QB Steve Angeli’s confidence gave Notre Dame, Tommy Rees recruiting flexibility

Steve Angeli Notre Dame
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Steve Angeli could have been upset with Tommy Rees, and no one would have genuinely faulted Notre Dame’s quarterback commit. The New Jersey passer committed to the Irish last March, and by the end of the cycle, Rees was considering other quarterbacks despite Angeli never wavering in his commitment.

Instead, Angeli trusted Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, in part because Rees did not hide his actions.

“My conversations with him, he’s always been real and honest and upfront with me,” Angeli said last week. “If there was tough stuff he had to tell me, I just respected him so much, knowing that we had such a good relationship. Being able to tell me, it is what it is.

“The real stuff, he’d never lie or sugarcoat anything. He was just telling me how it was. I respected him for that.”

In the end, the Irish signed only Angeli among quarterbacks in the recruiting class of 2022, the 11th straight cycle in which Notre Dame signed only one quarterback, if willing to overlook the Signing Day surprise signing of Ron Powlus III in 2021 along with four-star Tyler Buchner. That covers every full recruiting cycle of Brian Kelly’s tenure. The last time the Irish successfully chased multiple passers during a recruiting cycle was the last cycle largely helmed by Charlie Weis, with Kelly taking over with less than two months remaining, when Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa all signed with Notre Dame in February of 2010.

That decade-plus of precedent would have explained any frustration from Angeli as Rees looked around, but the realities of college football in the 2020s forced Rees’ hand more than anything else. The ability to transfer one time without sitting out the subsequent year has turned the quarterback market into a constant one. The Irish offensive coordinator would rather keep his quarterbacks in-house and develop them for four years, but preparing for all possibilities is an obvious necessity, and one Angeli understood.

“He wasn’t wavering,” Rees said in December. “Look, I don’t think any competitor is happy when they hear [of more competition], but he wasn’t wavering. It’s our duty as coaches to be honest and transparent with recruits, players as much as we can. That was the first thing before we even attacked that. I wanted to make sure there was an open conversation, and that there was clarity.

“I let him know, if this was something that was going to risk you, we’re not entertaining it. He’s a selfless person that believes in his ability and believes in his ability to come here and compete.”

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Angeli will need to. Entering this spring, Notre Dame has a quarterback frontrunner in rising sophomore Tyler Buchner, a tested backup in rising junior Drew Pyne and a capable scout-team quarterback in Powlus. Angeli may quickly move past Powlus and not spend much (or any) time on the scout team, but it is hard to imagine him cracking the two-deep, barring injury.

That was also clear to Angeli in his recruitment, so he may not be outright expecting quick playing time.

“Do whatever the team asks of me,” Angeli said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do it, contribute to that quarterback room, do whatever I can to make this team better.”

That may come across as cliché; Crash Davis would be proud. But it is also the mentality Rees looks for in recruiting to prevent those transfer portal needs.

“We have to do a really good job of getting the quarterbacks here that resonate with this place and find a reason greater than themselves to be here,” Rees said. “Then we have to do a really good job, like we have, of creating a culture in the quarterback room where it’s really shared success. If one guy is out there making plays, we have to understand it took all five of us during the week in the preparation to get to that point.”

Rees was answering those quarterback transfer questions in the midst of USC losing both Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart to the transfer portal, and of Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams jumping into the transfer portal, along with a number of other names like Dillon Gabriel, Spencer Rattler and Cameron Ward. Rees even discussed how close he came to transferring during his own career, back in 2013, long before immediate eligibility was afforded to most transfers.

Overreacting to the headlines was common (and still is), but both Rees and Angeli remained unfazed by the chaos across college football.

“[Angeli] said, ‘Coach, if this is what you feel is best for the program, then this is what you have to do,’” Rees said of his conversations with Angeli about a possible second quarterback in the class.

Rees may need to seek that same mentality in this cycle.