Special…as Always

Safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin discusses the upcoming weekend, one with more than 50 high school prospects headed to South Bend.

In excess of 50 high school seniors and juniors will visit South Bend this weekend. 13 of them have already pledged their verbal allegiance to head coach Brian Kelly and the University of Notre Dame.

Each of them needs at least a modicum of face time with the man in charge, his charges, and fellow future Irish over a 48-hour visit.

And oh yeah, those coaches and player hosts have a little football game to attend to Saturday night as well.

For Irish Safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, both aspects of the weekend are important, but there's no mistaking the pecking order.

"I wouldn't say there's extra pressure," Martin began of what Irisheyes.com recruiting analyst Brian Dohn dubbed, ‘Recruit-a-pa-looza.' "Because there are 10,000 reasons I want to play well and beat USC that have nothing to do with recruiting. That may be a good by-product, but I've spent my whole life doing this (coaching); our players have (invested their lives, too).

"The second thing with that," Martin offered. "(Recruits) are going to have a great weekend, regardless. Talk to (current Irish freshman) DaVaris Daniels about when he came two years ago as a (high school) sophomore on an unofficial visit to the Notre Dame/USC game (the Trojans won 34-27); it changed his perception of Notre Dame forever."

Notre Dame's comeback bid fell short, but the Irish had a chance to win on their final drive, getting to the shadow of the SC goal line before throwing incomplete on three straight passes including one as time expired.

"That wasn't the only reason we got DaVaris," Martin continued, "but if you talk to him about the recruiting process – and I recruited him – a big part of it was that experience on an unofficial visit to watch Notre Dame play USC, in a close game, in a good game, and we were driving for the winning score and didn't get it done.

"But the loss didn't diminish being at Notre Dame for ND/USC. It's a pretty special thing."

Sometimes when you lose, you win…

Martin indicated the atmosphere and experience for each recruit often plays a bigger role in a later decision than the game's outcome.

"Getting them here (is the key)," he admitted. "If you play well and you win, it helps, obviously. Every win helps when it comes to recruiting." Still, sometimes positive on-field indicators can sway a recruit's decision more than a victory.

"If kids were still interested in Notre Dame on September 1 of their senior year, there's more to it (to derail that interest) than two opening losses," Martin noted of the team's rough start and its supposed impact on recruiting momentum.

"Now certainly that's not (going to help) we all know that, but they also can identify that we have a pretty good team. There were a lot of good things the first two games. The unfortunate thing is; the bad things were catastrophically bad. That's what caused the losses, but you could see that we're putting together a good team."

That was never more evident than in the fourth quarter collapse in Ann Arbor, Michigan's biggest recruiting event of the 2011 season.

"I have kids that went to Michigan for the game and came away feeling great about Notre Dame," Martin offered. "Not the outcome, but if you watched the game, we were the dominant team for three quarters, not just ahead, we were the dominant team.

"Now obviously in the fourth quarter they dominated us and found a way to win the game and they deserved the outcome. But a lot of the kids at that game were pretty excited about where Notre Dame football was going."

Part of that direction is the team's consistently successful head coach (Kelly ranks third among all current FBS coaches in career victories; sixth in winning percentage); another aspect is the undeniable fact that this staff plays its best players, regardless of their year in school.

"Last year's class is helping us," Martin said of a freshman crop that has seen 10 players hit the field through six games. "They see them running around out there, not just watching (from the bench) and say, ‘Hey, those are freshmen?'

"There were times at the end of the Michigan State game that we had five freshmen (including red-shirts) on the field up front at the same time.(Recruits) watch them and can see where this is going."

A recruit actively involved in Notre Dame football Saturdays usually indicates true interest in the program.

"If you talk to him on Monday and say, ‘Hey, did you watch our game?' and three straight weeks (he hasn't) then he's probably not. But if they watched it and tell you, ‘Hey you screwed this up, you did that wrong' then you know they're involved and really concerned with what's going on."

Is it too much?

Irish fans have eagerly anticipated Saturday's recruit-fest since the number of visitors approached double digits. The reality that five times that many prospects will be on hand simultaneously is admittedly daunting for Kelly and his staff.

"Certainly if we could have spread it out over three or four games, we would have done that. I don't know that our recruits saw some of the other games as exciting as this opportunity," Kelly offered. "Obviously, if we had the total say on it, we may have spaced it out a little bit better. But it's a great atmosphere. It's USC. It's on primetime television on NBC. So we're going to do our best to accommodate a number of recruits that we have up here this weekend."

Martin added that more recruits simply means more meetings, but outside of that, a schedule remains intact.

"It'll be similar (to the norm) but more time and more individual meetings," he said of his plan of attack outside game-planning for the Trojans. "We can manage this many; we wouldn't bring in this many if we couldn't manage it…but there are 24 hours in a day and we won't sleep a lot. At some point, get some caffeine in you or you'll run out of gas."

As the recruiting coordinator, Martin will be a focal point of interaction, but Kelly realizes not every coach can invest more time in the ancillary aspect of the weekend.

"We've had these conversations. Each coach feels comfortable with what they can give to the recruiting process in-season. I don't ask for any more," he said. "I measure that in what I ask from them, because at the end of the day, the most important thing is our preparation for USC."

Notre Dame's first night game in 21 years offers an unintentional benefit for recruits looking to have meaningful conversations with Kelly & Co. on a game weekend.

"Given amount of players that are on campus – official, unofficial, younger, older – playing at night helps us in the management of meetings that I'll be able to have," Kelly offered. "Most won't arrive until Saturday, which keeps them here Sunday through Monday (48 hours is the cut-off), and that allows us on Sunday to have more time with recruits.

"Because if they come in Friday (per usual), they're usually out on Sunday. So having that night game allows us a little bit more time with the perspective student-athletes."

That time is well-spent, because as Martin indicated, the staff offers little in the way of promises they can't deliver.

"Be up front and honest with kids and in the end, if you're up front and honest, you hope the right ones will choose (ND), Martin said. "The ones that get caught up in all the ESPN (hype) and the hoopla, and who the hot team is that year, well, if they want to jump on that bandwagon, that's probably not the right fit here anyway."

Special, because it always is…

Asked if he's experienced a recruiting weekend of this magnitude before, Martin quipped, "At Grand Valley, Eastern Michigan, Millikin, Wittenberg, and Mankato State (his previous coaching stops) we didn't have 50 of the best players in the world show up on our doorstep to check out a game, no. It's a little different for me."

A lifelong Irish fan, Martin doesn't believe the night time atmosphere will make the rivalry matchup "more special" than it already is.

"If they said we were playing at 9 am it wouldn't matter to me. I'd just need to modify my schedule," Martin explained. "I've been a Notre Dame fan my whole life. If Notre Dame's playing football, since I knew what Notre Dame football was, I've been excited. Even when I didn't work here I'd try to find a way to watch the game and follow what's going on.

"If kids come here and don't think Notre Dame football is a big deal, we don't want them anyway," he continued. "We want kids that think Notre Dame is (great) and kids that want to help us win a national title.

"It's pretty good on game day here," he said of the weekly atmosphere. "If USC is coming to town, it's pretty electric. But we certainly targeted this weekend to have these kids on campus and it could be a good selling point."

High school prospects will doubtlessly be impressed when they exit South Bend on a beautiful fall morning, afternoon, or evening. Notre Dame's fan base and alumni will turn their attention to the scoreboard, as always.

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