Notre Dame has landed a five-star quarterback — their highest-rated offensive commitment in a decade — in none other than C.J. Carr, the grandson of national-title winning Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr. This is the latest in a series of offseason wins for Marcus Freeman, who has yet to clock an actual on-field win, but who has absolutely revolutionized the Fighting Irish’s football culture in the months since he was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach after the Brian Kelly bolted to LSU.
It’s not the easiest task to write objectively about my alma mater, but I’ll do my absolute best, but I’ll gladly apologize in advance for any purposeful or accidental bias that comes across. On the other hand, I think my insane and obsessive knowledge of the program provides me with some unique insight into what this signing means. I’ll also get this off my chest right off the bat — it feels good to beat Michigan at anything, and getting our regional rival’s heir to the Wolverine throne feels incredible.
OK, moving on from that — Carr, who plays at Saline High School in Saline, Mich., will be part of the Fighting Irish’s 2024 recruiting class. As a top-50 player and the No. 20 overall quarterback in his class, this major grab serves as a sort of metaphorical symbolization of the groundbreaking shift that Notre Dame’s program has seen under Freeman’s leadership. In his first go-round as a head coach, Freeman has seemingly done everything right — recruiting, culture, alumni relations, hands-on coaching…the list goes on.
He always seems to be on the road, talking to some four- or five-star high schooler or another. Because of the family name, Carr might be one of the more reported-on signings under Freeman, but make no mistake, he’s one of many recruits in the 2023 and 2024 classes who are emblematic of the program’s turnaround. Notre Dame is currently ranking in the top two of just about every 2023 and 2024 recruiting ranking — On3, 247Sports, Rivals, you name it, the Irish are sitting at the top of the list. After years of Kelly complaining that academic standards made it impossible to recruit alongside the big dogs, Freeman has done it.
A legacy program with a national audience, high expectations, and countless doubters, ND has seen some success in the past few years — but not as much as skeptical fans and alumni who remember the 80s would hope. After a disastrous 2016 season, Kelly committed to turning the program and his own leadership style around, and ended up taking the team to the college football playoffs twice and to the ACC Championship Game during the year that they temporarily joined a conference during COVID. But he could never quite finish — a failure he blamed on the challenges of recruiting, challenges which are now clearly coming out as a lack of effort on Kelly’s part rather than a lack of ability or interest on the part of the recruits.
Carr signing is also special because it could be argued (and I will argue) that the Fighting Irish’s missing piece all these years has been the presence of an elite quarterback. They’ve seen solid, dependable, talented QBs come through in the past decade — Deshone Kizer, Ian Book, Jack Coan — but none who have had that star power that you really need to be able to take things to the next level, a level where Alabama, Clemson and Georgia live. Perhaps Carr is that missing puzzle piece. Freeman has also been competing with Michigan for Dante Moore for a 2023 QB commit, although Carr’s announcement seems to signal the end of that effort.
Obviously, it’s hard to say what the effects of Freeman’s offseason work will look like on the field. He’s a first-time head coach, and one wonders whether his approach, beloved by fans and players alike, will translate to a high win percentage this fall, when the Irish face Clemson, play a USC team with Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams under center, and, in their most important test, open against Ohio State in Columbus. He’s still working with Kelly’s recruits at this point, so it might be a rebuilding year, but a top-20 QB and the best offensive commit in a decade? Hope springs eternal.
Notre Dame will not play Michigan again until the 2030s, so Carr won’t risk dividing the family loyalty for now.