Friday, January 20, 2006

Mighty Sam Young | by Pat

In recent years, we Irish fans haven't had good experiences watching high-profile recruits pick a school on a live, national broadcast. Usually, it was a Lorenzo Booker or a Reggie Bush coming in as a strong Irish lean, ultimately reaching into our chests like Mola Ram and ripping our hearts out, and right on cue, Irish remote controls everywhere metaphorically shattering against walls into thousands of tiny pieces.

Well, Sam Young is one of those rare recruits who could have named his school. He's the ├╝bertackle, and he had offers from everyone. Put 117 hats in front of him, and it didn't matter -- he had his pick.

Ultimately it came down to Notre Dame versus Southern Cal, with Florida, Miami, Michigan, and Penn State in the mix. Young played the recruiting game about as well as anyone in recent memory, and he had everyone -- fans, recruiting experts, even the schools themselves -- guessing right up until the last second. And yesterday on ESPN, the 6'8", 300+ pound tackle eschewed the hat dance and calmly donned a white Notre Dame lid. (Remote controls, poised at the ready, were gently returned to their coffee tables, and wide Irish smiles broke out across the land).

How good is he? Well, Young finished up a high school career by not allowing a single sack in his junior or senior year. He was named Florida Player of the Year by both the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Gatorade. He is a USA Today 1st Team All-American, a Parade All-American, a finalist for Parade Player of the Year, and a 5-star Top 10 player on both Scout and Rivals. (Okay, he's technically top 11 on Rivals, but if the Big Ten can have 11 members, so can the Rivals Top 10.)

With such heady accolades, it's no surprise that Young is one of the highest-ranked recruits to commit to Notre Dame in many years. The last Irish recruit to garner such praise was top tight end Greg Olsen (and he didn't even last until the end of freshman orientation). In fact, Young might be the most highly touted player coming to Notre Dame since...Ron Powlus? Kory Minor? David Givens?

Truly one of the best aspects of all this is that it was as much a football decision for Young as it was an academic and social one. In recent years, the first thing you would hear from an Irish commit is about the academics of Notre Dame -- which is always a great thing to hear, of course -- but rarely about how Notre Dame would be excellent training for a future pro career. That's not to say that ND wasn't turning out pro prospects left and right (at bargain basement prices), but in the mind of a high school kid it wasn't up there with the USCs, Miamis, or Florida States as an NFL proving ground. Young, however, noted Weis' impact and NFL acumen as a compelling factor to his decision:

"They have a great program and a great history," Young said. "I felt that Coach [Charlie] Weis, he's coached at the NFL [level] and it's a real balanced offense, it gives you the best of both worlds ... my goal is to make the NFL and it's a great stepping-stone.
But the thing that seems to have cemented the deal was his interaction with his future teammates at the Army Bowl. It's interesting to note that the foundation of players that Charlie landed to date were important not only in their own right, but also in influencing a top prospect like Sam Young. Good recruiting begets good recruiting.

Young said he decided on Notre Dame while attending the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, an all-star game for some of the nation's top high school football prospects. Young roomed with Notre Dame commitment Barry Gallup of Massachusetts.

''I just felt this bonding factor,'' Young said. ``I really got a chance to meet a lot of different kids that are going to a lot of different schools, and all of them are great in there own right, but I really felt a special connection with the Notre Dame kids.''

The image “http://media.scout.com/Media/Image/28/284360.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.And of course, an obvious influence had to be high school teammate Dan Wenger already committing to the Irish:
"Being together at St. Thomas for three years, we developed a system where [Wenger] knew my moves and I knew his moves, and we were really comfortable with each other," Young said. "Being able to take that to the next level is really going to benefit the both of us."
Young's verbal gives Notre Dame six offensive lineman in this current class, and to my mind it is the best OL recruiting class we've ever had. It will be a lot of fun to watch all six in the coming years as the lack of prior OL recruiting really starts to affect ND and they all get a chance to crack the starting lineup. But Young realizes that accolades only take you so far.
"Right now, we just have potential," said Young, who leaves today for South Bend for his official visit. "I want to change that from potential into actually doing something and having it translate."
It just so happens that Notre Dame has an open right tackle spot in the fall due to the departure of stalwart Mark LeVoir. So will Young slide right in to the starting spot, as Ryan Harris did as a freshman? Personally, I think that Brian Mattes, Mike Turkovich, and Paul Duncan are going to make things hard for the freshman to earn the spot, but as this free highlight video attests, Young is a special talent.

He also seems to have that fire that you know Coach Weis is looking for in a player.
"If I get a certain number of pancakes, whatever," Young said dismissively. "I want the defensive player to say, 'Damn, this kid's good."