SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman plans to be "the lead recruiter" on every prospect and will take an active, accessible role in the program's future pursuits of top players.
Freeman, promoted to lead the program Dec. 3 after a season as the Fighting Irish's defensive coordinator, on Wednesday introduced Notre Dame's recruiting class, which features 21 prospects. ESPN rates Notre Dame's class No. 6 nationally, despite a few signing day targets heading elsewhere.
After his introductory news conference as head coach Dec. 6, Freeman, 35, said he spent time in 14 states and traveled about 8,000 miles as he aimed to keep the class together and build relationships, especially with the recruits on offense.
"The No. 1 thing is I have to be the lead recruiter for every recruit," Freeman said Wednesday. "I've made that very clearly known to staff. I'm going to be involved with every single recruit that we're involved with, and I want to be the bridge between myself and the position coaches and coordinators, 'Hey, you're going to utilize the head coach in whatever way you need.'"
Freeman said Notre Dame previously divided recruiting responsibilities between offense and defense, but he now wants to approach the process more collectively. His predecessor, Brian Kelly, had been known more as a delegator in recruiting, although Notre Dame consistently signed classes ranked in ESPN's top 15 nationally during his last few years.
"Having an authentic relationship, a personal relationship, not this figure that's inaccessible," Freeman said when asked what a head coach's role in recruiting needs to be. "I want these guys to be able to access me at all times, communicate with me directly on my phone and understand that this is going to be a very personable relationship."
Defensive line coach Mike Elston, the team's recruiting coordinator, said Freeman's recruiting prowess shouldn't be measured in the 2022 class, even though he made an impact at positions such as linebacker, where Notre Dame signed Jaylen Sneed, Niuafe Tuihalamaka and others. Elston elected to remain on Freeman's staff despite a chance to join Kelly at LSU.
"We're going to bridge the gap from what's challenging here -- the location that we're in and how hard it is to do the classwork here -- to the relationships [Freeman is] going to build from the top down," Elston said. "You're going to see in the 2023 recruiting cycle. You already see it, and I believe that by this time next year, you know, there's going to be a lot more people in the room, there's going to be a bigger buzz around our recruiting class."
Elston said Notre Dame will place a greater emphasis on name, image and likeness opportunities with the program, noting that safety Kyle Hamilton found success there. Elston wants to ensure "we're not losing players just because money's flying into their pocket from somewhere else."
Freeman said he finished the recruiting class wearing "a little bit different clothes" than he did as an assistant coach. He wants to set an example for his staff on how to approach recruiting and also encourages assistants to present better ways to approach the process for future cycles.
"To be a great program, you have to start at the top," said offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who remained at Notre Dame despite a chance to join Kelly at LSU. "I saw it for the last 11 months that he's somebody that is going to raise the level of recruiting at Notre Dame. When it starts there, it has a natural effect to trickle through the entire staff.
"As competitors, you don't want to be the black sheep. You don't want to be the one who's not carrying your weight."