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Leftovers & Links: Skowronek’s Super Bowl, and two tales of Notre Dame recruiting

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams v Cincinnati Bengals

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13: Ben Skowronek #18 and Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams react in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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It was not a glamorous Super Bowl from Ben Skowronek. His most notable moment was one that could have cost the Los Angeles Rams the game, gifting an interception to the Cincinnati Bengals. But Skowronek did enough in Odell Beckham Jr.’s absence, catching two passes on five targets for 12 yards, to help the Rams win Sunday night and become the latest Notre Dame alum with a Super Bowl ring.

It has been quite the climb for Skowronek. His 2019 was cut short by injury, granting him one more year of eligibility. He left Northwestern for Notre Dame with raising his NFL profile as his driving motivation. Hamstring issues shortened his season, but Skowronek caught 29 passes for 439 yards and five touchdowns in his one season with the Irish, most notably snagging two passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns in a rout of Pittsburgh that October.

Then drafted in the seventh round, Skowronek got his NFL chance, playing in 14 games this regular season, catching 11 passes for 133 yards. Those may be exceptionally modest numbers, but to Skowronek, they don’t matter.

“Being a winner is how I like to be described,” he said in October of 2020, just before that eruption at Pittsburgh. “That’s what’s most important to me, going out there every game and getting the win. Stats don’t mean that much to me. All I care about is winning.”

In that case, it could not have been a more successful rookie season for Skowronek.

Notre Dame made the early-enrolled freshman available to the media earlier this month, itself a paradigm shift from the media availability under the previous head coach. Those conversations became somewhat repetitive as players talked about the “transition” to college, enjoying the difficulty of winter workouts under strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis, and the weather in South Bend, understandable given they were assuredly instructed not to say anything outlandish in their debut interviews.

But in looking back at their respective recruiting processes, two conversations stood out, simply illustrating how varied the endeavor can still be, particularly amid the pandemic.

Four-star cornerback Jaden Mickey committed 11 months ago today, when the prolonged dead period still hung over recruiting, no one allowed to visit players or host them on campus. Yet, the Southern California native still committed to Notre Dame, not needing a visit to convince him.

“Really understanding where Notre Dame can take you as a person and player,” Mickey said. “With [then-defensive coordinator Marcus] Freeman and the new staff in, knew this was the right fit as far as scheme and playing for a coach like coach Freeman. And then, understanding that the University of Notre Dame is one of the best places to be.”

Some players made that decision quickly. Others were held up by the inability to visit. By the time they could, their senior seasons were fast approaching and their focus was displaced from recruiting. Four-star offensive guard Billy Schrauth did not intend to wait until mid-December to make his commitment, but the circumstances dictated it.

“There was just a lot of time where I couldn’t go be on campus or go to meet with coaches in person and stuff, so a lot of that kind of — we were at a stalemate for a while,” Scratch said. “I knew what two I had it between, and when we had that time period where we just couldn’t do much, it was tough. It was hard. A lot of thinking.

“That could have made it honestly go longer for me, and I think that’s what did happen. I just kind of bounced back and forth.”

Schrauth was finally convinced to pick the Irish over his homestate Wisconsin by a visit from Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees on the same day that Freeman was introduced as Notre Dame’s head coach.

“They came to the house, and it was awesome,” he said. “They wanted to meet my family and stuff like that. We didn’t have any of that with other coaches. They obviously wanted to meet my family, shake hands and go off.

“It was different with them. We spent a lot of time with them, having conversations with them, really wanted to get to know them, and I think that was something that really stood out to me. That’s just the culture that coach Free and the other coaches that we have are creating.”

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