Georgia butting heads with Notre Dame in recruiting

Asked if he ever would have envisioned his son one day playing football for Notre Dame, Johns Creek resident Greg Tremble laughed out loud.

“Not in a million years,” he said.

Tremble is a little more invested in Georgia than the average dad. He was a starting defensive back for the Bulldogs from 1992-93. So, naturally, he was excited when UGA and coach Kirby Smart began recruiting his son, Tommy, a 4-star tight end out of The Wesleyan School.

As it turns out, Georgia wasn’t where Tommy wanted to go. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end chose the Fighting Irish. So the Trembles will be wearing Notre Dame blue-and-gold – or green -- rather than Bulldogs’ familiar red and black when No. 3 Georgia and the seventh-ranked Irish squad off Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.

“You know, as a father you just want the best for your kids,” Greg Tremble said. “I’m just ecstatic as a father. He’s happy as he’s ever been. He’s healthy, and he’s obviously getting a great education.”

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The Irish are more than a little happy about having Tommy Tremble on their roster, too. Now a redshirt freshman, Tremble has emerged as Notre Dame’s best pass-catching tight end. He comes into the Georgia with four catches for 78 yards. He also notched his first career touchdown in the opener against Louisville.

Tremble is one of seven Georgia residents currently on the Notre Dame roster. And while there always is going to be somebody from somewhere on the Irish roster, increasingly that seems not only to be players from metro Atlanta, but pretty good players at that.

Also making an impact for Notre Dame this season is freshman safety Kyle Hamilton. A 4-star prospect out of Marist, Hamilton returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in Saturday’s win over New Mexico at Notre Dame Stadium.

Hamilton was the target of an intense recruiting battle between Georgia and the Irish.

“We cross paths with Notre Dame probably on two or three kids a year,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday. “But they do a great job recruiting. They've got a great opportunity and product to sell just like we do. Both those two kids we recruited really hard, and I’ve got a lot of respect for both of them. They come from great academic backgrounds, great families.”

That’s the difference in Notre Dame right now under coach Brian Kelly and where it has been in previous years. Because of their national brand and the elite reputation Notre Dame has an academic institution, the Fighting Irish always have recruited coast-to-coast. But between the organized efforts of Kelly’s staff and the success of football program -- which was represented in the College Football Playoff last year – Notre Dame is having greater success with higher-profile recruits.

“We’ve got to battle all over the country, whether it’s Georgia or USC on the West Coast, Penn State or Pittsburgh in the East, down in Florida against Miami and Florida,” Kelly said this week. “It’s just the nature of it that we have to go into geographical areas and recruit the players against the top teams in those areas. We have to be able to talk about our distinctions.

“There’s a lot of battles we don’t win, but we do win some of them, and we were fortunate to win this one.”

Tremble’s situation was one that kind of fell somewhere in between. The Bulldogs were hot after the fleet-footed tight end early on and pretty quickly with a scholarship offer his junior year at Wesleyan. But then things got suddenly quiet with UGA, while Michigan, UCLA and Notre Dame continued to pour it on.

Georgia ended up signing 4-star tight ends Luke Ford and John FitzPatrick in the 2018 class.

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Here's a look at the scores and schedule for the 2019 Georgia Bulldogs.

Notre Dame has taken a particular liking to Atlanta. Not only is it a two-hour flight from South Bend to a football-loving metropolis of 5.5 million people, but there are also a bunch of exceptional schools in the area. As did Hamilton and Tremble, most of the Georgia targets attended private schools, such as defensive back K.J. Wallace (Lovett), linebacker J.D. Bertrand (Blessed Trinity) and running back Mick Assaf (Pace Academy).

Then again, the Irish did manage to pluck C’Bo Flemister out of Pike County. The sophomore running back scored his first career TD last week.

Recruiting inroads in Georgia are part of the reason Notre Dame was in favor of scheduling the currently home-and-home series with the Bulldogs. The pact was finalized in 2014.

“We were looking for an SEC opponent that shared some commonality,” Kelly said. “We liked the fact we were going to be in Georgia recruiting. We liked that piece of it. We have a lot of alumni in that area. That’s what made this an easy decision for us.”

Of course, it’s not that Notre Dame’s success in Georgia has torpedoed UGA’s recruiting. The Bulldogs are working in their fifth consecutive top-six recruiting class under Smart.

In the meantime, the Trembles have had to expand their wardrobes to include blue and gold and green. And that’s what they’ll be wearing this weekend when they host 20 Notre Dame families at their Country Club of the South home.

“We’ve come to really love Notre Dame, too,” Greg Tremble said.