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A dozen Notre Dame defensive signees in Marcus Freeman’s and Al Golden’s words

Drayk Bowen

No coach is going to criticize any signed recruit on National Signing Day, obviously, but what they choose to praise can shed some insight into each new prospect. When Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman repeatedly points out the length of the pair of defensive end signees, the speed of one cornerback signee and the mindset of the other, it speaks both to those traits about to join the Irish roster and the things Freeman and his coaching staff look for on the recruiting trail.

Both as a functional usage of a pile of quotes from Wednesday’s start to the December signing period and as an efficient means to publication during a holiday weekend, let’s pull every quote from Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden on Notre Dame’s dozen defensive signees in the recruiting class of 2023.

Freeman on a pair of consensus four-star defensive ends: “You look at the ends, you look at [Boubacar Traore], you look at Brenan Vernon, we need length. That’s something we’re looking for. You would like length at every position on your team.”

Freeman on a pair of defensive tackle signees: “Our outside guys are a little bit longer than what we got in our tackles in [consensus four-star Devan Houstan] and [three-star tackle Armel Mukam], but again, you’re always looking for length.”

Freeman on Mukam, a former Stanford commit: “Very intelligent kid. He’s a good football player, you watch his film (and) he makes a lot of plays. Wasn’t really familiar with some of the schools he was playing, so you get to know him as an individual, and you say okay, ‘He’s an intelligent young man, loves the game of football, has those intangibles that we’re looking for.’ I’m dang glad we got him because I think he’ll do some great things for us.”

Notre Dame gets the letters: Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon

Al Golden on the defensive line quartet: “They all have a chance to compete early, and that’s going to be important, obviously, for depth. [Traore’s] length, rangy, probably in that 240 (-pound) range right now. At some point here we’ll get him up to (255-60), I’m sure.

“[Vernon] brings physical assets. He’s strong, he’s tough, he’s a competitor.”

“[Houstan] is another guy that brings size in. Mukam, strength.”

Freeman on consensus four-star linebacker and Butkus Award winner Drayk Bowen: “What attracted Drayk to you was, to me, the best player in Indiana. Obviously won Mr. Football in Indiana. Then you see his film and you see his work ethic, you meet his family, you say okay, this is a Notre Dame kid.

“Obviously, I was recruiting him last year as the defensive coordinator, but then he has come to every single home game. He loves this place. He’s probably our best recruiter. He talks to every single one of those recruits, and they all respect him. He’s, again, an outgoing personality but he’s a great football player, highly-rated and those different things.

Notre Dame gets the letters: Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen

“He did a great job of continuing to keep this class interconnected. He tells me he’s a great Madden player, they all play Madden against each other, video games, that what these young guys do. They’re on XBox and PlayStations, Snapchat and all that stuff. That’s what they do.

“Drayk was vital in keeping this group together.”

Freeman on a pair of four-star cornerbacks: “Speed, [Micah Bell] is fast, man.

“Both unique individuals. Corners are all different. From [Irish cornerbacks coach] Mike Mickens to Micah Bell to Christian Gray, just unique individuals. But Micah Bell, some of his track times are crazy. He is fast.

“He plays on both sides of the ball, making big plays on both sides of the ball. He could easily be on the offensive side of our team. He is a really good football player from down there in Houston.

“Then Christian Gray, the length, the athleticism, the competitiveness that he brings to that position is something that will translate right here to Notre Dame, and he’ll fit right into that room.”

Golden on Christian Gray: “Christian first. Just a great mentality, great attitude, competitor. Just really one of the backbones of this class. Never wavered. Unbelievable relationship that he and his family forged with our staff here and coach Mickens and coach Freeman. Really excited about his prospects and the ability to make an impact early.”

Golden on Micah Bell: “The speed, that’s hard to find. Really, really hard to find. In a lot of ways, he could play corner, he could play nickel (back) inside. I’m sure [special teams coordinator Brian Mason] is going to try to get him to return kicks and punts. A kid that is one of the faster kids in this class overall.”

Notre Dame gets the letters: Irish secondary boosted by four signees, speed included, despite Signing Day disappointment

Golden on three-star safety Adon Shuler: “I ha da chance to watch him practice live in the spring … playing Wildcat quarterback on offense. Really excited about all these guys (that) can strike. They’re really a physical group. Adon, obviously, a really physical player. A competitor.

Golden on consensus four-star safety Ben Minich: “I had the good fortune of seeing him play live early in the year. Had a fake punt, had some great tackles in the open field on defense at safety. Game-winning touchdown with seconds remaining in the game on offense. Just a really smart play that’s physically tough and versatile.”

Notre Dame gets the letter: Brandyn Hillman, athlete who may end up on defense

Golden on three-star athlete Brandyn Hillman who, based on Signing Day comments, projects into Notre Dame’s defensive back-seven: “Obviously, he could play safety. He’s big enough to be a Rover, if you will. What’s not to like about him?

“He’s a team captain. Anytime you can get a quarterback, you’re basically taking a player that his high school coach has already deemed good enough to give him the keys to the car. If that high school coach and their staff careers and success depend a lot on that quarterback, so when you make that guy your leader and make the face of your program, that says a lot about him.

“When you look at the competitive nature of the kid and his makeup and just the type of family background he has, I’m really excited about him.”

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