Ohio State is Battling Marcus Freeman and the Fighting Irish for Several Top Prospects in the 2023 Recruiting Class

By Andrew Ellis on June 19, 2021 at 8:10 am
Marcus Freeman is now leading Notre Dame's defense.
Via Notre Dame Athletics

After narrowing his recruitment down to two schools, Marcus Freeman committed to Ohio State over Notre Dame in September of 2003.

Former Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman is one of college football's hottest young coordinators. He spent time in Columbus as a graduate assistant before heading to Kent State, Purdue, and then to Cincinnati as Luke Fickell's defensive coordinator. Following the 2020 season, Freeman turned down an offer from LSU to become the new defensive coordinator in South Bend.

How long will he stay at Notre Dame before another opportunity presents itself? That remains to be seen, but the expectation is that Freeman's name is going to be thrown around a lot in the coming years as head coaching vacancies emerge. At 35 years of age, the Huber Heights native's career trajectory is following a path that we've seen many times across the college football landscape. 

In addition to his coordinator duties, Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish faithful are understandably excited to have a dynamic young recruiter on the staff. Notre Dame has always done well with tight ends and offensive linemen, but Freeman's presence should only help the program compete a bit more with some of the nation's elite programs. 

The Buckeyes and Irish often target a similar type of player. And it's no surprise that a pair of top 2023 prospects could see their recruitments come down to the two Midwest powers. 

Safety? Linebacker? Defensive end? Regardless of how you want to label Alex "Sonny" Styles, the Buckeye legacy is the odds-on favorite to take the No. 1 spot when our 2023 board is released later this year. A five-star Pickerington prospect, he's got offers from all across the country and will have his choice among all of the elite programs. 

While schools like Clemson and Alabama will surely be mentioned, it would be a bit of a shock if this recruitment comes down to anyone other than Ohio State and Notre Dame. Ryan Day, Kerry Coombs, and Al Washington have all been heavily involved for the state's best player, and Styles has made at least three short trips to campus in the month of June alone. Simply put, this is a prospect the Buckeyes can't let get away. 

Marcus Freeman and Brian Kelly have the Irish right up toward the top of Styles' list as well. His younger brother Lorenzo Jr. was a four-star 2021 wide receiver prospect who sided with the Irish, and the two obviously have a very strong bond. Lorenzo is an extremely talented player in his own right even though the Buckeyes – due to Brian Hartline's loaded room – viewed him as more of an athlete than a true wideout. 

The younger of the two brothers was in South Bend earlier this week before heading back to Ohio State's campus on Tuesday and Wednesday. During that time, he worked out with Coombs, Washington, and even spent some time with Larry Johnson. Styles will probably be spending plenty of time at both campuses this fall. As of now, there's no timeline in place for a decision. 

Five-star 2023 Phenix City, Alabama cornerback A.J. Harris is another player who has the makeup of an Ohio State and Notre Dame type. While he resides in the heart of SEC country, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder has lived in California and even Germany due to his father's military experience. Much like with Sonny Styles, he too was in South Bend and Columbus earlier this week, and the Buckeyes and Irish may be the two frontrunners. 

Notre Dame has gone head-to-head with Ohio State for a number of defensive backs, and the vast majority of the time things don't work out so well for Brian Kelly and Co. We've seen recent examples with Lathan Ransom in 2020 and St. Louis corner Jakailin Johnson in the 2021 class. The folks in South Bend simply can't talk defensive back development like Kerry Coombs can. But with Marcus Freeman now running the show, Notre Dame fans are hoping for some different results.

Harris and his family have visited Clemson, Notre Dame, and Ohio State this month. While Alabama and Georgia remain in the mix, it sure seems like he's going to end up outside of the SEC footprint. He's now checked out all of his top schools, and we'll see if a decision could be on the horizon for the country's second-ranked corner and No. 23 overall prospect. He's built a tremendous relationship with the Ohio State staff, but Freeman has the Irish strongly in contention as well. 

Even though Ohio State is now constantly battling with Clemson and the SEC powers, sometimes it's good to see some good old-fashioned Buckeyes vs. Irish clashes on the recruiting trail. In addition to Styles and Harris, Notre Dame is also in the mix for Findlay's Luke Montgomery and Mentor edge rusher Brenan Vernon; though Ohio State is viewed as the heavy favorite for both. 

After his arrival in 2004, Marcus Freeman went on to become a key figure on Buckeye defenses from 2006 to 2008. He recorded over 200 total tackles and six sacks while in Columbus. Now Ohio State must compete with one of its own for several of its top targets on the recruiting trail.

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