Thursday, May 29, 2008

Trip of a lifetime | by Pat

However many miles Charlie has accumulated recruiting in year's past pale in comparison to his latest spring road trip. Along with four other college coaches -- Mark Richt of Georgia, Tommy Tuberville of Auburn, Randy Shannon of Miami and Jack Siedlecki of Yale -- Charlie went on a whirlwind five day trip to visit the troops stationed in the Middle East. The trip was documented by Ivan Maisel in a series of entries on ESPN. But perhaps the best account was given by Charlie himself. Each day he recounted the journey to Eric Hansen who transcribed it for the SBT and Aside from the information about the trip itself, the writing presents a much more causal and off the cuff Charlie than the one frequently heard at the mostly scripted press conferences. Here's a rundown of the trip complete with links and daily highlights.

Day One - From Scott Air Force Base in Illinois to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany

The article and video of the stop at Scott Air Force Base was posted here before, but here's the link again. The first installment of Charlie's diary (blog?) of the trip covers the stop at Scott and the flight over to Germany aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker.

The guy who flew us from Scott Air Force Base to Germany, in fact, is a Notre Dame grad, class of 1976. His name is Fred Roggero. He's a two-star general, and he let me sit up in the cockpit with him on the takeoffs and the landings. We had kind of a funny exchange. He said, "It's your turn to say the Hail Marys now. I've been doing them for the football team for the past few years."
The diary links as well as the Hannah and Friends website has a great collection of photos from the trip, including Weis watching the Stratotanker refuel another craft mid-flight as well as Charlie trying his hand with a few different guns while at Scott Air Force Base.

Day Two - Germany to Qatar

From Germany, Weis traveled over Iraq to a US base in Qatar.
Later in the day I got to see a B-1 bomber. Not only that, they let you go pick out a bomb and write a message to Osama Bin Laden. They wanted you to write a message on one of the bombs that they'd go ahead and drop. You just literally pulled out a Sharpie and wrote on it. "Go to hell" or something like that. I wrote something like "You will lose. Go Irish." I think everyone might have written something a little nastier, but I was conservative.
After dinner, all the coaches sat at tables outside for about four hours and signed things. We signed and signed and signed and signed. Needless to say, you were spent at the end of that. And it's worth it. They're just so happy to see you that it makes you happy. They're trying to thank us, and we're the ones who should be saying, "Thank you." If you saw the enthusiasm of these people, you'd be shocked. It's infectious. You definitely feel something special here.
I'm sorry, but I had to chuckle a bit at this.
We gave them T-shirts. I was in cahoots with the (Notre Dame) bookstore. We gave out the old (official) shirts from last year. With the help of the bookstore, we sent over like 5,000 or 6,000 shirts.
Gee, I wonder why there were so many extra 2007 shirts lying around.

Moving right along, here's the Day Two photo gallery.

Day Three - Qatar to Bahrain to the USS Nassau

Flying into Bahrain, the coaches took a helicopter ride to the USS Nassau in the Persian Gulf.
We weren't going to go to this ship originally. We were going to go to the USS Ashland. But it was way farther out in the gulf. The Nassau was a little bit closer. And let me tell you, that was fine with me. This has been a Dramamine special for me. The helicopter ride and the ship aren't my cup of tea, if you get my drift.
While on board the USS Nassau, the coaches held a mock NFL Combine to test the crew in the 40 yard dash, short shuttle, bench press, and other combine events.
Tuberville manned the starting line. Shannon operated the stopwatch at the other end. When Weis walked up, he shouted at Shannon, "I'm going to run the 40, Randy. Ready? Got a calendar?"
Here's Day Three's photo gallery.

Day Four - Back to Bahrain

A few more hours were spent on the USS Nashua, including a Q&A with the coaches where Charlie was no doubt asked about the status of the offensive line. After that, it was another helicopter ride back to Bahrain. Once there, they held more question and answer sessions with the troops while signing shirts and taking pictures with everyone, as long as they were dressed correctly.
Not everyone here is a Notre Dame fan, now. I have run into a whole bunch of Michigan fans, but Saturday it was a USC fan who really got my attention. This USC fan has a wife who is a Notre Dame fan. She's back in Scranton, Pa. He comes up for a picture (Saturday) night. He's got on a USC football shirt, and I refused to take the picture with him.

He goes, "C'mon coach, you can't do me like that." I said, "I'll tell you what. I'll put it up for a vote. I'll put it up to your buddies, see what they think." So I said, "How many of you guys think I should take a picture with him with this USC football shirt?" Everyone's saying "Noooo. Nooo. Boo."

"How many think I shouldn't?" And everyone raises their hands. He went and put on the green Notre Dame shirt. He said, "My wife is going to rag me for the rest of my life." It was one of the more humorous moments of the trip.
Charlie also reflected on being overseas at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.
Being over here on Memorial Day weekend is really very different than the way a lot of people celebrate Memorial Day back in the States. The real meaning of the holiday is a constant reminder. It slaps you very clearly in the face.

Memorial Day, to me, almost takes on a greater significance in the grand scheme of things. You're thinking about, "I'm only here for a short amount of time." These people are putting their lives on the line and they're doing it every single day. They are, literally. It really makes you feel proud, to tell you the truth."
Here's the Day Four photo gallery.

Day Five - From Bahrain to the Southwest Pacific

Visiting an undisclosed base, Charlie and the coaches settled in for the final day of their overseas trip. In addition to the usual meet and greet, they found time to coach a flag football game.
Late in the afternoon, they held a flag football game on the base. The Southeastern Conference coaches -- (Auburn's) Tommy Tuberville and (Georgia's) March Richt -- coached one team. And (Yale's) Jack Siedlecki and (Miami's) Randy Shannon coached the other team. I was the head referee, because I was the only one not affiliated with a conference. So I got to bust everyone's chops.

So right away I called a 5-yard, delay-of-game penalty on Mark Richt for "overcoaching." And then Tuberville's yelling, "The fix is in. The fix is in." Actually their team won 14-12. It was 6-6 at halftime. Their team scored and went for two to go up 14-6. The other team scored with 14 seconds to go, went for two and didn't make it. Everyone loved it, the base just loved it. The field was 80 yards long and made of dirt. No grass anywhere. After the game, they had a big cookout. They gave them kebabs and ribs and lobster. That was like the big Memorial Day cookout they had.
This was the final day of the trip, as the coaches left early in the morning to fly back to Washington D.C. to visit the White House. As to be expected with such a long trip, Charlie commented on his time spent with the other coaches.
I think the other coaches and I have become pretty close on this trip. I don't think you can help it. We've been busting chops with each other pretty good, to tell you the truth.
Day Six - Memorial Day at the White House

The final part of the trip was following the 15 hour flight back to the US. The coaches journeyed to the White House to take part in a press conference with President Bush. Maisel noted the security protocols of such a visit.
On the way to the White House, someone reminded the coaches to have some identification ready.

"Can't we just say we're with Charlie?" Mark Richt of Georgia said, teasing Charlie Weis of Notre Dame.
Charlie gave a few comments to the media at the press conference and with that the tour was over and the coaches were able to head home.
I think that Mr. President definitely had the inspired part right, but that inspire part definitely worked both ways. We went over there to help motivate the morale of the troops -- but I think we came home probably more inspired than even they were. I mean, it was just an unbelievable experience to watch the enthusiasm and the pride and the teamwork over there.

I mean, I can't -- we saw thousands and thousands of troops, and when they heard that we were coming to the White House on Monday, to a man and to a woman almost everyone said, "Could you just pass on one message to the President," and asked us to thank him for him supporting them. I mean, think about it -- they're there for four months, six months, a year -- it was just unbelievable -- from Germany, you know, seeing guys and girls that had gotten injured in battle; and their framework, their psyche; it was just an unbelievable experience.

And I think all five of us said we just wish we could have brought our players over there, you know, the 18-to-23-year-olds that we deal with, so they could see what maturity looks like at a young age and teamwork at its utmost. I tell you what, on behalf of all five coaches I can -- it was just an invigorating experience, one that we'll always treasure the rest of our lives.

And we got something special going on over there because there wasn't one person, of the thousands and thousands of soldiers we met, that had one negative thing to say -- and that's almost overwhelming to think about it; not one. Now, there were a couple at the end-of-their-year tours that were very much looking forward to getting their call to get home. But I'll tell you what, it was great. And what a perfect way to end up our trip, to end up at the White House on Memorial Day
Maisel wrote a summary article about the trip that is worth a read too, mainly talking about how the coaches will surely use this trip to motivate and inspire their teams. Charlie made it very clear that he plans on doing exactly that.
When the 2008 Fighting Irish football team reconvenes in August, what Weis saw and heard and felt in the past week just may come up.

"The first day," Weis said. "You have one day where you can't do any football. You have an orientation day. That will be the perfect opportunity to talk about the [military's] sense of team. We put signs up in January saying, 'Leave your egos at the door.' These people live that creed. If you get your team to live that creed the way these soldiers do, you'll be OK."
Finally, Weis held a quick press conference today to speak with reporters looking for quotes on the trip. Here is the transcript and video courtesy of Irish Eyes of the presser, which largely recounts many of the anecdotes including in the daily diaries.

It's a shame that head coaches were kept off the recruiting trail this spring, but the rule did provide for an occasion for a much more important road trip. Hopefully this is not the last time in a while that college coaches take a break from their busy schedules to visit the troops stationed around the globe.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Carlo Calabrese Commits | by Pat

If you want a middle linebacker on your team, the picture at the right embodies a lot of want you want in one. The player in the picture is Carlo Calabrese, Notre Dame's latest public commit and fifth overall in the recruiting Class of 2009. Adding to the things you like in a middle linebacker is Calabrese's quote to the South Bend Tribune this morning.

"I like hitting kids," Calabrese said. "That's my favorite thing."
Carlo has been a heavy Irish lean for awhile now --to the point that he gave Charlie his word he would commit a few weeks ago -- but waited until his mother's birthday to go public with his decision. He ended up picking ND over offers from Rutgers, Florida, BC, and Syracuse. On, Calabrese is unranked so far as they have only given stars to their Top 250 recruits. On, he is a 4-star linebacker, the #15 MLB recruit, and the #216 recruit overall. ESPN hasn't narrowed down their Top 150 list yet, so he's on the Watch List with just about every other recruit.

The 6'2" , 225 pounder hails from New Jersey which makes him the third straight recruit from the Garden State. Calabrese attends the same high school that produced Anthony Fasano, who is a family friend with the Calabrese's. Another connection is the fact that Carlo is the first freshman to start on the Verona varsity team since Fasano did it. With 104 tackles last year, 34 for a loss, Carlo was named 2nd Team All-State. He has also played QB, kicker, punter, and punt returner for his team.

Unlike other recruits, Carlo won't need to put in much time in the weight room before he's ready to play college ball. As you can see from these photos, when he's not playing football, spends his time carrying around heavy stuff. Since his sophomore year his size and strength have been his advantage, such as at a National Underclassmen Combine.
One of the more imposing players of the entire weekend was LB MVP sophomore Carlo Calabrese of Verona High School in New Jersey. Calabrese, 6-foot-2 and 218-pounds, showed off his strength during 1-on-1’s, as he knocked more than a few running backs to the ground, plus he excelled during the individual drills. He also showed off his strength by having 26 reps at 150-pounds, plus he ran a 4.63 shuttle, had a 26.5-inch vertical and a 8’5” broad.
His highlight clips are up on youtube, if you want to get a sense of the kind of player headed to South Bend in 2009. He certainly will provide a physical presence in the middle and a great complement to the linebackers showing up this fall. At the very least, he's going to bring a lot of energy to the team. Take a look.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SkyWriting: Rapid Recap Edition | by Pat

Plenty of news to catch up on, so everyone step up to the firehose and take a drink.

News: The long-rumored Notre Dame/Arizona State game has been finalized.

In the second to be announced of a series of "off-site" Fighting Irish football games, Notre Dame and Arizona State will square off on Oct. 5, 2013, at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas.
BGS Views: We've griped about the current scheduling philosophy before and will likely continue to do so. But this game isn't one that deserves much criticism. Sure, the desire to have NBC broadcast the game requires ND to move the location outside of Pac-10 territory for TV rights rules and that isn't ideal. But the new Cowboys stadium should be a fun place to play for the players and fans (pro stadium means beer sales). Playing a game in Texas shouldn't hurt recruiting in the Lone Star State either, although don't expect too much from one game, especially given the fact the opponent isn't a local team.

News: Maurice Crum, Jr., David Grimes, and David Bruton have all been named team captains for the 2008 season.
In voting conducted Friday afternoon, Crum was selected captain of the defense, Grimes captain of the offense and Bruton captain of the special teams.
BGS Views: Congrats to the trio, especially Crum who becomes the 17th player in ND history to be a two-time captain. As noted by, Crum is the third player in a row to be a two-time captain following Brady Quinn and Travis Thomas. That streak will end this year though as all three players are out of eligibility following the season.

News: Charlie's name popped up with the whole Patriots "Spygate" situation.

BGS Views: Aside from wondering if adding the suffix "gate" to any controversial situation is merely lazy journalism or an example of the continuing evolution of language (or both?) there isn't too much to interest me in this situation. I'll spare you the 'but everyone else does it' angle and say this. The taping allegations might have a slight impact on Charlie's "Robot Genius" Offensive Coordinator rep, but I'd say the whole 'last in the nation offensively in 2007' is a far bigger black mark in that department. Besides, at this point, the focus, as far as this blog is concerned, should be on Charlie's ability to be a head coach at Notre Dame, not offensive coordinator.

News: More drama and controversy! Charlie was taped saying "To Hell with Michigan" at the Blue and Gold game breakfast.

BGS Views: Another yawn. Charlie tried to work up a pro-Notre Dame crowd with a little pep rally rhetoric. Some Michigan fans took offense as expected, but Charlie could read the evening weather report and Michigan fans could find a way to demonize him over it. And vice versa with ND fans and Rich Rodriguez. Such is (off-season) college football.

News: NCAA Football 2009 is rapidly approaching.

BGS Views: Only a certain segment of ND fans are really interested in this news. If you fall into that category, Frank over at UHND has a look at some of the ND player ratings.

News: For the second straight year, Notre Dame paid Ty Willingham more than Charlie Weis in base salary.

Weis, who will enter his fourth season at Notre Dame this year, did receive a bump from his salary reported by the school for July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006. In that fiscal year, Weis made $565,566 in salary and $53,115 in deferred compensation and benefits, and he had an expense account of $55,100.

His compensation then was less than former coach Tyrone Willingham, and for the second straight year, Notre Dame paid Willingham more than Weis in base salary.

The school paid Willingham $650,000 from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, as part of its settlement with the current University of Washington coach after Notre Dame fired him Nov. 30, 2004.

BGS Views: Much of Charlie's compensation is from sources that aren't required to be reported on this particular tax form, so he's actually no where near being paid less than Ty. Still, it makes for good internet message board outrage.

News: Charlie is now off on his trip to the Middle East.

BGS Views: We'll have a bit more on this in future posts as Charlie is writing a diary of sorts of the trip for The above linked story has the story and video of the visit of Charlie and the other coaches at their stop at Scott Air Force Base prior to flying overseas.

News: A duo of former Irish stars are moving on to new career opportunities. Chris Zorich will join the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and Tim Brown is writing an article in on stock advice.

BGS Views: Good for them. Irish fans might recall that the Knight Commission was co-founded by Fr. Hesburgh.

News: Backup QB Evan Sharpley signs with college-player summer league baseball team.
Evan Sharpley is coming home.

The Battle Creek Bombers announced on Wednesday that Sharpley, a former Marshall star, has signed a 10-day contract to play in the Northwoods League. The Bombers expect Sharpley to sign a second 10-day deal, allowing him to play in Battle Creek for at least a couple weeks.
BGS Views: There has been some speculation that Sharpley's strong baseball season might lead Evan to skip football in 2008 in order to focus on baseball. However, this article includes mention of returning in time for football. Another article from the same paper reinforces the idea that he will indeed be back.
"I'll play as much as I can before I come back and start doing all the football stuff," Evan said. "I'm still taking summer classes, so I don't have too much free time. It's a lot of working out, hitting when I can and obviously school."
Good news for ND as Evan will provide experience and leadership off the bench and allow freshman Dayne Crist the luxury to ease into the college game.

There, that should about bring us up to speed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Draft that was | by Pat

First order of business, post-hiatus, is to get out the results of the NFL Draft, complete with rookie mini-camp updates....

John Carlson - 2nd round, 38th overall pick, Seattle Seahawks.

Headed out west, Carlson was the first Domer off the board. From the Seahawks website, there are quotes from Coach Mike Holmgren on drafting the ND tight end.

“John Carlson, to me and to Tim, was the most all around solid guy. He’s really a good football player, who can play inside at the tight end position. He’s a big man, 6’5”, 250 … very good hands, good route runner. We love everything about the intangibles - how he plays the game, how he practices, how he conducts his life. I told Tim this early on, I think that he is one of these guys, Lord willing and everyone stays healthy, that he can come in and be a really good football player for you for a long time.”
With a tip of the cap to Rakes of Mallow, here is a Seahawks blog reaction to the Carlson draft. From the sound of the coaches, Carlson will have every opportunity to start and is even being counted on to make the starting role his. If you click on "Day One Recap", you can catch a quick glimpse of Carlson at the most recent mini-camp. Carlson is the highest drafted Notre Dame tight end since Irv Smith was drafted in the first round in 1993.

Trevor Laws - 2nd Round, 47th overall pick, Philadelphia Eagles

Very few players saw their stock keep rising like Trevor Laws did. When it was all over, the Eagles took the Irish DT halfway through the second round. The Eagles website has draft reaction quotes from Trevor and from Coach Andy Reid. Thanks again to Rakes, here is an Eagles blog take on the pick.

For a different kind of reaction, check out the Laws family draft day party video from Trevor's website. Laws also spoke with a local newscaster, which can be seen here.

There are some videos of Trevor as well with the Eagles. First up is a walkin' and talkin' interview that would make Aaron Sorkin proud. Next is a mini-camp highlight video that offers a quick look at Laws, along with teammate Victor Abiamiri and a glimpse of Rocky Boiman. The early projections on Laws are that he will work in a DT rotation and provide depth to the Eagles defensive line. There should definitely be situations next season where Victor and Trevor are on the field at the same time once again. Trevor is the highest drafted Notre Dame defensive tackle since Bryant Young was taken in the 1st round in 1994.

Tom Zbikowski - 3rd round, 86th overall pick, Baltimore Ravens

Zibby was a true wildcard with his projected draft slot being anywhere from the 2nd round to the 7th. The Ravens took him off the board in the 3rd round.

Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome offered his thoughts on Zibby and a Ravens blog seemed pleased with the pick. Zibby's take on being a Raven was captured by the Chicago Tribune.

The South Bend Tribune included an interesting anecdote about how Zibby might have ended up in Baltimore.
The youngest of the three Zbikowski children will be showing up at Ravens mini-camp soon, where he'll be reunited with former Irish defensive assistant Greg Mattison, the man who recruited him to Notre Dame. Mattison, most recently co-defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida, was hired as the Ravens linebackers coach by first-year head coach John Harbaugh in mid-February.

"I just talked to coach Mattison on the phone for about 10 minutes, and it was great," said Zbikowski, the third ND player to be selected this weekend -- following tight end John Carlson (Seattle) and defensive tackle Trevor Laws (Philadelphia), both taken in the second round Saturday.

"We've kept in touch since he left Notre Dame. I'm friends with his son (former Penn High standout Bryan). I wouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with me ending up there."
Zibby is the highest Irish DB taken since Brock Williams was also taken with the 86th pick in 2001. If you stick to safeties, Zibby is the highest drafted safety since Bobby Taylor was taken in the 2nd round in 1995. Taylor also played cornerback though, which helped his value.

John Sullivan - 6th Round, 187th overall pick, Minnesota Vikings

The last Irish player to be drafted, Sullivan was selected in round six by the Vikings.

Here is the text of Sully's conference call with reporters after being picked and the Vikings official site also has the reaction of Head Coach Brad Childress to the Sullivan draft selection. With Pro Bowler Matt Birk manning the center position, Sullivan will have some time to learn the pro game behind a potential Hall of Fame player.

Sully is the highest rated --ok, only -- ND center drafted since first rounder Jeff Faine in 2003.

Travis Thomas - Free Agent, Cleveland Browns

The Browns called Travis after the 5th round and told him that if he went undrafted, they wanted to sign him as a free agent. His best chance at early playing time will be on special teams for the Browns.

J.J. Jansen - Free Agent, Green Bay Packers

Signed by Green Bay, Jansen will fight for the starting long-snapping gig against Thomas Gafford, a third year player who has yet to long snap in a game.

Joe Brockington, Free Agent, Buffalo Bills

It was a quick visit to New York for Brockington as the Bills signed Joe to a free agent contract and then cut him two days after rookie mini-camp.

All in all, another solid draft year for the Fighting Irish, especially considering the outcome of the 2007 season. Willingham whiffed on his last two recruiting classes, but he (and Charlie and Mr. Ndukwe) should get credit for his first full recruiting class. The Class of 2007 had 22 players sign letters of intent and 8 went on to be drafted in the NFL. If you count Greg Olsen and Jeff Samardzija, that's 10 out of 22; a an extremely impressive success rate.

A quick glimpse ahead to next year's draft offers possibility that only one Irish player will be drafted. David Bruton has the potential to be a first day pick, but after him, things get murky. Terrail Lambert is probably the next best bet and a solid 2008 will probably earn him a draft spot in the mid to later rounds. A year under Tenuta might pay off for Mo Crum. Other than that, I don't see any likely picks barring a junior like Darrin Walls leaving early. Good news I suppose that most of the talent on the 2008 team will be back for 2009. But not good for the fact that ND will have to go one more year without much NFL caliber talent in the 5th year and senior classes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

You guys playing cards? | by Pat

A break to write for Here Come the Irish turned into an impromptu blog siesta. Apologies for the radio silence, but we're now tanned, rested, and ready. What do you say we talk Fighting Irish football?

There will be a bit of recapping as we flush the pipeline of events that have transpired since the last post, so bear with us. After that, we have some hopefully entertaining post ideas to get us through the arduous off-season. And then before you know it, it will be time to get ready for fall camp. Only 81 days to go!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Pardon the Interruption | by Jay

We're taking a hiatus this week to work on our articles for Here Come the Irish '08. Be back soon.