There are a million different things one could analyze about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program while we’re in the offseason. College football programs are extremely complex entities, and the modern era is only making it more so. One of the bigger topics we try to discuss and understand more is recruiting. The umbrella of recruiting covers many different aspects — many of which are very important, even if they seem small.
One of the more basic lines of thought with recruiting has to do with location. Essentially, the more talent grows up around the program, the more likely that talent will end up at that program. Large metropolitan areas like Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas help fuel the big-time college football programs that surround them — as well as others throughout the country.
So what about Chicago?
The Windy City is the third largest city in the country and resides in the second most populous county in the country. With South Bend only 95 miles away from Chicago, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have historically used the city and its suburbs as a major recruiting center — but it is nowhere near what it used to be as a major pipeline for Notre Dame and a large handful of Big 10 schools.
Why is that?
To put it quite simply... Chicago ain’t what it used to be. Matt Brown put together a really nice piece on his Extra Points newsletter that helps layout why the Chicagoland area isn’t what it used to be in terms of producing top college football talent.
According to 247Sports, the state of Illinois produced just six Blue-Chip (four or five star) football players in 2021. 2020 was even worse, with just five blue-chips statewide, and only three coming from the Chicago area. 2019 produced three statewide, with just two hailing from near the city.
So over a three year period, Chicago and the surrounding suburbs accounted for just 11 high-level recruits. That would be a bad year for Houston, a metro area with two and a half million fewer residents, or Atlanta, with three million fewer residents.
That’s not a very favorable outlook for a school like Notre Dame. In fact, the Irish didn’t sign a single player from the Chicagoland area in 2019 for the first time in at least 20 years (and probably much longer).
Over the last 12 recruiting cycles (2021 included) Notre Dame has signed just 19 recruits from Chicagoland (and I was fairly liberal in including Cary, Illinois). Those recruits are:
- 2010 — Tommy Rees, Christian Lombard
- 2011 — DaVaris Daniels
- 2012 — Scott Daly
- 2013 — Colin McGovern
- 2014 — Nyles Morgan, Nic Weishar
- 2015 — Miles Boykin, Micah Dew-Treadway, Trevor Ruhland
- 2016 — Julian Love, John Shannon
- 2017 — Cole Kmet, Isaiah Robertson
- 2018 — Houston Griffith, Micah Jones
- 2020 — Rylie Mills
- 2021 — Justin Walters, Pat Coogan
Obviously Chicago is still a major pipeline for elite long-snapping talent, so at least we have that.
Most Notre Dame fans have long known Chicago has took a much smaller role when it comes to football recruiting, but if the area was able to shift back into a real power it would be a powerful lift for Notre Dame and others in the Midwest — but that probably isn’t going to happen, and certainly won’t be like other parts of the country as a machine to work players from youth ball through high school.
I grew up in football-mad Ohio, where it wouldn’t be uncommon for a 5th grader to start learning a system, or at least specific skills, that translated directly into what the local high school wanted to do. If the high school ran the Single Wing, by God you were going to learn how to block for the Single Wing way before you hit 9th grade. This isn’t the case for much of Chicagoland.
As a resident of Ohio and someone who played their HS ball in the state, I had to include that quote from Matt’s article. It highlights that developing talent means you actually have to develop the talent. Until there are massive shifts over there in Chicagoland, the 1.5 average signing of a 3.5-Star average recruit will probably remain the way it is for Notre Dame.
I just wish it was a little better.
Be sure to read that Extra Points newsletter linked above for more clarity on why Chicago isn’t a major pipeline anymore. I think it’s because their pizza sucks, but I don’t have the data for that.