SOUTH BEND, Ind. – I left Atlanta on a 9:58 a.m. flight this morning. My Delta jet touched down at South Bend Airport 100 minutes later. I was standing in front of Notre Dame’s famous Touchdown Jesus by half-past noon.
I share this today for two reasons: One, to let you know that I’ll be here for the rest of the week to provide DawgNation readers with a sneak preview of the Fighting Irish, who will make a historic trip to Athens to play Georgia in Sanford Stadium on Sept. 21; and, two, as a personal validation of what I’d been hearing from those around here who bleed Blue & Gold.
That is, that the Irish now see Greater Atlanta as a recruiting pot of gold.
Notre Dame always has recruited nationally. Though it has lost its claim as the those most feared and dominant college football program in the land, the Irish still are a force to contend with. Just see last year’s appearance in College Football Playoff as evidence. But theirs remains one of the most powerful brands in sports and it also happens one of the finest academic institutions in this country, which still matters to some.
But like any other broad-based organization, Notre Dame has to focus its energy. And while it hits all the traditional recruiting strongholds in the country, such as Texas, California and Florida, increasingly the Irish are focusing their energy and resources on Atlanta and the state of Georgia.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and third-year recruiting coordinator Brian Polian have seen to that. They feel like they simply get more bang for their buck in the Peach State. That’s primarily because coaches are able to fly into Hartsfield-Jackson International — or private charters into Peachtree-DeKalb — and quickly gain access to a football-crazed population of 6 million people.
That’s reflected on Notre Dame’s current roster. The Fighting Irish have seven Georgians in their number, including three highly-regarded signees from the 2019 recruiting class – J.D. Bertrand, Kyle Hamilton and K.J. Wallace. Notably, Notre Dame signed no players from Florida this year.
All of three of the Atlantans also held offers from the Bulldogs, including one UGA badly wanted, according to DawgNation’s recruiting reporter Jeff Sentell. That’d be Hamilton, who is being projected as a possible first-year starter at safety for the Irish. The 4-star prospect and soon-to-be Marist graduate ranks 44th on 247Sports’ list of all-highest-rated Notre Dame recruits, and the second-highest out of Georgia to Monroe’s Stephon Tuitt. Hamilton ranked 60th nationally, fifth at his position and ninth overall in the state as a recruit. And the Bulldogs were focusing on defensive backs and safeties in particular. In the end, the combination of Notre Dame’s academic and football tradition won out for Hamilton’s services.
Others have simply found Notre Dame as an impressive alternative. Bertrand, a 6-1, 220-pound linebacker out of Blessed Trinity in Roswell, was actually a longtime UGA commit. But Bertrand decommitted from the Bulldogs last October, likely affected by Georgia’s continued pursuit of other linebackers. No. 1-ranked Nakobe Dean and Trezman Marshall, who ranked seventh nationally, eventually signed with the Bulldogs. So it could be argued Bertrand was recruited over.
That’s pretty much what happened with Tommy Tremble, a UGA legacy out of Atlanta’s Wesleyan School by way of Johns Creek. The 3-star tight end is the son of the Bulldogs’ former defensive back Greg Tremble, a two-year starter at UGA in the early 1990s before a brief NFL career. Tommy Tremble received a scholarship offer from Kirby Smart, but Georgia ended up signing a pair of higher-rated tight ends in Luke Ford, the No. 1 player out of Illinois, and John FitzPatrick, a 4-star prospect out of Marist.
While Greg Tremble very much would have liked his son to have go to Georgia, he’s been thrilled with what he learned about Notre Dame and what he has witnessed from Tommy’s experience so far. The 6-foot-3, 237-pound redshirt freshman has been creating a buzz with his play in the Irish’s spring practices and should be looking at playing time this fall. Tremble would’ve played last season, but a broken ankle in the second week sidelined him for the year.
Asked if he’d ever envisioned his son one day playing for Notre Dame, Greg Tremble laughed hard.
“Not in a million years,” he said. “But you know, as a father you just want the best for your kids. I would’ve been happy with anything. I’m just ecstatic as a father. He’s happy as he’s ever been, he’s healthy and he’s obviously getting a great education.”
The Trembles have now made the trip to South Bend from Atlanta several times now. They’ll be making it this Friday when they pack up the car and make the drive with the whole clan, including Tommy’s mom, brother and two sisters. They’re coming watch Saturday’s Blue & Gold spring game at Notre Dame Stadium.
For the record, they like that flight a lot better. “It’s nine or 10 hours,” Greg Tremble said of the drive. “It’s the last two hours that get you as you go through all those little towns.”
That’s one downside of the Notre Dame experience for Atlantans. The other is the weather. Right now they’re hoping the wind and rain of a current cold front clears out so the temperature will get into the 50s for Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.
Georgia is taking more of a national recruiting approach as it’s own brand continues to rise under Smart. But the Bulldogs always will focus on the home state first, and increasingly they’re bumping into the Notre Dame. At the rate Atlanta is pumping out elite prospects, they can’t sign them all.
The Fighting Irish are showing they’re more than happy to swoop in and pluck away a few.