For years, Notre Dame fans talked about the pipeline Lou Holtz built between South Bend and Chicago. Teamed with recruiting czar Vinny Cerrato, the Irish cherry-picked elite athletes from Chicago, one of the key battleground states Notre Dame dominated as they returned to being a college football power.
But the Irish have slowly moved away from that traditional stomping ground. Whether it was out of necessity, a lack of perceived talent or a national recruiting footprint better fit the program's needs, Notre Dame's stranglehold on players in and around Chicago has slowly diminished.
Never was that more apparent than last year. While the Irish put together a tremendous recruiting class, they swung and missed on more top players from Chicago (and casting a wider net, in Illinois) than you'd expect.
Elite wide receiver Laquon Treadwell of Crete-Monee picked Ole Miss, never coming around to Notre Dame. Early offensive line target Ethan Pocic picked LSU over the Irish. Running back Ty Isaac was a priority target for Notre Dame, but USC plucked him from Joliet Catholic. Kyle Bosch, one of the elite guards in last year's cycle from St. Francis in Wheaton, chose Michigan over the Irish.
Of the nine players from Illinois in 247Sports.com's top 247, none picked Notre Dame in 2013. That's a staggering miss considering Chuck Martin's recruiting reputation and Notre Dame coming off of a BCS Championship appearance.
But with the ink now dry on Notre Dame's current recruiting haul, the Irish coaching staff made it clear that they're still players in Chicago. Reeling in Nyles Morgan, Nic Weishar and Nile Sykes, the Irish put together arguably the best group of Chicagoland players of any major program in college football.
All three were members of the Chicago Tribune's first-team All-State team. Especially promising is getting back in at Crete-Monee and Montini Catholic, two schools that produce a lot of good football players and had recruits turn down the Irish in recent years.
In Morgan and Sykes, the Irish have two prototype Chicago players, sideline-to-sideline athletes who should make an impact on the Irish defense. In Weishar, the Irish have the Illinois all-time leading reception leader, a Marist product who could reopen his school's pipeline to South Bend.
Understanding why Notre Dame's presence has diminished in Chicago-area schools is difficult to pinpoint. Talking to a member of the Irish coaching staff, there's a a feeling that a successful career from a player like Morgan or Sykes would put the program back on the map with local players after a string of bad luck.
An embarrassing high-profile miss on quarterback Demetrius Jones, who flamed out under Charlie Weis quickly after starring at Morgan Park, hurt the Irish's reputation in Chicago's Public League—however unfair that might be. Seeing Steve Filer never materialize after a "can't-miss" label was bestowed upon him out of Mount Carmel didn't help, either. Even though Darius Fleming started for Kelly at "Cat" linebacker for multiple seasons, he never became an impact performer.
But all that can change.
And with Notre Dame's addition of Morgan, Weishar and Sykes, it could change quickly.