Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Out the Door | by Pat

As you may have heard, sophomore offensive guard Matt Carufel has decided to leave Notre Dame. Carufel did not show up at practice on Wednesday or Thursday and was given the weekend by ND to make up his mind if he wanted to return or not. At the end of the weekend, he made his choice and called Charlie.

“I spoke via telephone with Matt Carufel Sunday evening,” Weis said in a statement. “And he informed me he was going to leave the team and withdraw from the University of Notre Dame. I appreciate all Matt has done for Notre Dame and wish him nothing but the best.”
Carufel entered the 2007 season as the backup to classmate Dan Wenger at right guard. When Wenger went out with a leg injury against Michigan, Carufel started the next three games and rotated with classmate Eric Olsen. On Tuesday of last week, Carufel was informed that Olsen would be the starter for the Boston College game. That was Carufel's last practice at Notre Dame.

Did Carufel simply quit over losing his starting spot? Possibly. More likely, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Carufel's high school assistant coach agrees:
“I am not placing blame on Notre Dame and the staff or Matt,” Cretin-Derham Hall assistant coach Andy Bischoff told web editor John Haynsworth late Sunday night. “Unfortunately it was just a bad marriage and Matt ended up very unhappy as a person.

“Football was a huge factor but there were other factors to his decision other than football. He never made a bunch of friends in or outside of football. He missed home and school was hard on him. He is a pretty quiet kid that keeps to himself and just never really felt comfortable, but we have other kids who have had good experiences and we will continue to support kids looking at Notre Dame if that is a school they are interested in.”
It would be interesting to hear Matt's own take on the matter, but for now he's not talking.
When reached by cell phone late Sunday, Carufel hung up.
Carufel's transfer will certainly affect the depth on the offensive line, but a larger concern is the continuing attrition within the program. As noted earlier, Carufel is the fourth sophomore to leave out of his original class of 28 (Frazer, Jones, Reuland, and now Carufel). With scholarship limits of 85, the sophomore class took up one-third of the available scholarships -- so some eventual fallout was to be expected. But what's notable about the recent spate of transfers (or near-transfers in the case of Chris Stewart) is the number and the timing. Is there something sour going on around the program, or is this a case of individuals making individual choices?

First, let's look at the numbers. As pointed out by Irish Roundup a few weeks ago, the ND attrition is generating headlines, but the Irish are hardly alone when it comes to sophomores switching schools.

Like the departures at other schools, a desire for playing time seems to be the primary reason for the Irish departures. Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones left looking for more PT. Konrad Reuland and Carufel apparently left for similar reasons, although neither reportedly were completely happy at ND either.

The timing of these transfers is a bit more curious. Jones, Reuland, and now Carufel have all left while the season was in full swing. While Minnesota and NC State have also had three players quit during the 2007 season, mid-season transfers are generally rare.

One potential motivation is a largely unknown rule that players can leave one school and, as long as they enroll at their new school by the 12th day of class, can apply the 2007 season as part of their one year NCAA mandated transfer penalty. This quirky loophole is what Jones and Reuland exploited and both will be eligible to play next year at their new school. Carufel, however, will have to sit out the 2008 season at whichever new school he picks.

I honestly do think that both Jones and Reuland left when they did in order to get back on the field as soon as possible. Still, it's perhaps naive or willfully ignorant to blow off the transfers as just the price of improved recruiting and an obscure NCAA transfer policy. After all, Carufel and Reuland may not have been starters, but each had the potential to play bigger roles in the coming years. And who knows where Jones would factor in to the current QB situation. So in that regard, I think it's fair to consider if there is a more serious issue behind the recent transfers. Charlie is far from a back-slapping, high-fivin' players' coach, and this lousy season would test even the most upbeat of personalities. But you wonder just what the hell is going on.

We aren't at practice, in position meetings, or in the locker room, so we can't even attempt to answer that question. What we can do is consider the case of two players who left the program and decided to come back. Both Darrin Bragg and Junior Jabbie left the team after barely seeing the field and both chose to return. Would they really return if being a backup under Charlie Weis is such a miserable experience?

Bragg left after switching from QB to wide receiver and getting buried on the depth chart. He didn't play at all in 2006. Before the UCLA game, the California native discussed the circumstances around his return to the team.
Over the summer, the senior Film, Television and Theater major was an intern at 20th Century Fox under Executive Vice President of Production Jim Sharp. Bragg said he was on the set when Notre Dame Director of Football Operations Chad Klunder called him in July and asked him if he would return to the Irish.

"I was in the middle of work and they said, 'We need you to come back and play quarterback,'" Bragg said. "And I'm like 'OK, sure. Why not? What am I going to say, no?'"

"When I left school in May I thought I was probably going to be done next year," he said. "But then I got the call, and it was exciting - and I thought, 'Sure, why not?'"

"I could never imagine going from playing quarterback to a new coach ... and moving to receiver and then moving to quarterback," he said. "In four years, that's not how you really plan out to be. It's been fun. It's been a great ride so far."
Granted, having two players deciding to rejoin the team doesn't prove that all is well any more than the departures prove that the program is crumbling. But given that there are instances of players -- especially one player already moving on with his professional career -- returning to the fold, I'm inclined to think that the departures are not indicative of anything endemic.

At the very least though, I would hope there will be improved communication between the coaching staff, the players, and the athletic department to reduce these in-season flights in the future.

One postscript. As noted in the South Bend Tribune, 17 players have left the program for some reason or another during the Charlie Weis tenure. Here is a breakdown of those who left, where they went, and the publicly given reasons for their departure.

Didn't want to play football anymore
Tregg Duerson: Still enrolled at Notre Dame.
John Kadous: Still enrolled at Notre Dame.

Academic Reasons
Joey Hiben: Student at Minnesota. Just walked on to the Gopher football team.

Suspended from University
Chris Vaughn: Transferred to Louisville.

Left in search of more playing time
Freddie Parish: Transferred to Stephan F. Austin.
Brandon Nicolas: Transfered to Colorado.
LaBrose Hedgemon: Transferred to Jackson State.
Justin Hoskins: Transferred to Central Michigan.
David Wolke: Transferred to Western Kentucky.
Zach Frazer: Transferred to Connecticut.
Demetrius Jones: Transferred to Cincinnati.
Konrad Reuland: Currently at Saddleback Junior College for the year.
Matt Carufel: Considering Minnesota or Iowa.

Injury-forced retirement
Abdel Banda: Still enrolled at Notre Dame.

No official reason given
Ronald Talley: Transferred to Delaware.

Early Entry into the NFL Draft
Darius Walker: Currently on Houston Texans practice squad.