a Notre Dame worry of the past (from February 2020)
ND again set to enjoy a quiet Signing Day thanks to active December (from February 2021)
The Irish held onto running back Logan Diggs last cycle, signing him in February after a late LSU push. They publicly signed defensive end Isaiah Foskey in February of 2019 (above), but his recruitment had resolved months earlier, simply putting off the signing to enjoy a press conference moment with other teammates.
Otherwise, Notre Dame has sat pat in February in the last four cycles. This year, the recruiting staff coordinated an event for high school juniors last weekend rather than woo any lingering seniors. That is how much an afterthought the February signing day has become.
ONLY IN 2018
For thoroughness’s sake, let’s mention that in the early signing period’s first year, the Irish signed six recruits in February, including three de-commitments from elsewhere (offensive lineman Luke Jones, from Arkansas, where he then transferred to after one season in South Bend; defensive back DJ Brown, from Virginia; running back C’Bo Flemiser, from Georgia Tech).
A FITTING LINE FROM MIKE ELSTON
In grabbing quotes from December’s early signing period, one stuck out from then-defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, who has since left to be the defensive line coach at Michigan. He was asked how Notre Dame handled the few days of chaos between Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure for LSU and Freeman’s hiring, when recruits not only wondered who would lead the Irish moving forward, but what assistants would remain in South Bend.
“You just assure them that once you know something, they’ll be the first ones to know,” Elston said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty from everybody. It’s not an easy process to go through. If you don’t have a strong relationship with them, it’s going to be a problem.”
Elston walked that talk when he left for Michigan a couple weeks ago, giving the Notre Dame defensive linemen a heads-up as soon as he was even considering the Wolverines, a few days before he made the eventual decision. That transparency likely played a role in Foskey and fifth-year defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola only singing Elston’s praises as he headed out the door.
“We’re all supportive of him,” Ademilola said last month. “We’re super happy for his opportunity for him and his family. The guys love him, we all love him. He’s been here, he recruited up all of us in the room. He’s going back to the school that he played football for, so we’re super excited for him and his family. We wish them nothing but the best.”
If Ademilola was being less than sincere, his answer would have been shorter.