A third offensive lineman for the recruiting class of 2006 hopped on board when Klein High school standout Chris Stewart (#79 above, center) announced his plans to attend the University of Notre Dame.
"Overall I thought that in bigger picture, life in general without football being considered, Notre Dame was a better choice for me. Not only will I get guidance from one of the best offensive line coaches (John Latina) in the game, and one best head coaches. I get a chance to go in early. Notre Dame has the academics, the school prestige, I just feel in love with the school just being up there. I hadn’t ever been to the school and I fell in love with the entire campus."We'll get to the "go in early" part in a bit. For now, let's focus on one of the biggest recruits to commit to Notre Dame in recent memory. Checking in at an unofficial 6'5" 360 lbs, Stewart has all the markings of a future road grader at offensive guard. With a reported bench press around 400lbs, he was selected as a 1st Team All-State player in his class group, which in Texas is quite an accomplishment. Recruiting ranking wise, he was tagged as a 4-star OL by both rivals.com and scout.com and his offer sheet reflects the high opinion (offers from Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Texas, Texas Tech, and Nebraska among many others). Imagine the lucky running back that gets to run behind him for the next four years...with Asaph Schwapp as the lead blocker.
Stewart's announcement came during a press conference where he also accepted an invitation to participate in the US Army All-American Bowl. That makes him the 7th ND recruit to be invited to play in the January game, joining James Aldridge, Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil, Demetrius Jones, Bartley Webb, and Zach Frazer. Other Army Bowl invitees still considering the Irish include Konrad Reuland, Sam Young, Dan Wenger, Gerald McCoy, Matt Carufel, Terrance Austin, and Micah Johnson.
More than just football, it was the combination of everything at ND that lead to Stewart choice to pick the Irish.
"Primarily one of the things I was looking at was the school itself," Stewart said. "I wanted to go to a school with great academics and great football tradition. Also, I wanted to go somewhere that had good coaches and could be a father figure for the players, and I wanted to be a part of something special rather than just a football team."Backing up the "great academics" claim, Stewart is an accomplished student who has already earned 21 college credits through advanced work with his high school and the local area community college. The kicker is that Notre Dame didn't accept all the credits - only 5 of the 21 - so in committing to ND he is losing credit for taking some of the accelerated classes.
But here's the interesting thing: Chris Stewart will be enrolling a semester early at Notre Dame, joining incoming running back recruit James Aldridge as the first football players to enroll in the spring since Ara was the head coach. George West is rumored to also be considering early enrollment.
A recent South Bend Tribune article confirmed Aldridge's plans to head up to South Bend in a couple of months. Assistant provost and director of admissions Dan Saracino talked about the new policy.
"It's never been set in stone, and it's never really been questioned for a number of years why we haven't done it,"Aldridge heard the good news from Coach Weis this past Tuesday.
"We're looking at it on an individual case-by-case basis. And we're surely open to other students. We're not just doing this for football. I guess we looked at this as an opportunity to look at the whole issue of not admitting students in January.
"Is this going to be a plan to open it up in a big way? Not at all. We are definitely open to admitting individual students with good reason in January, but we do not expect it to be more than a few. And by that, I definitely mean a few."
"It’s cool,” he said. “It’s groundbreaking. I’m pretty honored."The effect that early enrollment has on the current recruiting class is that it will create more room for the current year's recruiting class. When a player enrolls early, the school is given the option to add them to the current (2006) recruiting class or the previous one (2005). The NCAA dictates a maximum of 25 players can come in on one class so with 15 recruits total in the 2005 class, there is more than enough room to add Stewart and Aldridge to last year's crop. That means that while Stewart is the 21st known verbal commit to the Irish (out of 25 possible), both he and Aldridge do not "count" against the 25 limit. Therefore, Notre Dame in effect still has room for 6 more recruits to hop on board.
The benefit to the player when enrolling early is that they are allowed to participate in winter workouts (Chris Stewart, meet Ruben Mendoza) and go through spring practice with the rest of the team, all while starting the college academic life without the added time constraints of in-season football. Eligibility-wise, the early enrollment has no effect as they still receive a full four seasons of playing time, complete with the option for a 5th year should they not play one year. Usually though, a player brought in early is one that not only appears ready to handle college life from an academic and maturity standpoint, but also appears ready to make an early contribution to the football program. Both Stewart and Aldridge certainly sound like they in that position.
It seems that Stewart will be using the extra time to help get himself into position to accomplish his main goal, which is to continue Notre Dame's winning tradition.
"With us being the first recruiting class for coach Weis, hopefully we can do what USC is doing now and get some championships. I think the unifying thing is that we know we’re coming in to work. We’re coming in to get something done. You have guys that are immortalized at Notre Dame from 1988 and 1966, you say to yourself ‘why not me?’ Let’s bring America’s team back to greatness.