This weekend’s game may be off-site, but make no mistake, for Notre Dame, the recruiting game is still on.
The Irish’s latest Shamrock Series game will bring them to Arlington, Texas for a primetime Saturday night matchup with Arizona State inside AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Shamrock Series was designed to help Notre Dame further its brand around the nation and there’s no area that can directly impact the future of the program on the field more than through recruiting. The Irish have had several prospects attend previous Shamrock Series games in Chicago, Baltimore and New York City, but this weekend’s game in Texas could feature more recruits on hand than ever before.
While a couple of highly-rated seniors are expected in the house, the majority of the recruits will be underclassmen from the Southwest, mostly Texas and Louisiana.
2014 Bishop Dunne (Dallas) teammates Nick Watkins and Payton Hendrix will get a preview of Notre Dame a couple weeks before trekking up to South Bend for official visits for the Irish’s game against the Trojans later this month. Watkins is probably Notre Dame’s best bet at an elite cornerback in the Class of 2014 and Hendrix is definitely one of their best shots at a highly-ranked safety. They’ll be joined on Saturday by another teammate, 2015 defensive tackle Darrion Daniels, who landed an offer from Notre Dame last month.
In addition to Daniels, a couple other 2015 Texas targets who already hold Irish offers are expected to be in attendance in defensive end James Lockhart and safety Justin Dunning. A host of other junior prospects from Texas will be on hand including South Oak Cliff teammates running back Jordan Stevenson, defensive lineman/linebacker Jalen Goss and defensive lineman/offensive lineman Kameron Stubblefield.
2015 Texas offensive lineman Abdul Beecham has also confirmed his plans to be at the game as have 2015 quarterback Chason Vigil and his West Mesquite teammate, 2015 wide receiver Akilian Butler. Vigil already has offers from Texas, Clemson, Nebraska and UCLA among others while Butler holds an offer from Clemson. 2015 defensive tackle Bryce English is committed to Texas, but said he plans on attending as has 2015 Texas quarterback Nathan Elliott, who already has offers from Army and North Carolina.
A handful of Louisiana prospects will also be in attendance, led by 2015 Irish offensive line commit Jerry Tillery. This will be two weeks in a row for Tillery seeing Notre Dame play as he was in South Bend last weekend for the Oklahoma game. The Irish are doing all they can to keep Tillery’s attention firmly directed toward them.
Other Louisiana targets expected to be at the game include 2015 tight end Michael Dunman, 2015 defensive tackle Jozie Milton and possibly 2015 defensive tackle T.D. Moton, who already holds an offer from Notre Dame and is friendly with Tillery. 2015 Arkansas tight end Will Gragg could also be at AT&T Stadium after receiving a huge rush of interest from Notre Dame since Sept. 1st.
Those are just the prospects who have either directly confirmed their plans or said they strongly intend on going. There are several other prospects from the Southwest who are hoping to work out their travel plans or schedule in order to attend.
Some of the bigger names in that category include 2015 Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, who figures to be an elite prospect in the upcoming class, 2015 Texas running back Chris Warren, who already has offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas. The Irish are hoping a trio of Fort Bend Marshall (Missouri City, Texas) 2015 teammates, quarterback J.W. Ketchum, running back Davon Crookshank and defensive back Kendall Sheffield (pictured), take them up on the offer to attend. Other possible attendees include Larry Pryor, a big-time 2015 Texas wide receiver, and 2015 Texas tight end Jordan Davis, who is currently committed to Texas A&M.
It’s clear the Irish are going after the top players in the Southwest, including some who are already committed to schools like Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma among others. They won’t all come, but the bottom line is Notre Dame is trying to get as many of the top targets in the region as possible inside Jerry World on Saturday night to give them the chance to see Irish football in person.
Getting them in the stadium is one thing and given the pageantry and electricity that comes with a Notre Dame football game regardless of where it’s played, it’s a big thing, possibly the biggest. But giving the prospects a show worth watching is another.
With the possible exception of the USC game, the outcome of this game and Notre Dame’s performance should have as much of an impact on the way the prospects view Notre Dame coming out of it as any.
The Irish staff can provide tickets to the game to recruits, but direct contact with them is extremely limited. Almost a 1,000 miles south of the Grotto and the Gug, there will be no campus tours and no academic presentations.
Recruits will surely be impressed by the special uniforms the Irish wear for the game each year and they’re likely to be taken aback by the broad, national fan base Notre Dame brings. They’ll definitely be watching their individual position groups, trying to see if they’d be fits stylistically, they’ll be looking to see the attitude and swag of the players and the way the coaches handle situations on the sidelines.
But in the end, winning the game will be important.
Saturday night represents a huge opportunity for Notre Dame’s 2013 season and beyond.