Notre Dame Football: Why Recruiting Focus Could Be Moving South

Keith ArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterMarch 12, 2014

Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston in action against Stanford in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

It's no secret that more and more of the top talent in football is coming out of the South. As the country's population shifts out of the Midwest and migrates towards coasts and warmer climates, the strongest recruiting base in the country is being built below the Mason-Dixon line.

(Heck, if Jim Delany is acknowledging it, it's got to be true.)

For a Notre Dame program that already recruits nationally, this is no secret. While the Irish have done well to rebuild their pipeline to Chicago and continue to recruit traditional states like Ohio, there's no question that the Irish coaching staff is committed to planting their flag in southern football rich states. 

Brian VanGorder will now recruit against his former boss, Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
Brian VanGorder will now recruit against his former boss, Georgia head coach Mark Richt.Michael Chang/Getty Images

The addition of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who came to prominence as an elite defensive coordinator at Georgia and returned to the SEC as its highest paid assistant coach at Auburn, gives the Irish another key staffer tasked with building inroads. 

VanGorder, along with the Irish's conference affiliation with the ACC, will have the Irish coaching staff seeing a lot more Waffle Houses in the upcoming years. 

This week, Brian Kelly gave a somewhat rare Q&A to Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For the media savvy Kelly, it's hardly a coincidence that the Irish head coach had time for the largest newspaper in Georgia, a state where the Irish have 12 early scholarship offers out. 

While there wasn't necessarily anything groundbreaking in his answers, Kelly did talk about the key states that the Irish target, as well as how the school's move to the ACC will impact recruiting the region. 

I think our reputation in the state certainly is about getting more than just a couple of players. We’ve recruited (Georgia) for a long time.

There has been a long tradition (of Notre Dame recruiting in Georgia). I’ve recruited down there ever since I’ve been a head coach.

You know, I think the state itself turns out so many high school football players. Texas, Florida, California and Georgia – to me, those are the states you’ve got to be in …We’re going to continue recruiting down there because they turn out really good football players.

VanGorder will be joining Scott Booker recruiting Georgia, adding a veteran presence to work with the young assistant. Booker and the Irish have had some success in the Peach State, signing four players there since Kelly took over as head coach.

While we aren't quite sure how new quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will be used in recruiting, as you look at the reconfigured Irish coaching staff, it's no secret that the group's best recruiters are all working the most talent-rich states. 

Last month, the Irish landed three Texas recruits, all with offers from Charlie Strong's Longhorns. That's a credit to the hard work Kerry Cooks has put in, and the years he has recruiting his home state.

Tony Alford is widely acknowledged as one of the top recruiters in the country, and he's had a flag planted in Florida for a long time, helping to land Corey Holmes out of Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. The sophomore running back duo of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant also hail from Florida and were Alford recruits. Defensive line coach Mike Elston also assists in state, giving the Irish another dynamic presence. 

Quarterback Everett Golson hails from South Carolina, one of many players from the region on the roster.
Quarterback Everett Golson hails from South Carolina, one of many players from the region on the roster.Harry How/Getty Images

While Mike Denbrock's been a painful runner-up multiple times in the Fresno area, he's done great work for the Irish in California. Expect the Kelly to continue to commit resources to the area, with an early commitment from quarterback Blake Barnett likely helping to build momentum in the 2015 cycle and beyond.

Recruiting the South is far from a new idea. There has been talent across the region for decades, and Notre Dame has seen success there for just as long. But the Irish have showed a new commitment to the area in the past decade and it has paid off.

That includes recent success in the Carolinas, with Charlie Weis bringing in prospects like Robert Blanton. The Irish roster is now filled with talent like Chris Brown, Ben Councell, Matthias Farley, Everett Golson, Mark Harrell, Kendall Moore and Romeo Okwara, who all hail from the region. 

With the Irish playing 15 games over the next three seasons against ACC opponents, it can only help to bring in more talent. 

"I think it will help us in recruiting with visibility,” Kelly told the AJC. “I think when you talk about some of the schools we play, this will allow kids to see us play in person. Now they can come over and see you at Georgia Tech. Or they can see you at other schools in the ACC. I think it definitely is an added bonus."