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Notre Dame Football Recruiting: The Great Florida Schism

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“Looking at some of the guys pulled out of Florida, are there not three-star type linebackers in the Midwest? Does Notre Dame really need to go to Miami to get that kind of player?”

Autry Denson #23

Football recruiting for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is a strange and difficult subject to fully understand. Notre Dame is such a unique school, and in such an odd position within the college football world, that it’s only obvious that the Irish recruiting method must be fluid each year. It’s this ever-changing world that causes some of the confusion.

So, over the next few months, I will be taking a closer look (more snorkeling than a deep dive) at the Notre Dame recruiting machine in various ways. Today we start with the state of Florida.

THE GREAT FLORIDA SCHISM

It’s no great secret that the state of Florida is incredibly wealthy in terms of college football recruits. Almost the entire country sends recruiters to the sunshine state in hopes of landing the signatures of some of the nation’s best football players. Look at the rosters of most top 40 schools, and regardless of location, there are at least a handful of Florida natives.

Notre Dame is no different, and over the past 15+ years, Florida has been at least one of the top three states represented on the Irish roster - and most years it ranked #1. Since 2014, Notre Dame has got signatures from 18 Florida recruits.

Florida Recruiting

Year Florida Offers Florida Commitments 3 Star 4 Star 5 Star
Year Florida Offers Florida Commitments 3 Star 4 Star 5 Star
2014 20 1 0 1 0
2015 33 2 0 2 0
2016 36 7 6 1 0
2017 35 4 3 1 0
2018 29 4 1 3 0
2019 9 0 0 0 0
2020 10 0 0 0 0

The number that sticks out the most right now is that number “8” for Florida offers. I was researching for a different story when I saw that number, and it reminded me of an article that Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson wrote right before National Signing Day.

And there it is. As Sampson said in the article, it was a “throwaway question.” Notre Dame was down in Orlando for the Citrus Bowl, and an obvious question to Brian Kelly about recruiting in the state where the bowl game was played, received an answer that many would consider surprising.

In short, Notre Dame and Brian Kelly is going to change the way they recruit the extremely talented state of Florida. Kelly admitted what many knew, but what the Irish never really practiced... Notre Dame was going to have to “pick its spots” in Florida.

For years now, Notre Dame has blanketed the state with offers each year. Offers that demand attention, time, and extreme effort on the recruiting front. It also meant fighting an uphill battle most of the time.

On the surface, the effort was paying off in some ways. Over the last five recruiting cycles, Notre Dame signed 18 players from the state of Florida on National Signing Day (which includes the 4 signed in the 2018 class). It is far and away the most of any state for the Irish.

18 players signed from an offer list that totaled 153 players in Florida. A 12% hit rate is a pretty ugly number, and even uglier after one considers those that left early (in one form or another).

Still, it’s those 8 lonely offers for 2019 that sticks out the most. 8 offers from a total of 165 that Notre Dame has extended for this 2019 recruiting cycle. The Irish have offered an average of 185 scholarships over the past 5 recruiting classes, so that “8” number may not go up all that much.

Looking at it all, I still have more questions than answers at the moment. So, I went to Pete Sampson and asked him a few of those questions:

1. Did you think the shift away from Florida recruiting would be so drastic?

Not sure I had a sense that Notre Dame would move this hard into Georgia, but I believed this was coming long before I talked to Brian Kelly about it at the Citrus Bowl. It’s not that Notre Dame hasn’t been pulling guys out of Florida, it’s the lack of a return on investment that I think forced the staff to reevaluate. It’s a smart move. It’s probably an overdue move too.

2. Is Notre Dame built to recruit more away from Florida (staff, pipelines, etc)?

I think so because Notre Dame is built to recruit nationally. I also don’t think the concept of “pipelines” holds as much weight as people make it out to be. Does Notre Dame have a pipeline into IMG because of Tony Jones, Robert Hainsey (Pittsburgh) and Houston Griffith (he’s Chicago, but you get my point) Or St. Thomas Aquinas because of Drew White? It doesn’t feel that way to me. Talking to recruiting coordinator Brian Polian, there’s an emphasis to be stronger in Georgia but also stronger in the Midwest, basically drawing a 500-mile radius around campus, i.e. players who can drive to visit. I think you’re going to see Notre Dame hit harder in Nashville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc. Looking at some of the guys pulled out of Florida, are there not three-star type linebackers in the Midwest? Does Notre Dame really need to go to Miami to get that kind of player? I don’t think so.

3. Can Notre Dame really do more in Georgia than what they have done in previous years?

Yes! Notre Dame has barely touched Georgia in recent years despite a bevy of private schools with talent. K.J. Wallace is a perfect example. High academic prospect looking to find a college match to his high school. Tommy Tremble, same thing. I don’t expect Notre Dame to beat Georgia head to head for a lot of guys, even the elite academic kids at Pace Academy (Jamaree Salyer, Andrew Thomas, etc.), but there’s more fits in the state than I think people realize. A lack of actual recruiters in the state hasn’t helped, either. Mike Elko was very good. So is Chip Long.

4. What state(s) pick(s) up the slack?

I don’t think that’s really the question. I look at it as you’re trading Florida for Georgia heads up.

So much of that makes such obvious sense that it’s strange to think that Notre Dame has took so long to shift in another directions. While I understand the natural direction of it all, this won’t happen the way we all hope overnight.

Just last year, our own Jude Seymour (@andrewwinn) published a piece about Notre Dame’s struggles in Georgia. The offers have been there, but the various efforts have been less than ideal.

I think that there is certainly more to all of this than shifting focus from Florida to Georgia. Notre Dame HAS to do better on the recruiting trail in a wide variety of ways. Averaging a top 10 class each year looks good on paper, but it just isn’t working for Notre Dame. Notre Dame still wants National Championships to be the priority, so if things aren’t working - things need to change.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now, and we will keep a close eye on how these efforts start to pan out over the course of this cycle and beyond.