There was only one real recruiting story last week as Notre Dame inked eighteen recruits to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, February 7, signing day. Less than one month earlier, the Irish faithful held a bit higher hopes for better LOI day results but some late, even last minute defections pared the final number down. What have you been missing by not being a member of Irish Eyes?
Notre Dame’s final 2007 recruiting class looked a bit more promising as late as Tuesday, February 6, the day before signing day. Late defections by four star prospects Greg Little and Chris Little (no relation) to North Carolina and Georgia respectively, along with the decommitment of five star Justin Trattou to Florida only the month before prevented the Irish class from being quite as strong as it might have been.
Still, most recruiting services will rank Notre Dame’s class in the national top ten. Three were USA Today All-Americans and seven were chosen for the U.S. Army All-American game. The players came from twelve different states with Florida leading the way with three. Head coach Charlie Weis certainly seemed pleased, especially since Notre Dame won its fair share of battles with the in-state schools.
“You have to be able to go into an Oklahoma for a Matt Romine and have it go down between Oklahoma and Notre Dame,” said Weis. “You have to be able to go down to Florida and get Armando Allen to Notre Dame. As I give you winners, I also give you losers. Going after the top players, taking a kid out of his home state is the toughest task you have. We’re going to recruit nationally.”
The biggest name in this class is Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback out of Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, CA. USA Today chose Clausen as its Offensive Player of the Year and he won the Ball Park National High School Player of the Year Award at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. In his high school career Clausen never lost a game, won four consecutive state championships and finished his senior year with 49 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions.
Clausen was an early enrollee in order to get a head start on winning the starting quarterback job, a position that became wide open when future NFL first round draft pick Brady Quinn exhausted his eligibility. Despite Clausen’s high profile announcement for Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame on the weekend of the Blue and Gold Spring game, Weis insists that the young quarterback is nothing like the glitzy ceremony might imply.
“The biggest misnomer is that he’s a Hollywood guy because of what happened at the spring game,” said Weis. “I thought it was cool and some thought it was way overboard. But this guy is kind of quiet. He doesn’t walk around campus with a jacket saying ‘I’m Jimmy Clausen.’ He’s kind of quiet. He’s doing good on and off the field. He’s working hard. The people at academics say he’s doing good. He’s probably nothing like the reputation people have other than the fact that he’s a fierce competitor that wants to come in and compete for playing time.”
Clausen was just one cog of one of the best offensive classes in the nation. And though the Irish missed out on some key defensive players, Weis seemed pleased with those that did sign. He especially seemed enamored of Kerry Neal whom Weis referred to as a “dynamic pass rusher.” Neal will play either defensive end or outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Corwin Brown’s new system. Another player who will undoubtedly benefit from Brown’s system is late addition Brian Smith. Smith switched his commitment from Iowa to Notre Dame a week before signing day and, like Neal, is targeted for the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position featured in Brown’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
As pleased as Weis seemed with his defensive recruits, he still recognized that work needed to be done in recruiting on the defensive side of the ball. Both the numbers and the talent appears to have fallen short of that recruited to the offensive side of the ball the last two years.
“You have to realize where you are light at numbers and talent,” Weis explained about offensive versus defensive recruiting. “You have to make a concerted effort. The one thing that’s happening for our benefit is that we have established more of a definition of what we want to do on defense. We have a definition instead of just recruiting players. You might recruit a defensive lineman that you don’t think is very good but in our system he’s just what we’re looking for. We can’t be concerned with recruiting analysis. We need to find fits in the system.”