Notre Dame could have signed more recruits this week to wrap up its class of 2022, but instead, the Irish finished the cycle with the 21 players they signed in December. Though an offensive skill player or two popped up in the following six weeks, the reality is Notre Dame had moved onto 2023 as soon as Marcus Freeman touched base with all the offensive prospects in the brief stretch between his hiring and the early signing period.
On some of those visits, he even found time to visit with 2023 recruits already.
“When you’re going to go to an area to see a 2022 (prospect), you might as well get the work in on the guys in that area,” then-Irish recruiting coordinator Mike Elston said in December. “… We didn’t want to lose momentum in the ‘23 and the ‘24 class with where we were right now. So it’s just about looking to the future and making sure that we secure that.”
In some instances, the 2023 possibilities may be the answers to current roster questions. If a position has adequate depth at the moment but should be shored up down the line — having only one underclassman safety comes to mind — Notre Dame may forgo an influx of transfer portal imports and instead focus on that need this recruiting cycle.
“If we need to start recruiting more high school kids for the following ‘23 class, we will,” Freeman said in December. “Those are still something that’s an ongoing process in terms of our current roster, in terms of guys leaving.”
The Irish are off to an astounding start in 2023 recruiting, both in terms of quantity and quality. Eight verbal commitments at this point in the cycle is ahead of the usual pace — four in the 2020 cycle when the 2019 class concluded; six in the 2021 cycle; five in the 2022 cycle — and all eight are consensus four-star prospects.
In order of their commitment, from first to most recent …
DEFENSIVE END Keon Keeley — Elston has renewed his pursuit of Keeley now that hte defensive line coach is at Michigan, which should only speak to Keeley’s standing. The No. 2 weakside defensive end in the class and No. 26 prospect overall, per rivals.com, Keeley could end up a five-star recruit within the next year.
DEFENSIVE END BRENAN VERNON — Elston has not been as devoted in renewing his chase of Vernon, the No. 14 overall prospect in the class. Perhaps that speaks to the strength of Vernon’s commitment, and if so, the Ohio recruit certainly should be the piece that breaks Notre Dame’s five-star drought.
DEFENSIVE BACK ADON SHULER — A New Jersey recruit, Shuler was the last defender in the class to commit to the Irish before Freeman coached even a single game as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, speaking to the off-field impact Freeman made in recruiting. Shuler works at safety in high school, possibly part of the fix to the aforementioned depth problem coming at the position for the Irish.
TIGHT END COOPER FLANAGAN — The No. 19 tight end in the class, Flanagan boasts a 6-foot-6 frame, the type of height that has proven to be a boon for modern tight ends.
RUNNING BACK SEDRICK IRVIN — Notre Dame briefly considered adding a second running back in the 2022 class, so it should not be assumed Irvin will be the only back sought in 2023, but as the No. 12 running back in the class, he might be up to that task on his own, anyway.
LINEBACKER Drayk Bowen — The No. 32 player in the country, Bowen continues the linebacker recruiting hot streak from Freeman, after signing the best quartet in the country in December. An Indiana native, Bowen’s commitment feels more stable than anyone else’s at this point in a cycle, especially given he has visited Notre Dame five times in the last eight months.
DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTYN RHETT — A cornerback, Rhett comes from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, the same source of past Irish stars left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Alizé Mack. The No. 49 player in the class, these rankings keep getting cited simply to give an idea of how much of the top-100 recruits Freeman and Notre Dame have already impressed in this cycle.
DEFENSIVE BACK Peyton Bowen — The No. 76 player in the class and No. 6 safety, Bowen (pictured at top) was the last piece of good news for the Irish on New Year’s Day, committing a few hours before the Fiesta Bowl faceplant.
Five of these eight players fit into the top 100 in the country to date. Those same five are all within the top-10 recruits at their respective positions. All eight commits are in the top 20 at their positions.
The recruiting class of 2023 standing at No. 1 in the country the first week of February is largely a meaningless boast; those rankings will move with frequency over the next six months. But having eight consensus four-star prospects as the starting point in the class is the type of strength in recruiting that Notre Dame bet on when it promoted Freeman.