Friday, March 31, 2006

Passing of a legend | by Pat

Seventy-five years ago today, eight people lost their lives when TWA Flight 599 crashed into the fields of Bazaar, Kansas. Notable among the group was college football's greatest coach, Knute Rockne.

This somber anniversary is being marked with services both in Bazaar and back in his childhood hometown of Voss, Norway. In Voss, a statue of him, made in part with the metal from a carriage built in Voss by Knute's dad in 1888 (the year Knute was born), a gold leaf from the Golden Dome at Notre Dame, and metal scraps from the plane that ultimately took his life, is being dedicated at the exact time of the crash.

The full story of that fateful day is described in detail by Irish Legends and in this excerpt of a Rockne biography. Irish Legends also has a reprint of the eulogy at Rockne's funeral, as given by the President of the University, Rev. Charles L. O'Donnell, C.S.C.

Last year I ended the Rockne anniversary post with a quote from one of Rockne's contemporaries, Will Rogers. This year, I think it's fitting to use a quote from Charlie Weis, the current holder of the job made famous by Knute just over 75 years ago.

"It's a time for us to reflect on true greatness, which is what he was."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Get your highlights | by Pat

The spring practice season is in full swing, but we're going to take a step back today and enjoy last season just a bit longer. Nevin (a.k.a Oldie Olderson), the fine chap who helped create the Clip Show post for us, has unveiled his latest masterpiece, a highlight video of the 2005 season. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

The video, along with Nevin's earlier work can all be found on one site thanks to the hard work of another ND fan, Andy. The easiest way to watch is to check out the streaming QuickPlay version, but if you want higher quality I highly recommend going for the video download by either direct download or bittorrent. If you aren't sure how to manage the download, head to Starbucks and look for the teenager with a laptop and ask him/her to show you how.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Grab Bag | by Pat

Clearing out the pipeline with a number of recent ND-related stories...

In the corner stands a safety

Zbikowski finally managed to get back into the ring in the form of a charity event in Chicago's south side. Many Irish fans were on hand to watch him dispatch his opponent in a 2nd round TKO. Check out a few clips of the fight here and a few pictures here. With rumors that Zibby is going to turn pro as a boxer for a June undercard fight at Madison Square Garden, it might not be your last time to check him out. But next year could be the final year to see him in a Notre Dame uniform. A highly recommended read in the South Bend Tribune details the fight night and Zbikowski's plans for next year.

"Coach Weis is the best in the business," Zbikowski said, "so whatever he suggests, I'll follow. It's smarter to plan for an early departure and have the option to stay than plan to stay and then change your mind and somehow miss out on getting your degree. I'm still not sure if I'll use my fifth year. I'm going to graduate in December and take it from there.


Cotton Bowl Bonzana

The Cotton Bowl was added to a Irish non-BCS bowl possibilites list that already includes the Gator, Sun, and Houston Bowl. Each non-BCS option only gets to choose the Irish once every four years. The Houston Bowl doesn't look too appealing, but keep in mind that for ND to end up there, the Irish would have to miss out on the BCS for four straight years. And as Eric Hansen details in the South Bend Tribune, the path to the BCS won't be quite as hard as in year's past.
The BCS bowls have first dibs on the Irish, and with a fifth bowl being added to that lucrative lineup, ND's path got a little easier. The Irish automatically qualify with a top 8 finish in the BCS standings, where a top 6 standing was the old standard.
While we're monitoring the bowl picture landscape, Jason Kelly's skewering of the Kevin White's reaction to the revised bowl alliance is also worth a read. Can't say I remember such a upfront and direct article on ND's AD.



Red Tag Sale

Much to the glee of NFL owners and the chagrin of Notre Dame fans, the Bob Davie era at Notre Dame turned the once proud program into a veritable Filene's Basement for NFL teams looking for top quality talent on the cheap. But the days of the low, low prices and draft day steals are now officially over. Recently, a troika of Davie era players were able to cash in on the production that in at least one case far outweighed their original draft positions.

Leading the charge was David Givens who signed with the Tennessee Titans to a tune of $24 million over five years and a $8 million signing bonus. Also picking up a hefty chunk of change was defensive end Anthony Weaver who signed with the Houston Texans for $26.5 million dollars over five years and a $12 million signing bonus spread over two years. Last but not least was Rocky Boiman who moved on to the Dallas Cowboys and signed a very respectable three year deal that can reach as high as $5 million including incentives and includes a $1 million signing bonus.



ND Pro Day

As the NFL draft looms closer, ND held its own Pro Day earlier in March. Here are the results according to nfl.com.
The players ran indoors on FieldTurf. Twenty-five teams were represented, and a number of position coaches were there. Charlie Weis addressed all the NFL people before the activities began, and as one would expect from Weis, the day was well-organized.

Anthony Fasano: TE Fasano (6-4 3/8, 250) ran his 40s in 4.74 and 4.71 seconds. He looked very good in the position drills.
Maurice Stovall: WR Stovall (6-4 3/8, 218) ran his 40s in 4.54 and 4.57 seconds. He also had a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-4 broad jump.
Matt Shelton : WR Shelton (5-11 3/8, 180) ran his 40s in 4.54 and 4.41. They tried to get him to run a third time due to the discrepancy, but he didn't want to. Shelton added a 30½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 broad jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 6.77 three-cone drill and had 16 lifts.
Dan Stevenson: OL Stevenson (6-5¼, 300) worked out at Combine and worked out again. He ran 5.34 twice in the 40-yard dash, had a 4.55 short shuttle and a 7.33 three-cone drill.
Mark LeVoir : OL LeVoir (6-6 5/8, 316) had a 30-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-7 broad jump and 20 lifts. (ed. note. message board posts suggest LeVoir did 29 reps, not 20)
Rashon Powers-Neal: FB Powers-Neal (6-2¼, 240) ran his 40s in 4.61 and 4.65. He had a 4.25 short shuttle, 6.96 three-cone drill, 31½-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-8 broad jump and 19 lifts on the bench press.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Freshman Focus | by Pat

Blueandgold.com put out a page of photos from the first spring practice. Get your first look at early enrollees James Aldridge (#34), George West (#19), and Mr. Plow himself, Chris Stewart, (#59) in an Irish uniform.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hoosier daddy | by Pat

With all the talk of veteran tight end Marcus Freeman impressing, incoming tight end Will Yeatman getting a scholarship, and Weis raising the talent and expectation levels of the program, this clip came to mind. We're on our way back to the top, and a good sign to let us know we're officially back is when our 2nd-string players can do this.

In motion | by Pat

ESPN Motion has a quick interview up with Weis right after ND's first spring practice. Charlie talks about the Fiesta Bowl and plans for the upcoming season. If you don't blink, you'll see Walker, Quinn, and a few other Irish players going through practice drills.

They don't make anything easy on their website, so the link isn't directly to the video. You have to click the "Launch Motion Player Now" button at the bottom. Another route is to go here and look for the ESPN Motion link under the Headlines.

Talking Irish | by Pat

Plenty of stuff coming out of Media Day after Charlie and the rest of the coaches sat down to give their thoughts on the current state of the program heading into spring practice. Here are the links to get you started.

Weis Presser. Pretty much a mandatory read for any Notre Dame fan. Here are some selected highlights:

On expectations. "I think out of all of the objectives that we have for the spring, the number one objective of this football team is to raise their own expectations." "I know that I am not satisfied with the season that we had last year. And I am hoping this time around that raising the expectations should be a rather simple task."
On 5th Year Players. "Fifth-year guys, we have eight scholarship guys that are going to be coming back for a fifth year: three on defense and five on offense. Derek Landri, Chris Frome and Mike Richardson are coming back on defense. And on offense, Dan Santucci, Bobby Morton, Brian Mattes, Rhema McKnight and Marcus Freeman. So they are the eight guys that have applied and will be returning for a fifth year."
On Injuries. Weis listed Chris Frome, Abdel Banda, and D.J. Hord as doubtful for spring practice. He also mentioned that the following list of players will be entering the spring a bit banged up and will be limited on a varying basis: Maurice Crum, Joe Brockington, Kyle McCarthy, Victor Abiamiri, John Sullivan, Brian Mattes, and Justin Hoskins.
On Blue-Gold Captains. "We do have honorary coaches like we did last year; quite an eclectic group on defense with two guys named Golic, both Mike and Bob, they are going to be our two defensive coaches for the game. On offense we got two guys that you guys might not have heard of, but one is named Rocket Ismael and the other one's name is Jerome Bettis. We also are going to have two honorary captains for the game. One team will have Pete Duranko, the member of the '66 National Championship team. I think that he will be one of our honorary captains and the other honorary captain will be somebody that wins the auction from the Center for the Homeless because they are auctioning off an honorary captain and that will be the other one."

On Will Yeatman. "Now, we will have 25 scholarship players coming in this summer; not 24. What I did was after Joey Hiben decided to leave the team to concentrate on academics, I then flipped Will Yeatman's scholarship from lacrosse to football. I didn't want to short change myself and leave myself a man shy at the tight end position. I had this resource that I want to try to protect for a year, but what I didn't want to do is short change myself and leave myself a man shy at the position. So Yeatman is on a football scholarship; not a lacrosse scholarship."

On the off-season star. "...Marcus Freeman definitely going through this offseason was easily, by far, the most improved player we had going through the spring. It was a night and day difference. I think if you asked any guy on the coaching staff, anyone would have said that the most encouraging thing coming out of the last couple of months was the looks of Marcus Freeman."

On recruiting. "Every time we look at a player, I try to look at these guys: Can this guy help us win a National Championship. Not can this guy play at Notre Dame. Can this guy help us win a National Championship? Because, to me, that should be the goal. If you are the head coach at Notre Dame, that should ultimately be your goal."

On Brady winning the Heisman. "Here's my feeling: If he wins the Heisman Trophy, that probably means we win the National Championship. So sign me up."

Assistant Coach Quotes. Also a good read. Every coach offers up his ideas and though the theme is similar throughout, it's a good chance to read what each coach has planned for the spring. My favorite quote came from Coach Haywood on how the team defines success and team goals.
"What some people may call success, we don't necessarily believe is the best football we could have played. We're setting our goals a little bit higher and expectations a little bit higher. During the off-season, it started with ourselves. We go through and do a self-evaluation of each individual coach on offense -- the things we did well, the things we didn't do well -- and how can we improve. From there, you do an evaluation of the players. What runs did certain running backs do well and what runs didn't they do well? This is where you have to improve. And then, you go through schemes and that's where we're going to work on each individual player and each individual scheme to get better as a team.



A few thoughts on the whole media day blitz.

• Love seeing more Irish legends coming back and helping out with the Blue-Gold game. Coming off the big Super Bowl win, Bettis will be a big draw although the Rocket and the Golic brothers are certainly no slouches given their rich history on the playing field and in the media (ESPN Gameday/ESPN Radio/Saved by the Bell: The College Years).

• It's fun to bring up the whole Saved by the Bell thing with Bob Golic, but for those who didn't realize just how good Bob Golic was, consider this. In 1978, Golic finished the year with 152 tackles from his linebacker spot. This year Brandon Hoyte and Maurice Crum combined for 149 tackles.

• It's also a great touch that Weis included Pete Duranko as an honorary captain for the game. The presence of Duranko, currently battling ALS, will mean that vital players from the national championship teams of '66 (Duranko), '77 (Golic), and '88 (Rocket) will all be on hand to help out.

• It will be interesting to see if Will Yeatman will see the field as a freshman now that he is on a football scholarship. The 6'6" 255-pound athlete was one of the top lacrosse recruits in the entire country so he should bring a lot of size and athelticism to the team. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get in during mop up duty in three or four games.

• It's incredible to think of just how thin the depth chart is at offensive line. With John Sullivan being held out due to shoulder surgery, that leaves just seven scholarship offensive lineman ready to line up and play this spring. If any of those guys go down with injury, Weis might have to have Coach Mendoza suit up.

• Not sure why Coach Parmalee and Coach Oliver felt the need to wear nametags to Media Day. I would certainly hope the media have figured out who they are by now.

• Weis' response to how he plans to upgrade the pass rush ("I'm not telling") was great. Then again, with all new linebackers, I doubt the answer is a mix of exotic blitz packages. Could Abiamiri be headed to weakside defensive end? Developing....

• Production has its privledges I guess. Number of football practices that Samardzija gets to skip in order to play baseball. Nine. Number of football practices that Evan Sharpley gets to skip in order to play basketball. Zero. I think Weis' quote sums it up.
"Well, if Sharpley were going to start at first base hitting 25 home runs, I think he might be over there with the baseball team. But he's not."
With Samardzija splitting time with baseball and DJ Hord more or less out for the spring, there should be golden opportunities for Chase Anastacio, Darrin Bragg, David Grimes, and George West to battle for that 3rd receiver spot. Aside from Rhema McKnight, those are the only four healthy wide receivers practicing full-time this spring.

• Likewise, with Brian Mattes reportedly battling through a foot injury, Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich have a great opportunity to snag that starting right tackle spot.

• Lastly, an interesting shift in coaching duties. Coach Polian has moved from assistant defensive backs coach to assistant linebackers coach. Considering Polian was a three year letterman at linebacker in college, he should have some idea how to coach it. With all the turnover in the linebacker position and the wide-open battles for the starting spots, I like the idea that there will be another pair of experienced eyes watching closely and giving advice during the spring. Grad assistant Jeff Burrow, who played defensive back under Minter at Cincinnati, is expected to help out Coach Lewis even more with the defensive backs now and that just makes sense as well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Special Trip | by Jay

Saw this on the Rivals recruiting wire this morning, an update on Irish commit Kerry Neal:

Neal ready for Notre Dame visit

Notre Dame commit Kerry Neal of Bunn, N.C., will take his first trip to South Bend, Ind., this weekend as he and several members of the Bunn High staff will be visiting. A local church sold chicken plate dinners to raise the money for Neal and the Bunn coaches to travel to Notre Dame this weekend. Neal also added two offers from Alabama and Nebraska this week.
I know it probably shouldn't have, but that bolded line really jumped out at me. Given the economic profile of a "typical" Notre Dame student, a trip to ND doesn't seem like a prohibitive expense; certainly not so pricey that you'd have to convene a Church fundraiser to cover the cost. And yet, amid the scores of kids at ND who got keys to a car on their 16th birthday and fly to exotic spring break destinations each year, it's easy to overlook fellow classmates (or potential classmates) who don't have the same means. We shouldn't, of course, but sometimes we do. Bunn, North Carolina, is a town of 357, half a square mile in land, where the median income for a family is $45,000 a year and 16% of the population is below the poverty line. For Neal and the parishoners at that church in Bunn (whether the church was Catholic or not), making a trip to Notre Dame is not a run-of-the-mill thing, as it is for so many other prospective freshmen.

So, thanks to those church members who made this trip for Kerry and his coaches possible.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring has sprung | by Pat

It's a great day for Irish football fans as spring football season officially kicks off today with Media Day. We'll get to the quotes, pictures, and other assorted details later, but for now let's start with what we see as the top five questions about the team. As spring is a time more for player development and less for scheme we're going to stick to personnel type questions and leave the "will the DB's stop biting on the play action" type questions for the fall. Let's get started.

1. Who will fill Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte's shoes at linebacker?

No position loses more than linebacker. Two of last year's starters, Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays, are gone and need to be replaced. Not only that, but the sole returning starter, Maurice Crum, is rumored to be out for the spring due to back surgery. That means that there are three starting spots up for grabs this spring and no clear favorite. With lots of opportunities for the young (and not so young) linebackers on the team to stake their claim on the starting positions, it should be an exciting spring. Not only are there no clear favorites to move into the starting lineup, it's also unclear exactly where the current crop of replacements will end up once the dust settles. For example, how the other linebackers perform this spring might determine where Crum ends up when he returns in the spring. Will he have to stay at Apache, replace Hoyte at Will, or, as some rumors suggest, see a move to the middle?

Here's a sampling of some of the linebacker related questions that coaches and fans alike will be focusing on this spring. Will Anthony Vernaglia finally have his breakout that fans have been waiting for? Can the rising senior linebackers (Mitchell Thomas, Joe Brockington, Nick Borseti) find a spot on the field? Will Abdel Banda come back from an injury-filled 2005 and stake a claim for playing time? Who will be the first freshman (Scott Smith, Kevin Washington, Steve Quinn) to earn PT? Will any of these linebackers ultimately be good enough to adequately replace Hoyte and Mays? Questions abound at the linebacker position. Expect some of the best battles of the spring here.

2. Will a definite #3 wide receiver emerge?

Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight have a total of 198 career receptions between them. The rest of the wide receivers on the roster only have 3. When Brady Quinn tires of throwing completions to Jeff and Rhema, who will he target? With ND's thin depth chart at tight end -- only two scholarship tight ends this spring -- having a third receiver ready to go for the fall will certainly be a staff priority. The question is, who will it be?

Senior-to-be Chase Anastacio only has one reception in his first three years although he has made a name for himself as a special teams ace. This spring might be his last chance to crack the lineup. The junior class of wide recievers actually consists of a pair of position transfers in the form of former QB Darrin Bragg and former safety/running back Junior Jabbie. Both should have plenty of opportunites to impress, but it will probably be an uphill climb for both. The most likely candidates are actually the two sophomores. David Grimes probably has the upper hand out of all the options as he has started to see some time on the field at receiver towards the end of the 2005 season. His classmate, DJ Hord, is the player that most fans hope step up. Hord's calling card is speed and ideally he would be able to provide the speedy deep threat to compliment the strengths of Samardzija and McKnight. The darkhorse in this race is early entry freshman George West, although it's likely he'll make an impact on special teams before getting playing time at receiver. Three more wideouts show up in the fall and while it's hard for freshman WR to make an impact, due mainly to poor blocking skills and unrefined route running, any player hoping to see passes thrown his way in the fall will have to take advantage of the lack of receivers on the roster this spring and make a move up the depth chart.

3. Who's the fifth lineman?

The only true missing link on offense this spring will be at right tackle. Either Dan Santucci or Bob Morton will slide over to right guard to replace Dan Stevenson. That leaves the question of which inexperienced player will be able to grab the starting right tackle job left open by departing Mark LeVoir. 5th year senior Brian Mattes probably will get first crack at it, but it will be interesting to see what a year in a college weight program does for the sophomore duo of Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich. Both impressed early last year but still had a ways to go in terms of adding strength. Getting a quick start will be key in this race as one of these three will probably end up as the backup to Ryan Harris at left tackle. Eventually that backup will have to take reps with the 2nd team at left tackle which will make it harder to earn the starting spot on the right. With highly regarded tackle Sam Young showing up in the summer, getting quality reps in with the first team during the spring will be a huge advantage for the guys already on the roster.

4. Which defensive end will start opposite Victor Abiamiri?

After watching opposing teams pick our the secondary, a pass rush is near the top of any Irish fan's wish list. But for that to come true, the defensive end opposite Victor Abiamiri is going to need to really produce next season. The good news is that Chris Frome, Ronald Talley, and Justin Brown all saw time as starters last season and return this spring with a year of experience under their belt. The bad news is that they only combined for 3 sacks. Frome will be coming back from season ending knee injury so obviously getting healthy and building confidence in his knee will be the goal for him this spring. Talley and Brown plenty of both showed flashes of potential last year, but still weren't quite there from a strength standpoint. Hopefully an off-season under Coach Mendoza will have them ready to go this spring. Going into their junior year they will need to push each other since the thin depth chart behind them won't provide much challenge from other players. It would be great of one of the three stepped up to the point where the coaches felt comfortable moving Victor Abiamiri to the weak side where he could really focus on rushing the QB. Time will tell if that happens.

5. Who will have the breakout spring?

Irish fans are always on the lookout for the next great player. And what better time to find them than in the spring? Whether he's the underclassmen who walked in the the weight room in January and emerged a different person in March or the player who makes the leap in his final year in an Irish uniform (can we just call it "pulling a Stovall" from now on?) the annual "breakout" search is always a fun one. Rather than just list any of the possible candidates, I'll list out the players that would most help the team with a breakout spring.

Since question #1 on our list is about linebackers, it's safe to say that many Irish fans are hoping for one of the linebackers to make his inclusion in the starting lineup a no-brainer. Notably, Mitchell Thomas and Anthony Vernaglia seem to have both the size and speed that fans would love to see flying all over the field. Thomas may be running out of chances to crack the starting lineup while Vernaglia's debut in the starting lineup has been eagerly anticipated ever since he turned down Pete Carroll and headed to South Bend.

Another fan favorite recruit, Justin Hoskins, also has fans nervously wondering if he will ever make an impact. I can't see Hoskins and incoming recruit Munir Prince both finishing their careers at running back so if Hoskins doesn't want to be the one shifted to wide receiver or cornerback, he's going to need to show his stuff this spring. Missing nearly the entire spring session last year really hurt him and he can't really afford another setback like that if he wants to enter the running back rotation that adds early entry James Aldridge this spring. Hoskins can add a real speed threat to the running backs so obviously it would be great if this spring he can prove he deserves to get a few carries a game.

David Bruton appears to have an Nduwke-sized obstacle between him and the starting lineup, but it was hard to watch him blazing down the field on special teams last year and not imagine him as the ball-hawking free safety ND fans crave. It has been reported a few different places that Nduke won't be moving to linebacker, so Bruton isn't going to be handed the starting job, he's going to have to earn it. Even if he can't knock Nduwke out, Bruton's development will be key to a safety position that might lose both starters at the end of next year.

Other possible "breakout" names to keep an eye on this spring include Terrail Lambert, Dwight Stephenson, Jr., Darrin Bragg, D.J. Hord, Scott Smith, Darrell Hand, George West, and Chris Stewart. Truthfully, every player on the roster should be included here and that is one of the fun things about spring practice. You never know when the next Fighting Irish football star is about to debut.

Spring Depth Chart

So I figured I'd offer up my guesses for the final spring depth chart. Keep in mind that last year I pegged Freddie Parish as our starting free safety so all predictions are dubious at best. Feel free to remind me of my mistakes later in the year. Note that I didn't include Crum since it doesn't sound like he's practicing and this is a spring roster. It's safe to say he'll be starting (somewhere) next fall.


QB
Brady Quinn
David Wolke
SDE
Victor Abiamiri
Justin Brown
RB
Darius Walker
Travis Thomas
DT
Derek Landri
Pat Kuntz
FB
Asaph Schwapp
Ashley McConnell
DT
Trevor Laws
Darrell Hand
Z
Rhema McKnight
David Grimes
WDE
Chris Frome
Ronald Talley
X
Jeff Samardzija
D.J. Hord
WILL
Joe Brockington
Abdel Banda
TE
John Carlson
Marcus Freeman
MIKE
Scott Smith
Mitchell Thomas
LT
Ryan Harris
Paul Duncan
Apache
Anthony Vernaglia
Steve Quinn
LG
Dan Santucci
Bob Morton
CB
Mike Richardson
Terrail Lambert
C
John Sullivan
Bob Morton
CB
Ambrose Wooden
Leo Ferrine
RG
Bob Morton
Chris Stewart
SS
Tom Zbikowski
Ray Herring
RT
Brian Mattes
Mike Turkovich
FS
Chinedum Ndukwe
David Bruton

Friday, March 17, 2006

that'd be grand! | by Jay

Happy St. Pat's. You know the tune...did you know the lyrics?

Beauing, belling, dancing, drinking,
Breaking windows, cursing, sinking
Every raking, never thinking,
Live the Rakes of Mallow

Spending faster than it comes,
Beating waiter's bailiffs, duns,
Bacchus' true begotten sons,
Live the Rakes of Mallow.

One time naught but claret drinking,
Then like politicians, thinking
To raise the sinking funds when sinking.
Live the Rakes of Mallow.

When at home, with da-da dying,
Still for mellow water crying,
But, where there's good claret plying
Live the Rakes of Mallow.

When at home with dadda dying,
Still for Mallow-water crying,
But where there is good claret plying
Live the rakes of Mallow.

Living short but merry lives,
Going where the devil drives,
Having sweethearts, but no wives,
Live the rakes of Mallow.

Racking tenants stewards teasing,
Swiftly spending, slowly raising,
Wishing to spend all their days in
Raking as at Mallow.

Then to end this raking life,
They get sober, take a wife,
Ever after live in strife,
And wish again for Mallow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tick-Tock | by Pat

There is still one excruciatingly long week ahead of us until the start of spring practice. To help pass the time, everyone gather round the old cyber armchair here and listen to a tale about the crazy recruiting wars back in the 60's. If you think that incessant text-messanging, Tom Lemming, and non-stop recruiting website updates are proof that recruiting has hit rock bottom, you might reconsider after reading this.

The story comes from Lannie Julias, a current contributor to uscfootball.com and a former college coach and recruiter for a number of D-1 schools. Julias' blog is a good read that dishes out both talent evaluations and ancedotes about his days as a coach. A few weeks ago he shared a story about the lengths he went to in order to secure a talented running back prospect out of SoCal for his team, San Jose State. Highly recommended reading.

The story is split into two parts. Part one sets up the recruiting climate that existed back in the day.

Again, no letter of intents. Also, there were no 'dead' periods in recruiting. It was an era when 'kidnapping' (with the player's consent) was a common practice. That was a term used for when a week or a few days before the opening of fall practice, a coaching staff would hide a player somewhere so that they could get him on the field for the first day of fall practice. Then he was part of the program and couldn't go anywhere else.
Part Two details Julias' efforts to keep the recruit hidden in various motels from competing college coaches who were tracking the recruit down during a 22 day period leading up to the first day of fall practice.
I gave the bell hop 10 more dollars (a lot of money in those days). Lucky for me, it was only 5:50 a.m. and even though we were near the San Jose airport, a lot of business travelers had not begun to check in yet. So there were only about 40 cars at most in the hotel parking lot. I woke Walter up. He showered and dressed and I informed him that I would pick him up at the back door of the hotel in about five minutes. I walked around the hotel to the parking lot and from afar could see the assistant coach through the window eating his breakfast and reading the newspaper. It was a few minutes after 6 a.m. I checked the license plates from car to car and finally came upon that coach's car. It was just waiting there for me and I slit all four tires of his rent-a-car (I'm a city guy, but like a lot of travelers of that day, always carried a pocket knife for protection purposes only).
Hiding recruits, spying on other coaches, slitting car tires... It's the kind of full-contact recruiting that must bring a tear to the eye of Ed Orgeron. Reading this good yarn not only highlights some of the down and dirty tatics used to get recruits to a certain school, but makes me wonder just what current coaches are doing, more specifically the young assistants striving to make a name for themselves, to make sure the guy they are recruiting signs that all important letter of intent. Anyway, enjoy the story. Only one week until the gold helmets return to the practice fields.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Who's Better Who's Best | by Pat

As we creep closer to the start of spring practice, the various online sports sites are gearing up with the pre-pre-season predictions. Over at CNNSI.com they listed out the Top 20 returning players in the country. The photo essay lists two Domers in the Top 20 in the form of Jeff Samardzija at #9 and Brady Quinn at #2. The number one spot goes to Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, who will probably be Quinn's main competition for the Heisman.

Re-checking the list for Irish opponents in 2006 reveals Michigan running back Mike Hart at #16, Penn State left tackle Levi Brown at #12, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson at #7, Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny at #4, and Southern Cal wideout Dwayne Jarrett at #3.

We can quibble about the exact rankings (Jarrett at 3?), but all on the list are very good players. So that got us thinking -- after all, it's the offseason and what better way to pass the time than more glazomania -- who are the Top 20 returning players that the Irish will face next year? This question proved to be quite the topic in the BGS Lounge with many names tossed out and rejected before we ultimately arrived at this list of Top 20. To avoid silly nit-picking, the list is in no paticular order. Oh, and to avoid just listing the Trojan depth chart we decided to cap each team's contribution to 5 players. So here we go.

1. Dwayne Jarrett - USC WR
2. Paul Posluszny - PSU LB
3. Mike Hart - UM RB
4. Calvin Johnson - GT WR
5. Drew Stanton - MSU QB
6. Levi Brown - PSU LT
7. Mario Manningham - UM WR
8. Dorien Bryant - PU WR
9. Sam Baker - USC LT
10. Tony Hunt - PSU RB
11. Chad Henne - UM QB
12. Lawrence Jackson - USC DE
13. Keith Rivers - USC LB
14. Lamarr Woodley - UM DE
15. Derrick Williams - PSU WR
16. Kory Sheets - PU RB
17. Ryan Kalil - USC C
18. Evan Moore - SU WR
19. Trent Edwards - SU QB
20. Rob Caldwell - Navy LB
Obviously pre-spring practice lists don't always reflect what shows up in the fall. Due to injury or some off-the-field incident there's a good chance that at least one of the names on the list won't be suiting up when it comes time for kickoff against the Irish. But we're all pretty confident that the Top 20 we listed are some of the best players that will face the Irish. It's possible that some of the more hyped, but unproven players, like UCLA's Ben Olsen, could find their way onto this list come game time, but for now we're going on more on proven production than potential. So who did we miss?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Nails" | by Pat

The stealth recruiting continued with ND's second verbal commitment in the form of Illinois running back/safety/linebacker Aaron Nagel (#20, right). Nagel came to Notre Dame as part of a small invite-only Junior Day and picked up an unexpected scholarship offer. And just like Kerry Neal, Nagel jumped on the chance to join the Fighting Irish.

"My dream school is Notre Dame,'' he said. "I always wanted to go there. I always liked their program. I always liked their academics and tradition."
As a star for Lemont High School, the 6'2" 215-pound Nagel plays safety and running back. As his team's main ground threat, Nagel piled up 1265 yards rushing and 17 TD's on 168 carries. Despite the impressive rushing totals though, it sounds like his future position with the Irish might lie at linebacker. Nagel mentioned that Weis is hoping to have him put on a few pounds and suit up at outside linebacker instead of his current spot at strong safety. Whether he ends up at safety or linebacker though, Nagel brings a lot of speed and a penchant for the big hit. He also seems to enjoy it.
"Defense is my passion,'' he said. "I like to hit people. I'm used to carrying the ball 17 to 18 times a game and catching passes, but I like defense more than offense. I like to be the one hitting people, not the one who is taking a hit and getting hurt."
Nagel's commitment to ND caught many Irish fans off-guard, but he wasn't nearly the sleeper candidate that Kerry Neal was. Before Nagel jumped on the ND offer, nearly all of the Big Ten (save the traditional heavyweights) had offered him a scholarship in addition to schools like Oklahoma State, Boston College, and Stanford. Some might worry that a lack of offer from a Michigan or Ohio State means something, but we need to keep in mind it's still March. It's true that recruiting has really picked up the pace the past few years, but many schools still like to get kids to a summer camp before handing out an offer. Weis apparently though didn't need that with Aaron.

Nagel picked up his scholarship offer after a 40 minute personal interview with Charlie. Ranked 3rd in his class with a GPA over 4.0, Nagel certainly fits Weis' ideal of "football players who can also read and write." No doubt he impressed Weis with whatever it is they talked about. According to Nagel, Weis excused himself from the interview at the end and said he'd be back in a minute.
"He came back," Aaron Nagel recalled Monday via cell phone, "and he said, 'All right Aaron, I think we're going to pull the trigger now.'"
From there it was a short race back home to confer with his parents before calling Weis back and accepting the offer. Living close to Chicago made for a quick car ride and also probably helped Nagel's cause as I really think that Weis is trying to really lock down the best talent in and around the city. It seems that Weis is trying to re-establish ND's presence in the midwest with kids that love ND, but I really think that the greater Chicago area is where Weis wants to make the Irish destination #1 for the best players. ND will always go after the best talent regardless of location, but building a solid base of midwestern kids, especially those that grew up dreaming about ND, is a smart move to me.

With two defensive players on board now, the common trait is their abundance of speed. I don't think it should be overlooked that both Nagel and Neal started high school in the defensive backfield, corner and safety respectively, before growing into their current position at safety and linebacker. Now, it seems that Weis sees them shifting yet again to linebacker and defensive end. It has long been a tradition that the best way to add speed is to make safeties into linebackers and linebackers into lineman. It seems that Weis is doing the same thing here with Neal and now Aaron Nagel.

And really now, what's not to like about a future linebacker who's last name is German for "nail"?