Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

Areas of the country that don’t project prospects to Notre Dame send up red flags. But if a talented player shows more and more interest, how do you turn your back?

GERVIN’S DE-COMMIT
Allen Trieu / Scout

As surprising as Detroit Cass Tech cornerback Kalon Gervin’s verbal commitment to the Irish was earlier this year, his decision to de-commit from the Irish and open up his recruitment nine months before signing day was equally predictable if one had posed the following question as recently as a week ago:

Which of Notre Dame’s 12 verbal commitments is most likely to abandon ship?

Gervin likely would have won such a poll, perhaps in a landslide.

Cass Tech and the Detroit public schools in general don’t send players to Notre Dame, which has prompted some Irish followers to denounce the practice of recruiting in this area, lumping it together with Fresno, Calif., where Notre Dame has had a few swings and misses in the past as well.

I get it. Your odds of winning these battles – battles that extend all the way to the first Wednesday in February of the next year – are slim.

Those odds will improve with the pre-Christmas early signing day (Dec. 20-22). Any time you can clip off seven weeks of the process, you improve your chances of holding onto players, particularly those who typically don’t project to Notre Dame.

Yet even if a player from an area that normally doesn’t produce Notre Dame student-athletes signs with the Irish, chances are greater that he won’t adapt to a truly unique environment and will eventually go elsewhere anyway. I get that part, too.

But all it takes is one. One player who says, “I want the challenge of going to Notre Dame. I accept the fact it will be difficult academically. But I’m going to fight through any adversity that comes my way and earn my degree from Notre Dame.”

Theoretically, that opens the door for the next guy and the next guy and the next guy. Now you’ve tapped into a talent source that previously was dormant. Now you begin to start matching up athletically/physically with the programs that normally draw from these areas. Now you have a better chance to compete for playoff berths.

The lure of big-time college football all over the country is greater than it’s ever been. For those who have always dreamed of playing at Notre Dame, they’re likely to accept the challenge. For those whose radar has just recently detected Notre Dame and its big-picture benefits, it may seem like a worthy challenge, but one that tends to fade as the recruiting process escalates.

Is it worth it? It takes away from the time spent on a prospect more likely to matriculate to Notre Dame. But imagine testing the waters with a player like Gervin, Gervin showing interest, testing the waters further, Gervin showing more interest…

If you’re a Notre Dame assistant coach, do you ignore that? Don’t you go to Kelly and say, “This kid continues to show more and more interest in us. I think we can get him.”

Of course you stay on him, and in the process, you continue to foster the relationship. Before you know it, you’ve got a talented young man who wants to come to Notre Dame. You can see how it quickly would become a real Catch 22 situation.

Final word: Be prepared for the fallout of the early signing period. Kids are going to sign, and come the first Wednesday of February, they’re going to have buyer’s remorse, even though conceivably the process is over. They’re going to see their friends/fellow premier prep football players going elsewhere and believe they’ve made a mistake.

Much can change in the mind of a 17-, 18-year old in seven weeks.

In addition, as Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi pointed out, what happens with the kids who signs, and then the head coach is fired on Dec. 29? What happens when a kid signs on Dec. 20 and a coach is fired on Dec. 21? Athletic departments have to be keenly aware of the timing issues.

If you think the Eddie Vanderdoes decision to allow him out of a signed scholarship with Notre Dame was ground-breaking, just wait.

FRESHMEN PLAYING TIME

I enjoyed Pete Sampson’s take on Notre Dame’s 2017 freshman class in which he speculated – based at least partly on playing-time patterns created under Brian Kelly – as to which of the 21 rookies will play and which will preserve a year of eligibility.

If you haven’t read this two-part series, I encourage you to do so. This is an interesting annual feature.

Ultimately, Sampson concluded that seven of the 20 players would play this fall. (Note: The projection didn’t include kicker Jonathan Doerer, whose playing time will be determined based upon a) Justin Yoon’s health, b) Sam Kohler’s ability and/or c) how well Doerer handles kickoffs.)

That’s one-third of the class and a good target number.

A lot of people get bent out of shape when freshman “waste” a year of eligibility on special teams. Frankly, if Notre Dame were better on special teams and used those freshmen effectively, I think we’d all have less of a problem expending a year on a guy that isn’t necessarily contributing to the offense or defense, but is still influencing a positive outcome to the game.

But when you’re 96th nationally in kick coverage and 123rd in punt coverage – as the Irish were in 2016 – what’s the point? That’s when it really seems like a wasted year.

Anyway, the seven players among the 20 offensive/defensive prospects Sampson speculated would play this fall were:

• Three on offense – tight end Brock Wright and receivers Jafar Armstrong and Michael Young;
• Four on defense – nose tackle Darnell Ewell, Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and safeties Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark Heath.

The only one I might disagree with is Young, although I had him among my top 10 in the class, so I like him a lot. Just not sure how the receiver rotation will work under Chip Long/DelVaughn Alexander.

For me, four of those guys are needed on special teams – Robertson, Owusu-Koramoah, Armstrong and Genmark-Heath. Brian Polian was searching this spring for enough athletes to put out quality, across-the-board special teams units. Those four are needed right away.

Among the other 13 players chosen by Sampson to preserve a year of eligibility, I completely agree with 12 of them. The wildcard for me is Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa.

We’re not sure if he’s a strongside defensive end or a three-technique. If he has the size and strength to play three-technique, I’m not sure Notre Dame can afford to go the entire season without using him, particularly with Notre Dame’s unsettled defensive tackle situation.

We all have a tendency to want Kelly to avoid “wasting” a year of eligibility on a bit player. But for every fifth-year senior, that’s one less player in the next signing class, and then we bemoan the lack of space.

Sometimes it’s best to get guys out there, continue the normal flow of players through your program, and then just get back on the recruiting trail to fill the gaps. Of course, we remember Romeo Okwara, and we wonder why Khalid Kareem enters the ’17 season with just three years of eligibility.

It’s subjective, but it’s college football’s version of the circle of life.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

The Irish Illustrated staff recently was asked on The Four Horsemen Lounge about our best/worst experiences on the road covering Notre Dame football.

That’s a lot of “experiences” with 35 years of covering the Fighting Irish, including every game for 31 straight years/381 games in a row.

That’s two trips to Ireland, four to Hawaii, 16 to the Los Angeles Coliseum, 13 to Stanford Stadium, all points from east to west, and about 200 home games in the original Notre Dame Stadium, which was followed by the expanded Notre Dame Stadium, and now the Campus Crossroads Notre Dame Stadium.

Here’s the number that astonishes me: I’ve been to 27 of Notre Dame’s 35 bowl games (77 percent) – 25 as a reporter and two more (1971 Cotton Bowl and 1973 Orange Bowl) as a pre-teen.

At last count, it was about 50 stadiums outside of the House That Rockne Built.

The Irish Illustrated staff recently was asked about our favorite trips, the worst trips, and the ones we’re most looking forward to.

Any long football season that ends in California qualifies as a favorite trip, especially when it’s Manhattan Beach. Also, when you go from the last home game of the 2013 season vs. Brigham Young – one of the coldest games in my time at Notre Dame Stadium – to the San Francisco Bay area to play Stanford, life as we know it improves.

There will be no first-time trips to stadiums for me this season, although the return to Hard Rock Stadium (Sun Life Stadium back then) in Miami Gardens for the first time since the national title tilt against Alabama five years ago will bring back memories.

A visit to Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. on Oct. 6, 2018, is a bucket-list trip, particularly if it’s a night game (it will be) where the crowd has been influencing Hokie games for years.

Who wouldn’t want to hear Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” with Lane Stadium rockin’?

Other first-time trips coming up would be: Ryan Field (Northwestern) on Nov. 3, 2018 in Evanston, Ill.; Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (Louisville) on Sept. 2, 2019; Sanford Stadium (Georgia) on Sept. 21, 2019 in Athens; and Wallace Wade Stadium (Duke) on Nov. 9, 2019 in Durham, N.C.

Seeing a game “Between the Hedges” at Georgia is a bucket-list trip. Others…Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama) in Tuscaloosa; Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn); Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Florida) in Gainesville; Michie Stadium (Army) at West Point; and Albertson’s Stadium (Boise State) in Idaho.

If/when I reach the 400 mark – which would be Stanford 2018 if Notre Dame played for the national title in ’17, at Virginia Tech if Notre Dame plays in a bowl game this season, or at home versus Pittsburgh if the Irish fail to make a bowl in ’17 – I’ll construct a complete list of every place I’ve been and all the corresponding numbers.

God-willing.


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