Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Signing Day postscript | by Pat

Before we close the 2008 recruiting books completely, here's a collection of quotes, anecdotes, and the ever popular BGS recruiting roundtable.

Quotables. First off, let's start with one of the best quotes of the entire recruiting process. Here we have Braxston Cave, talking about Urban Meyer's attempt to recruit him.

"(He) had me talk to his wife, so that was kind of interesting," Cave said.

The context of the conversation didn't exactly wow Cave.

"Basically, the weather and how they were on the boat and all this stupid crap," Cave said.
That's the kind of attitude you want in a center.

Runner-up is probably Dayne Crist on competition.
"Going to a school where I'm not going to be pushed and everyone's saying, 'Yeah, you're going to start right away,' you're not going to get any better," Crist said. "You're going to fit where you're at and just kind of ride it out. I want to be pushed. I want to be a better player altogether.
No Country for Omar. For the sake of posterity, here's the finale to the Omar Hunter saga. The defensive lineman heard rumors that his future position coach, the one that had been recruiting him all along, and the one that ultimately enticed him to decommit from ND, might be on the move. Meyer and Mattison assured Omar that Mattison wasn't going anywhere ("I got a voice mail left to me last night by a coach that was recruiting me that coach Mattison was leaving Florida to go to Baltimore," said Hunter. "They told my coach the same thing. That's how things got started. That got to me a little bit, but I found out that wasn't going to happen.") Hunter, apparently placated, faxed in his Letter of Intent. The very next day it was reported that Mattison was likely gone and before he even officially announced he was gone, Florida had already hired his replacement. Meanwhile, two other open assistant spots are still unfilled.

You have to chuckle, and not out of sour grapes over losing Omar. I find Mattison flying the coop a bit funny, given Hunter's excuse back when he decommited from ND. After rumors of him keeping his switch to the Gators quiet, Hunter went public by saying that he was "not really sure about the coaching staff there [at ND]."

Hard Knox, and other ones that got away. A handful of guys were mentioned down the stretch as possibly signing with ND, but ended up going elsewhere. Los Angeles running back Milton Knox stuck with the UCLA Bruins over ND. This was the only actual decision on Signing Day and while he was leaning towards the Irish initially, his family convinced him to stay and play for the hometown Bruins. ND's been in the winning side of the parental involvement issue plenty of times so we can't complain too much. Besides, it's rarely a bad decision to stick around and play for the local team, especially when it's a quality university like UCLA.

A quick rundown of slightly earlier decisions include Florida defensive end Keith Wells selecting Ohio State, offensive lineman Kenneth Page picking Clemson (and saving you from reading any bad 30 Rock jokes from me), and running back Cyrus Gray winding up with Texas A&M.

Finally, defensive tackle Mike Martin decided to stick with his original pledge to Michigan and will be a Wolverine. Good luck to a great kid. That put the final tally of head-to-head recruiting wins this year against Michigan at a whopping 16-3 in ND's favor. (Going forward, the Irish and Wolverines might not go after so many of the same offensive players given the different styles of each program's offense. We shall see.)

Once again we all huddled into the BGS Lounge for a stirring debate about the merits of this latest recruiting class.

Biggest Get?

Brian: Michael Floyd. After the Arrelious Benn fiasco last year, the Irish needed a bona fide "can't miss" prospect at wide receiver. With no disrespect to the other receivers in this class, which is arguably the finest receiver haul in school history, it was lacking such a prospect until Floyd came along. Just as importantly, he committed to ND soon after witnessing our depantsing at the hands of Southern Cal, and it's hard to overstate the importance of such a coveted player committing at a time when many pundits speculated that we could begin to see defections.

Pete: Ethan Johnson. No Weis team to date has been able to muster a respectable pass rush, but with the snagging of Johnson, along with a couple other stocky brutes along the D-Line, hopefully that will change in the coming years. Also, the departure of Laws, the issues with Kuntz, and the injury to Hand basically means these guys are coming in in high demand.

Michael: Dayne Crist. The QB is the most important cog in the Weis offense. Always has been. Always will. The other pieces are important, but the QB's mastery of the offense will play a large role in determining future success.

Mark: Ethan Johnson. There'd be swingin', swayin', records playin', and dancin' in the streets if this kid committed yesterday. But he didn't - he committed last June. He's easily the most highly touted defensive recruit to sign with ND since Abiamiri. He was USC's #1 defensive recruit on the West Coast. He plays a position of (significant) need for ND.

Pat: Trevor Robinson. Crist or Floyd are both great choices, but I think having an ass-kicker on the offensive line that makes it easier for them to do their jobs is the biggest get in this class. I expect Trevor to play early and often at ND and leave with a handful of team and national honors.

Mike: Ethan Johnson. Johnson has the potential to excel as a run-stopper and as a pass rusher. On paper, he's the perfect 3-4 defensive end.

Teds: There are prospects like Floyd, Johnson and Rudolph who are uncommonly talented and stand to pay big early dividends because ND hasn't recruited players like this for some time, but in retrospect, I think the biggest pickup may have been Dayne Crist. If 2007 taught Irish fans anything, it's that the Charlie Weis offense is a pale imitation of itself when you don't have stability at quarterback. Given that, landing Crist -- quite probably the best traditional QB prospect in the entire class -- on top of Clausen a year ago should provide ND quality of depth at that position for the first time in a number of years and sets the team up for a smooth succession plan a couple seasons down the road. Furthermore, Crist has already shown a glimpse of great natural leadership skills in the way he has taken charge of holding this recruiting class together from the inside in spite of an awful season that could have easily led to a number of defections. Though it may have seemed like gluttony at the time he committed, I suspect that ND fans will someday view his addition to the program as every bit as meaningful as that of Clausen.

Biggest Miss (not named Omar Hunter)

Teds: You know it's been a successful recruiting campaign when you can mull this question over without a half-dozen names popping into your head all at once. Honestly, it's unchartered territory for me as an Irish fan, and I've been following this stuff for well over a decade now. In something of a tossup between Sabino and Cyrus Gray, I'll give the nod to Etienne Sabino because the linebacking corps looked awful rough around the edges last year and seems to be a unit where a talented newcomer could really make some headway.

Dylan: Kenny George. Weis totally dropped the ball here, as we have absolutely no players over seven-and-a-half feet tall. Just one more hole in the depth chart left unadressed...

Mike: Etienne Sabino. He loved Corwin Brown, and Brown loved his potential. Sabino was excited enough about Notre Dame to take a visit on his own dime in July. Unfortunately, Sabino found South Bend sufficiently un-exciting to cross Notre Dame off his list.

Brian: LB Etienne Sabino, who ended up at Ohio State. Five-star middle linebackers don't go on trees, but basically, I'm upset about this because I think Sabino is a bad-ass name for a defensive stud to have. He could have been a latter-day Michael Stonebreaker. Perhaps we never had a chance to keep him from going to Columbus, though, since the name Etienne is from the French for "Lover of Finely-Knit Vests".

Pat: I hate to break up the Sabino party, but I'm going with offensive tackle Matt Patchan. I have high hopes for Lane Clelland (and Matt Romine for that matter), but an athletic left tackle is worth his weight in gold. Patchan has the makings of a great player and would have made ND's future left tackle depth extremely reassuring.

Pete: I'd have to go with an amalgam of Knox, Cyrus Gray, Ryan Williams, and Carlton Thomas. Not to take anything away from Knox, but RB seems to be the area that Weis' staff had the most "misses." Of course, having three talented RBs in the first two classes may have had an impact, but I think it's still ideal to get 2 RBs a class.

Class Sleeper?

Brian: Braxston Cave. Not only is he already one of the emotional leaders of this class (and how often can you say such a thing about a class before it even gets to campus?), but with the eyes of a bloodthirsty alumni base watching him in ESPN's Play In Our Game Or We Will Break You All-Star Freakout, Cave more than held his own against that scurrilous turncoat Omar Hunter. Plus, as with Sabino, the name "Braxston Cave" is just flippin' sweet. It joins "Golden Tate" as potential names for the villain in the next Rocky movie.

Michael: Lane Clelland. The "What have you done or me lately?" crowd was way down on him during/after the recruiting all-star games, but he was tabbed to play LT by the staff. Their evaluation couldn't have been that horribly askew.

Teds: Hafis Williams. His ratings were underwhelming in large part because his coach made tape of him harder to find than that of a boozy ESPN bimbo telling the son of God to, well, you know. But some rival coaches in the area regard Williams as the best defensive lineman the state of New Jersey has produced in a number of years. Brand me as irrationally exuberant if you wish, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Williams might someday make Irish fans forget the name Omar Hunter.

Mike: I think a lot of people are discounting Lane Clelland in light of reports that he was overpowered in San Antonio. However, the AA Bowl was during Clelland's wrestling season, and the need to make weight had him playing way below the weight he will play at in college. Still, I don't know if you can really call an AA Bowl participant a sleeper. Instead, my pick is Hafis Williams. Williams was an early offer who the coaching staff had rated above several highly decorated DL recruits. If their evaluation is accurate, Williams should be a big contributor.

Mark: Hafis Williams. I'm a Jersey guy, what do you expect? Seriously though, coaches in North Jersey who faced both Trattou and Williams over the last couple of years are of the opinion that Williams is the better DL.

Pat: Anthony McDonald. I think McDonald was overshadowed a bit in this class by his own high school teammate, Dayne Crist, and fellow linebacker recruits Darius Fleming and Steve Filer. He strikes me as the kind of player that won't get quite the fanfare of his classmates, but before you know it is leading the team in tackles. Hopefully my poor track record at guessing the class sleeper doesn't doom McDonald.

Parting Thoughts.

Mike: Never believe a self-proclaimed recruiting guru whose first name is "Tom" and last name is a small rodent.

Teds: What strikes me most about this class isn't the star power and the quality from top to bottom, but rather the astonishing precision with which the Irish staff executed its plan for recruiting during this campaign. ND offered fewer than 70 recruits this past year and landed exactly one-third of them. Nearly 70 percent of the prospects who officially visited campus this year ended up signing with the Irish. Four of the first five players they offered in this class committed to ND. As a matter of fact, you can go down the list of scholarship offers chronologically and find that the Irish were picking these prospects off at a rate of nearly 50% well into the 40's. To operate with that sort of efficiency in a business where the most talented targets have myriad options and it's not "win or lose" but rather "win or lose...or lose...or lose..." is all but unheard of. Our recruits' laundry lists of "other schools" comprises major national powers ten times over.

And to manage this feat in spite of concurrently suffering through a 3-9 season is doubly remarkable. For our staff to walk that minefield and come out on the other side with only one casualty stands as one of the impressive feats in the recruiting business over the past 20 years. And it is a credit not only to the dedication of Charlie Weis and his assistants but also to the kids themselves, who surely withstood a veritable mountain of propositions, barbs and criticism from rival coaches, friends, and perfect strangers yet stood strong by the school they pledged with. For any Irish fan who has been dismayed in recent years with a perceived lack of enthusiasm and commitment on the field of play, this group joining the team in the fall is already battle-tested and gives every indication of restoring that sense of pride in Notre Dame football.