Though the 2013 recruiting period ended on national signing day two weeks ago, the trials and tribulations of the 2014 cycle commenced long ago for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his assistants.
A crucial facet of the recruiting game is establishing and developing relationships with prospects nationwide, and getting an early start on doing so is paramount, as witnessed by the number of offers doled out by the Irish coaching staff to 2014 prospects thus far.
By the time it's all said and done, the staff will have disseminated somewhere in the range of 150-200 offers, among those being the so-called gems of a class.
Who are the gems that the Irish have their eyes on in the 2014 class?
Let's have a look.
In an effort to combat high-octane spread offenses, Notre Dame has been in hot pursuit of swift, agile inside linebackers to implement within defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme.
The Irish's top target at the position is Plainfield, Ill., native Clifton Garrett.
Per 247sports.com, Garrett is rated as the nation's 38th overall prospect regardless of position and the second-best available inside linebacker.
A 6'3", 220-pound force out of Plainfield South High School, Garrett boasts a slew of offers, including Arizona State, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, among others.
Working in the Irish's favor in their effort to secure a commitment from Garrett is the prospect of early playing time. Following the 2013 season, incumbent starting left inside linebacker Dan Fox will have exhausted his eligibility, opening up a starting gig that may very well be Garrett's, should he choose to attend Notre Dame.
Another Chicago-area prospect the Irish are after is offensive tackle Jamarco Jones.
247sports.com rates the De La Salle High School product as the nation's 47th overall prospect, regardless of position, as well as the fourth-best available offensive tackle.
Jones, a 6'5", 285-pound mauler, boasts a 4.2 grade point average, which will have the eyes of Notre Dame's admissions office sparkling.
As is the case with many incoming offensive linemen, Jones would likely take a redshirt as a freshman to add weight to his frame and adjust his body to the collegiate game.
Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin are among the schools that have offered the heralded linemen.
Keeping with the Chicago-area themed recruiting efforts, the Irish have offered another speedy inside linebacker in Nyles Morgan.
The 6'2", 220-pound inside linebacker fits the mold of the swift, ball-hawking middle linebacker who is also deft at dropping into coverage and making plays on obvious passing downs.
A student at Crete-Monee High School, Morgan has attracted loads of interest from major programs across the country.
His list of offers includes Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, UCLA, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin, among others.
Though it's still early in the 2014 recruiting cycle, it's fair to say that Jabrill Peppers is Notre Dame's top target across the recruiting board.
The 6'1", 210-pound cornerback is rated as the nation's eighth overall prospect by 247sports.com, as well as the nation's top "athlete," as Peppers plays both cornerback and running back at Paramus Catholic High School.
Because he hails from the East Coast and is such a highly sought after prospect, the Irish have assigned defensive coordinator and master recruiter Bob Diaco to the 5-star cornerback.
And unlike most prospects, Peppers has narrowed down his list of schools to five prior to his senior season, and Notre Dame made the cut along with Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and Stanford.
For the second consecutive recruiting cycle, Notre Dame has its eyes on a 5-star running back out of the state of Florida.
During the first go-round, the Irish received a commitment from 2013 prospect Greg Bryant, who has since signed his national letter of intent. This time, it's Plantation, Fla., native Sony Michel.
The Irish are in great standing with the 5'11", 205-pound running back, as he has narrowed his list of schools to five, and Notre Dame made the cut along with Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Miami.
Working in Notre Dame's favor is the connection to Michel's school, American Heritage.
The Irish nabbed Michel's teammate and inside linebacker Michael Deeb from the school during the 2013 cycle, and Deeb will surely assist Michel's recruiter, running backs coach Tony Alford, in the pursuit of the heralded running back.
One of Brian Kelly's most stringent recruiting philosophies is taking one quarterback per recruiting cycle.
His primary target in the 2014 class is Westlake Village, Calif., native Brandon Dawkins.
Dawkins' hometown should ring a bell for Notre Dame fans, as he attends the same high school, Oaks Christian, as former Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is currently Cam Newton's backup with the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
The 6'3", 206-pound Dawkins only holds two offers thus far, with the Irish leading the way along with Utah.
Dawkins, a dual-threat quarterback, is an ideal fit in Kelly's spread offense, which will be an effective recruiting pitch for his lead recruiter, Notre Dame passing coordinator and outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock.
Throughout the 2000s, Notre Dame earned the reputation as "Tight End U," as the school churned out current NFL tight ends Anthony Fasano, John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph.
Also, former tight end Tyler Eifert is expected to be a first-round selection in April's NFL draft.
Jeb Blazevich, a native of Charlotte, N.C., and a student at Charlotte Christian High School, may be the next in line.
He has great burst and speed for a tight end of his size, and compares favorably to Eifert.
247sports.com has rated the 6'5", 240-pound Blazevich as the nation's fifth-best available tight end, and has narrowed his list of schools to Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Mississippi, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Like Jeb Blazevich, coveted prospect Elijah Hood also hails from the city of Charlotte, N.C., though he attends Charlotte Catholic High School.
Hood has been labeled as an "athlete" due to his ability to play both running back and linebacker at a high level, and that versatility has made him a gem in the eyes of many programs around the country.
Despite the overwhelming interest in Hood, he has narrowed his list of schools to Clemson, Georgia Tech, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
It's unclear as to whether the Irish would utilize Hood as a linebacker or running back, but it would make sense to slot him as a linebacker if the Irish were able to snag an elite running back in the 2014 class.
Regardless of which position he'll play at the next level, Hood is a beast of an athlete at 6'0" and 212 pounds, with a recorded 40 time of 4.55 seconds.