Fans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have long had a love affair with "blue collar" football players. It's probable that most fans of any team love those "bring your lunchpail to work" kind of players, but they seem so much more coveted at a place like Notre Dame.
What could be more blue-collar than New Jersey?
Well, I'm sure we could debate that question (western Pennsylvania says "hello") but there is no denying that the stereotype exists. To be honest, I never gave it much thought before December 13, 2004 (the hire date of Charlie Weis as the head football coach at Notre Dame).
At that time, my lasting impression of Notre Dame football and recruiting the state of New Jersey, was of Tyrone Willingham sitting on the couch in Brian Toal's home, and refusing to leave while the blue-chip linebacker hid upstairs. The future linebacker / fullback from Don Bosco signed with the Boston College Eagles of all places.
The last recruiting cycle that Notre Dame completed under Tyrone Willingham was one of the worst in modern Irish history. It ranked #32 in the country according to Rivals. The class had 16 commitments with 6 of those commits being ranked as a 2 star prospect. The two highest rated recruits were 4 stars Junior Jabbie and Anthony Vernaglia (both of which are now unfortunately cautionary tales). It was followed by a class in 2005 that ranked even worse at #40 by Rivals.
Weis talked a good game about New Jersey, and he got a lot of us on board for more recruits from there. Notre Dame has a HUGE base in Jersey (both alums and subway alums) and there are a large number of Catholic high schools that churn out top talent each year. Weis talked a good game, but his overall results were mixed and underwhelming. His last complete class did give us New Jersey natives Theo Riddick and Carlo Calabrese though - two key players during Notre Dame's amazing 2012 season.
Enter Brian Kelly.
To be honest, Brian Kelly has never made New Jersey much of a priority during his time at Notre Dame. That's not to say that he and the Irish haven't recruited the state, but the overall numbers haven't been that good. When he does land one from the Garden State they usually do quite well (Elijah Shumate and Quenton Nelson immediately come to mind). During the 2016 cycle, the Irish only offered 2 kids from Jersey.
That priority is starting to change, and the change is happening at St. Peter's Prep.
Over the last few years, St. Peter's has sent a large number of players off to the FBS. Some of their recent blue-chip recruits have been:
- 5 Star Minkah Fitzpatrick
- 5 Star Savon Huggins
- 4 Star Sheldon Royster
- 4 Star Keith Lumpkin
- 4 Star Brandon Wimbush
This year the Marauders have two more blue-chip recruits with current Notre Dame commit, 4 Star Jayson Ademilola and Notre Dame target 4 Star Shayne Simon. The Marauders also have another Notre Dame commit this year with Jayson's twin brother Justin Ademilola.
So, right now, Notre Dame has its quarterback of the present/future in Brandon Wimbush (2 years of eligibility after this year), and two very good defensive linemen in this years class in the Ademilola twins - all from St. Peter's Prep. The Irish also have a very good shot of signing Shayne Simon in this class as well. That would mean that for Notre Dame in 2018, a program that recruits nationally, they could have four players from one high school.
That's quite a bit - even three would be a lot for one school.
I spoke to a source close to the St. Peter's program, and he believes that Notre Dame is doing a tremendous job at the school and has a great relationship with the coaching staff. This person also believes that Simon will end up in South Bend and that the Irish would be getting "just a fantastic kid."
This same source wanted to make sure that I knew that 9 of the 11 starters on the defense this year have scholarship offers to FBS schools. It's a solid group that challenges each other and feed off of one another.
For Notre Dame, this is really great news. St. Peter's is a premier program, and the defense that they run is very close to what new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko runs. So, future recruiting here could become a lot easier, and when one school becomes a pipeline school, recruits from other schools that are in close proximity take notice.
One of the worst kept secrets in college football recruiting is that New Jersey has a ton of talent, and a bunch of that talent is coming from high schools like:
- Bergen Catholic
- Don Bosco
- St. Peter's Prep
- Red Bank Catholic
- St. Joseph regional
- Hun School
The Alabama Crimson Tide, Penn State Nittany Lions, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators, and many more - all raid the state. Rutgers could be a top 10 program each year if it could just keep its talent home.
Getting a foothold in a school like St. Peter's Prep is extremely important to Notre Dame as the Irish once again try to establish a recruiting pipeline. The possibility of four players from one school sets that foothold and will allow the footprint to expand.
Brian Kelly is re-evaluating everything that he does, and has made sweeping changes after the 2016 season. Putting a stronger emphasis on New Jersey recruiting is certainly one of the better decisions. St. Peter's prep could very well help lift the Notre Dame football program back up off the mat and ready to fight again.
Just like any blue-collar program would.