Seven Notre Dame signees will take part in the 2023 All-American Bowl this afternoon. The annual high-school showcase pits East vs. West, and the Irish are decidedly on the Western side this year.
TV: NBC broadcasts the all-star game, also available via streaming on Peacock. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren will join the broadcast today, of note given NBC will begin airing a Big Ten game each week next season.
TIME: 1 p.m. ET.
PREVIEW: Of the seven Notre Dame signees participating this afternoon, five of them are on the West team: offensive linemen Sullivan Absher and Charles Jagusah, receiver Rico Flores Jr., quarterback Kenny Minchey, linebacker Drayk Bowen and defensive back Micah Bell. Obviously, the greatest Irish intrigue in that group may be how Minchey fares in whatever playing time he gets, one of four quarterbacks on that half of the game. There may also be reason to keep an eye on Bell given his raw speed.
Defensive back Adon Shuler and defensive lineman Brenan Vernon are on the East roster.
Of them all, Bell may have the clearest path to 2023 playing time, solely because of that speed. When the December signing period commenced, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden already expected campaigning to let Bell contribute on the Irish special teams.
“I’m sure [special teams coordinator Brian Mason] is going to try to get him to return kicks and punts,” Golden said. “A kid that is one of the faster kids in this class overall.”
The Irish will certainly have a new punt returner next season with safety Brandon Joseph declaring for the NFL draft, unless they opt to return to the cautious days of receiver Matt Salerno fair-catching most punts, something that would be uncharacteristic of Mason. Kickoff returns will presumably still be the domain of rising senior running back Chris Tyree, though his counterpart in dropping back deep has not been firmly established in the last two years.
PREDICTION: No, this is not a prediction for the final score of a high-school exhibition game. Rather, it is a prediction that of these seven players, none will play more than four games next season. Perhaps Bell secures that punt return duty, but it is just as likely Mason finds a veteran with a bit more in-game experience to trot out in front of 51,000 fans at Aviva Stadium in Dublin in 232 days.
Aside from him, only Vernon would have a clear path to playing time, the result of Notre Dame losing veteran defensive end Justin Ademilola to the NFL draft on Friday. Even there, it is far more likely the Irish lean on current freshmen Joshua Burnham and Aidan Gobaira simply because they have the benefits of a full year in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.
This will fit in line with Notre Dame in 2022, as well.
“You look at last year’s class — and again, that was another top-10 class — I think I looked at it the other day, maybe four or five guys played this year, didn’t redshirt. Out of a class that we signed 22 to 25 guys,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said last month.
He was not diminishing his current freshmen. Freeman was underscoring the delayed gratification often needed to succeed at Notre Dame.
“You don’t get that instant gratification of playing right away. It’s going to be tough, tough to stay here,” he said. “That’s what we have to understand. When you bring these guys in, it’s going to take a little bit of time to really be able to run out there at Notre Dame Stadium and have a huge impact on our program. It takes time. Very few guys can come in here and play and start right away.”
Of the class of 2022, only five players used up a season of eligibility: cornerbacks Ben Morrison and Jaden Mickey, linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka, and tight ends Holden Staes and Eli Raridon. Only Morrison was a genuine starter, taking the lead in nine of the 13 games he played in as he picked off six passes.
“Highly-recruited guys, highly-rated guys, but they’ve decided to stay and say, ‘Okay, I have to develop and continue to commit to a program and this team and my development,’” Freeman said. “Those are the guys we need.”
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) December 21, 2022
BUT MINCHEY: Some attention being paid to Minchey today still makes sense. The former Pittsburgh commit likely will work on only Notre Dame’s scout team next season, but once Sam Hartman uses up his last year of eligibility, all bets should be considered off on the Irish quarterback depth chart in 2024. Of course, Tyler Buchner will have the edge of experience in various ways, but either Minchey or current freshman Steve Angeli could make a spring of 2024 competition intriguing.
SIGNING DAY COVERAGE
Things We Learned: Remove recency bias and Notre Dame’s recruiting has clearly reached new heights
A dozen Notre Dame offensive signees in Marcus Freeman’s and Tommy Rees’ words
A dozen Notre Dame defensive signees in Marcus Freeman’s and Al Golden’s words
Consensus four-star QB Kenny Minchey, former Pittsburgh commit
Consensus four-star running back Jeremiyah Love, No. 4 RB in the country
Five offensive lineman signees continue Irish trend up front
Four receivers fill greatest Irish need
Irish secondary boosted by four signees, speed included, despite Signing Day disappointment
Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen
Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon
Consensus four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan
Brandyn Hillman, athlete who may end up on defense