Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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38 APRIL 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED the program's recruiting coordinator two years ago, the longtime Kelly as- sistant was tasked with creating an operation that would put the program in position to land championship-cal- iber recruiting hauls year after year. "The first thing I did is I met with Coach Kelly and tried to get his vi- sion of how he saw the recruiting department going," said Elston, who has now worked with Kelly for 13 straight seasons. "I took his vision and analyzed that along with what had been done prior to then. There was a disconnect. We needed to get that department running at the level Brian Kelly wanted it to run. "In order to do that, we had to put together a strong staff within the re- cruiting department and then clearly define the roles of the new staff." Elston realized Notre Dame needed significant change at the ground level. "We separated the recruiting of- fice into two major areas," Elston ex- plained. "Number one was the player personnel department, the evaluation phase. That's the beginning … and we never had that fully defined. "We were always playing catch-up in that area. We weren't ahead of the cycle because we were dabbling in different things, and we weren't truly focused on just player evaluation. "Number two was the acquiring of talent," he continued. "The mar- keting, the strategy and how you're going to operate on your unofficial visits and on your official visits when your kids come to campus." Elston turned to a veteran and a new face in order to get the two de- partments rolling. Dave Peloquin, who has been involved with the pro- gram going on 14 years, was put in charge of evaluations. Notre Dame hired Aaryn Kearney to head up the marketing side. "Dave was completely able to fo- cus his efforts along with help of the staff," Elston said. "We put together a small staff for him to help organize, and now we're years ahead in that office. "We put together a very strong staff with the recruiting end with Aaryn Kearney, and he's a superstar at what he does. "We've got Jazmine Johnson who is his assistant, a social media direc- tor who runs all of our social me- dia accounts and a full-time graphic designer who has several assistants under him. "We've really beefed up that end of it." Elston went on to discuss how each department and each person within those departments was given clearly defined roles, with the objective of creating a more efficient and effec- tive recruiting office. It was that sup- port staff that played a significant role in Notre Dame keeping its head above water following the 2016 sea- son, which saw five assistant coaches leave the program. "The relationships that that office was able to build and the relation- ships that the remaining coaches were able to build allowed us to hold onto, in a very tough time, a core group of guys that ended up signing with us in 2017," he noted. "Without that actual delineation and quality of work from the recruiting office, that wouldn't have happened." Establishing strong relationships with players and their families was critical. Notre Dame's committed players and their parents developed a trust with the Irish staff, which helped them stick with the program in the end. However, having good relation- ships doesn't mean it was easy to keep the class intact. "There were a lot of questions, and there weren't a lot of answers at the time," Elston said, referring to the period following the season before the new staff was completed. "It was Head coach Brian Kelly has assembled his strongest overall recruiting staff in eight seasons with the Fighting Irish, and the results have already started reflecting that with the 2018 class that is ranked No. 3 nationally by Rivals. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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