"The integrity of (coach) Charlie Weis sold me. At no time did I feel he was being anything but totally honest with me."
- Mike Ragone, Courier Post
"With us totally changing the defensive scheme, I hope it improves a lot."
- Aaron Nagel, Herald News
"Coach Weis called this morning and said they were moving around some of the recruits, guys who were possible (defensive line) prospects. They have guard in mind for me, which is fine. They're giving me the opportunity. It's up to me to go get it."
- Taylor Dever, The Union
''It was just the allure of Notre Dame."
- Emeka Nwankwo, Miami Herald (bonus audio here)
''I'm not one of those cocky kids who is going to say I'm going to come in and take a starting spot. I am going to come and push the older guys. If that's good enough for me to come in and play, so be it.''
- Ian Williams, Chicago Sun-Times
"I still can't believe I'm actually going to Notre Dame. Take football out of the equation and you can't beat a degree from Notre Dame."
- Andrew Nuss, LoudounPrepSports.com
and a short recruiting roundtable...
Teds: Kerry Neal. He might not be the very best prospect in this class, but I think Neal provides an element that the team has been sorely lacking the past couple years, which is an extremely athletic end with the potential to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Given the proposed shift to a 3-4 defense, lining up a versatile defender like Neal as an outside linebacker may prove to be an invaluable piece of Corwin Brown's new puzzle and a key component in ultimately finding success.
Mark: Kerry Neal/Armando Allen. Neal ended up with offers from Miami, Florida, Nebraska, Alabama, etc. ND needs speed off the edge in the worst way and Neal should hopefully give us that. Allen hopefully gives the offense what it's lacked - a breakaway threat, SEC-level speed at a key position.
Pat: Ian Williams. Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen are two great prospects, but landing a ready-made defensive tackle was the biggest priority for this class and Williams fits the bill. Whether ND is running a 3-4 or 4-3, Williams has the opportunity to see the field early for the Irish and adds much-needed size and depth to the tackle position.
Mike: Armando Allen. It almost feels like cheating to pick someone other than Jimmy Clausen, given that Clausen amassed a prep resume unrivaled in recent years. However, given how quarterbacks have played under Weis (particularly Vinny Testaverde and Ray Lucas), it's hard to worry about the quarterback position. There's also a strong argument in favor of selecting a defensive player given Notre Dame's current needs. Yet Armando Allen has the potential to be one of those players that a defense is forced to account for on every play, thereby creating big-play opportunities for his teammates even when he doesn't touch the ball. For the last two years, the Irish offense leaned heavily on Quinn's ability to lead long, error-free drives. Hopefully, Allen's quick-strike potential will make such consistent quarterback play a bonus rather than a necessity. (Lastly, it's great that we've reached the point where a blue-chip cornerback prospect like Gary Gray isn't the obvious answer to this question.)
Mark: Lorenzo Edwards. This guy would have given ND even more speed at the LB position.
Teds: Chris Donald. He certainly wasn't the only blue-chip linebacker ND ultimately missed on, but Donald may have been the most ready-made and versatile of the group, with the size to man the interior and the physical ability to thrive on the outside.
Mike: Will Blackwell/Martez Wilson. Will Blackwell is a huge miss for two reasons. First, because he was a talented player with an affinity for Notre Dame at the position that has been the most difficult for Notre Dame to recruit in recent years. Second, because the coaching staff apparently felt confident enough in their ability to land Blackwell that there wasn't much of a backup plan once Blackwell chose LSU. Martez Wilson is a big miss because of Corwin Brown's defense. Like Neal, Wilson seems to be a perfect fit for the 3-4 OLB position.
Pat: Martez Wilson. If the Irish are indeed moving to a 3-4, then they will need to get big, fast, athletic outside linebackers. Wilson embodies all of those aspects and would also have seen the field early at ND.
Pat: I'm not sure I want to pick one of these this year. Over the past two years I've picked Luke Schmidt and Kevin Washington. So far it seems like a "sleeper" pick by me is a one-way ticket to the end of the bench. Hopefully the trend will end this year. Kerry Neal is the easy pick since he has tremendous potential yet has been overlooked a bit by recruitnik rankings as well as Irish fans looking forward to the next big recruit. Still, I'm going to go with Harrison Smith. Seeing how much local fans hated to see Smith get away from the hometown Vols leads me to believe he's going to quickly work his way into the rotation for the Irish.
Mike: Kerry Neal/Robert Hughes. Does Kerry Neal still qualify as a sleeper? I think so. His early commitment (and subsequent refusal to entertain offers from Florida, Miami, et al) kept him under the radar. Additionally, some of the self-appointed gurus argued that he had "tweener" size in a 4-3. However, Neal seems to possess the perfect size/skill combination for a 3-4 OLB, the position he is likely to play in Corwin Brown's defense. Given the importance of this position in said defense, I think Neal could become the star of Notre Dame's defense in the future. Even though I predicted big things for Armando Allen, I still pick Robert Hughes as my sleeper on offense. Under Weis, Notre Dame's most dependable short-yardage back was Brady Quinn. Hughes could mean a lot to Notre Dame's third-down and goalline offense, both for his ability to run between the tackles and for his reportedly excellent hands.
Mark: Golden Tate. Early offer from Tennessee, offers from the majority of the SEC. Another speed guy that ND has missed in the last few years.
Teds: Harrison Smith. Not that he wasn't highly regarded, but Smith got a bit lost in the shuffle, eventually committing long after it was suspected he was ND's and in the midst of waiting on the big undecideds headed to San Antonio. Similar to Neal, Smith appears to possess traits that were missing in the 2006 defense, particularly good instincts on angles and playing the ball. If fulfilled, his potential represents a serious upgrade for the Irish secondary.
Bring us on home.
Teds: Weis was thisclose to landing a superstar class, but the late-season fade on the field ultimately provided rival coaches enough fodder to derail Irish hopes with a handful of major defensive talents. Regardless, the fruits of the campaign provide another group of players who will raise the talent level of the team significantly in future seasons and offer further reinforcements for what could be a juggernaut offense that gives that of SC and anyone else a run for their money.
Going forward, the emphasis has to be set squarely on a commitment to restocking the defense, particularly in the front seven. Fortunately, ND appears to have hired a very strong recruiter in new DC Corwin Brown, someone who can not merely relate to these kids but excite them, as well. With Brown and new quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus added to a staff that already includes Mike Haywood, Rob Ianello, Bill Lewis and John Latina, this may now be the most capable and effective group of recruiters that the school has ever seen. Given the exemplary work ethic and coordination that have been hallmarks of Weis' tenure thus far, it's more than reasonable to expect ND to continue to attract top-10-level talent in the foreseeable future. The difference between another merely excellent class and a #1-type effort next year will come down to how successful the 2007 team is at proving that it won't be outclassed by any opponent and is squarely on-track for future greatness.