Notre Dame wants 'sizzle' in changing recruiting landscape

Notre Dame wants 'sizzle' in changing recruiting landscape
May 30, 2014, 12:00 pm
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Consider this: When Jeff Samardzija committed to Notre Dame a dozen years ago, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Vine, no SnapChat, no smartphones. In recruiting terms, 12 years is an eternity when trends seem to change every 12 months.

Notre Dame secured a verbal commitment from four-star linebacker Josh Barajas on Friday, flipping the Merrillville, Ind. native from Penn State. He's the ninth member of Notre Dame's 2015 recruiting class, which Rivals currently ranks 12th nationally. And Barajas' high school coach made an awfully lofty comparison to him, too.

Brian Kelly and his staff don't have the problem of trying to create awareness for their school when dealing with recruits. The challenge for Notre Dame is manufacturing buzz about the program while competing against powerhouse programs like Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and USC for top recruits across the country.

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247 Sports reported Notre Dame, following Penn State's lead, will hold a satellite camp at Georgia State in the summer of 2015, inviting recruits from the South's most fertile recruiting areas to Atlanta to get a look at what the Irish have to offer. These satellite camps — officially hosted by Georgia State with Brian Kelly or other Notre Dame coaches as "guests" — have rankled some SEC coaches who see northern programs exploiting an NCAA loophole to roll into the South like modern-day football carpetbaggers.

It's no secret Notre Dame wants to make more recruiting in-roads in the South. That's a big reason why a home-and-home series with Georgia may be in the offing, and why Notre Dame can't be too disappointed about difficult ACC road trips to Florida State and Clemson in 2014 and 2015. Notre Dame's pulled some elite players out of the South in the last few years, like Everett Golson (South Carolina), Louis Nix (Northern Florida), Stephon Tuitt (Georgia) and T.J. Jones (Georgia).

Merely having a presence in the South should help, as has been the case with Notre Dame's recruiting efforts in the state of Texas. Notre Dame played its Shamrock Series game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington last fall and landed three players from Texas who had scholarship offers from the University of Texas in its 2014 recruiting class.

"A bump would probably be a good word," Kelly said last October. "Is it going to seal the deal for us in a lot of these instances? Probably not, but it certainly helps to have the kind of exposure there."

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There's still plenty of talent for Notre Dame to recruit close to home like Barajas, Jaylon Smith and DaVaris Daniels, among many others. But the level and depth of talent in the South, as well as Texas and California, makes it an incredibly important area of expansion for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame isn't just trying to gain a foothold with a camp presence in Georgia, though. Kelly talked earlier this month about turning the program's annual camp in South Bend into a bigger event — the "Irish Invasion," as it's being called — to help draw recruits to campus and create some buzz.

Notre Dame's held camps for recruits in the past, but Kelly wanted to add some "sizzle" to the weekend. Irish Invasion, which will be held June 20-22, is an invitation-only event that Kelly said will have a "carnival" atmosphere, with activities not just for recruits but for their families as well. It's the first time Notre Dame has tried one of these events that've become staples for programs like Texas A&M and Ohio State, both of which routinely bring in top-rated recruiting classes.

"We wanted to have a marquee event in June that separated us and separated from our camps, which are educational, which are historic in a sense that kids come to Notre Dame for that experience," Kelly said. "And then we wanted to have one that kind of separated itself a little bit, and that was really the thought process behind it. We didn't feel like we were a step behind, per se, but we felt like we wanted something that really heightened the national recruiting scope that we have. And that's how we kind of marketed it."

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Tying these recruiting efforts together is a greater push with graphic design. Notre Dame may have a good national brand, but it still needs to have some pop when a letter shows up on a recruit's doorstep or a tweet shows up on a recruit's timeline.

Forget the ever-changing landscape of social media (i.e., that Facebook isn't "cool" anymore). Kelly said the importance of graphic design has skyrocketed in the last six months alone.

"If you're not at the front end of that right now in recruiting, you're about three steps behind everybody," Kelly said.

Notre Dame still has its history — the championships, the Heisman winners, "Rudy," etc. Coaches can pitch the school's facilities and academics, as well as a solid pipeline to the NFL. But those pitches only go so far, especially for a northern school.

That's why Notre Dame still has to stay current with recruiting trends. The satellite camps, the Irish invasion, the graphic designs — those are what can put Notre Dame over the top when working to secure a commitment from recruits who ultimately could become difference-makers in South Bend.