Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ryan joins up | by Pat

Defensive end John Ryan called up Coach Ianello yesterday morning and became the eighth known verbal commit for the Fighting Irish. With two defensive ends in the bag (Ryan and Kallen Wade), the Irish seem to have filled up at another position in the 2006 recruiting class. The 6'5 240lb Ryan had narrowed down his college choice to Notre Dame and Boston College and ultimately chose the Irish despite some family and friend connections to BC. Ryan also had offers from Michigan State, Syracuse, Maryland, and Duke.

The committment of Ryan not only secures another quality player for this recruiting class, but also is another sign of the approach Coach Weis is taking to recruiting. We've commented before on the apparent focus on midwestern recruits and Ryan, from St. Ignatius High School near Cleveland, Ohio, certainly fits the bill. Taking it a step further, Weis seems determined to get the Notre Dame name back into the state of Ohio, especially with the Catholic schools.

During the Willingham and Davie years, Ohio, a normally productive recruiting area, seemed to be ignored for states like California and Texas. And while those two states aren't shabby when it comes to producing football players, Ohio is no slouch itself. Noticing this lack of ND presence, Boston College actually has been making inroads into Ohio high schools and lately has been filling its roster with players from the same Catholic schools that used to be pipelines to South Bend.

Now, I realize our starting quarterback is from Ohio. But taking a closer look at the spring roster, there are only four players from Ohio (Quinn, Nduwke, Incarnato, and walk-on Marty Mooney). Of those, only Mooney is from a Catholic school (St. Xavier, alma mater of Rocky Boiman among others). In comparison, Boston College has eleven players on its spring roster from Ohio high schools, seven of which are from Catholic schools. Even the Michigan Wolverines have six players from Ohio on their roster. In the incoming recruiting class, both ND and BC picked up two Ohio prospects with both of BC's coming from Catholic schools. Interestingly, one of the BC recruits, Jim Ramella, is a former teammate and friend with John Ryan and their friendship was one of the factors that appeared to put BC in the lead for Ryan's services. (Ryan's current teammate, WR Rob Parris, is coming to ND's summer camp in a few weeks to try and earn a scholarship offer.)

Let me back up a second here before I continue. It's not my intention to suggest that Notre Dame should only be focusing on kids from Catholic schools at the expense of other public or private schools. I like the increased focus that Weis is giving these schools not because I desire to see ND sign kids with names like Sully or Fitz who do the Sign of the Cross everytime they score a touchdown. Rather, many of these Catholic schools, especially in the Cincinnati and Cleveland areas, are talent-rich, tradition-laden schools that annually turn out some of the best players in the state. That and the kids are already used to subpar weather, Catholic influences, and a legitimate course workload. Ignoring these schools and not establishing good relationships with their head coaches (as some have accused Ty and Davie of doing) is just a bad idea. Weis seems to have started the push back into Ohio last year during his first abbreviated recruiting campaign when he offered Cardinal Mooney star Kyle McCarthy a few weeks before Signing Day and I doubt we will see him shy away from this strategy anytime soon.

This article from last month's Cincinnati Enquirer does a great job of summing up the recent push into Ohio. Rather than just pull out some choice quotes, I'm going to reproduce the entire thing (although pay particular attention to the Schoenhoft comments).

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Irish revival might begin in Cincinnati
Wade 1st from area to sign in a while

By Tom Groeschen
Enquirer staff writer

Notre Dame last won a national football championship in 1988. Around that time, the Irish pipeline of Greater Cincinnati prep products started drying up.

While the twin droughts (national titles, Cincinnati players) are just coincidence, local Notre Dame fans are still cheering the news that Withrow's Kallen Wade, a junior defensive end, has committed to the Fighting Irish for 2006.

Wade is the first area player to accept a Notre Dame scholarship in nearly 10 years, a stunning statistic when one considers Cincinnati once regularly helped stock the Irish program.

"I love to see one of our players going back up there," said Bob Crable, the Moeller head coach and former Notre Dame All-America linebacker. "I know Notre Dame wants to make a presence here again."

The Notre Dame media guide lists 76 Greater Cincinnatians who have played at least one second in an Irish varsity game, dating to the program's formation in 1887. Of the 76 locals, 50 played at Notre Dame between the late 1960s and late '80s.

A total of 18 Cincinnati products played on Notre Dame's last three national title teams (1973, '77 and '88. Tight end Frank Jacobs (Newport Central Catholic) and cornerback D'Juan Francisco (Moeller) both played for the '88 Irish. But, since 1990, only five locals have played in a Notre Dame varsity game.

Former St. Xavier linebacker Rocky Boiman, who played for Notre Dame from 1998-2001, was the last local player awarded an Irish scholarship.

Boiman, now in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, is nearly a decade removed from high school.

The only Cincinnati player on the 2004 Irish roster was junior quarterback Marty Mooney, a walk-on from St. Xavier.

Gerry Faust, the former Moeller (1963-80) and Notre Dame (1981-85) head coach, said he was thrilled to learn Wade had chosen Notre Dame. Faust is retired and living in Akron.

"I've been trying to tell people for years that Notre Dame needed to get back to recruiting the Midwest schools," Faust said. "Notre Dame made its heydays on those kids. Ara Parseghian did it, Dan Devine did it, we did it and Lou Holtz did it."

Back to their roots

And now, new Irish coach Charlie Weis wants to do it with help from his own Cincinnati connection - Rick Minter.

Minter, the former Cincinnati head coach (1994-2003), is back as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator. It's the same job Minter held at Notre Dame under Holtz in 1992-93.

"To rebuild this program in the proper way, we need to have a very strong hold on the Midwest," Minter said, speaking by telephone from his office in South Bend, Ind. "That includes being strong in Ohio, and particularly in Cincinnati where it's such a strong high school town. With my familiarity there, we hope to use that to our advantage."

Jon Dannemiller, a St. Xavier grad who is president of the Notre Dame Club of Greater Cincinnati, said Notre Dame has between 1,500 and 2,000 alumni living in the area. Add to that the countless "subway alumni" who grew up watching Notre Dame football highlights on TV each Sunday morning with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung, and it's no secret that Irish football has always been big in Cincinnati.

"I'm so happy Charlie Weis seems to be recruiting the Midwest again," Dannemiller said.

By land, Notre Dame is about 4½ hours northwest of downtown Cincinnati. When did the relatively short drive suddenly get so long for Notre Dame, and how did Irish football lose its grip in Cincinnati ?

"I can't answer that, because I haven't been here for a while," Minter said. "I do know we want to get that presence back, because it goes all the way back to Ara's days and Gerry Faust's days."

What changed?

Theories abound on why Notre Dame has no longer recruited Cincinnati as hard:

The Cincy "connection" was broken when Faust was forced out in 1985. Faust sent several Moeller players to Parseghian and Devine in the 1960s and '70s, and there were several Faust recruits still playing for the '88 national champions.

The decline in local recruiting actually began under Holtz, who got the occasional plum (Norwood fullback Marc Edwards in the early 1990s) but signed only a handful of Cincinnati players in his 1986-96 tenure.

Holtz's successors, Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, also tried to spread their recruiting nets more nationally at "speed" players. To a degree, they got away from Notre Dame's hardnosed Midwest roots. And being several years removed from having Cincinnati players, the Irish were no longer regular visitors to area high schools.

Crable thinks the Irish, trying to compete against their murderous schedules, recently have gone more for the so-called "athletes" than the tough, smashmouth Notre Dame players of the past.

"I think Notre Dame recently has gotten the fast kids, tall kids and kids who could catch the football," Crable said. "Charlie Weis said he's looking for toughness, and I think his predecessors failed to find enough tough kids. I know speed kills, but football is a game of attitude. You've got to have some nastiness."

Crable, who epitomized nastiness as a player, said Notre Dame also has lost some recruiting battles to the Ohio States and Michigans in recent years.

"Kids like winners," Crable said. "Notre Dame hasn't won in a long time."

It's not as if Notre Dame has been ignoring Cincinnati prep football. The Irish last summer were a top contender for St. Xavier senior Robby Schoenhoft, who was ranked among the nation's top dozen prep quarterbacks.

"After I visited there, I was ready to commit," Schoenhoft said of Notre Dame. "I was just dumbfounded. I was in awe of the place and its tradition."

But Schoenhoft hit some snags with Willingham and his staff. Schoenhoft said he couldn't get a straight answer on who else the Irish were recruiting at his position. Finally, he decided to look elsewhere.

"The whole process turned me off," Schoenhoft said. "Nothing against anybody, because I did like it up there."

Schoenhoft signed with Ohio State, after paring his list to OSU, Michigan and Notre Dame.

Other locals of interest

This year, Wade has not been the only local target for Notre Dame.

According to the recruiting Web site, the Irish also have offered a scholarship to Princeton offensive lineman Aaron Brown and have "mutual interest" in Withrow defensive back Robert Williams. St. Xavier linebacker/defensive end Alex Albright visited Notre Dame's spring football game last week with Wade.

Tom Lemming, the recruiting analyst, said Wade may be the No. 2 overall prospect in Ohio behind Princeton's Brown, with both having the potential to be "Top 100" players when Lemming releases his annual list in June.

Has the Cincinnati pipeline reopened? Time will tell, but city coaches including Withrow's Doc Gamble, St. Xavier's Steve Specht, and Moeller's Crable all say Minter has told them Notre Dame will be back.

"I know they hadn't visited Withrow in some time," Gamble said. "I used to work Rick Minter's camp when I was an assistant at Mount St. Joseph and East Carolina, so we have a connection. I know they're making a point of emphasis to get back to Ohio."

It doesn't just mean to Catholic schools, either. While Notre Dame is famous as a Catholic school, the Irish had no qualms about landing an inner-city player from Withrow.

"I was kind of shocked that Kallen was so excited about Notre Dame, but he loved it," Gamble said.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Wade, who had 13 sacks last year, said he was also considering Boston College and Illinois.

"Once I saw Notre Dame ... I don't think anybody could touch them," Wade said.

Wade's road

At Notre Dame, it will help that Wade is a 3.8 student. Notre Dame's rigorous academic standards have been blamed, fairly or not, for the Irish losing recruits in recent years.

Wade said he is not particularly familiar with the Irish tradition. The 11 national titles and Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen and Touchdown Jesus are just now coming to the Cincinnati kid, who grew up in Phoenix dreaming of being an Olympic sprinter.

"I moved here five or six years ago, but I really don't know much about Notre Dame's past," Wade said. "I just liked the atmosphere when I went up there."

For the record, Wade is Episcopalian. He laughs when asked about the Catholic yarn that says the two biggest jobs in the world are Pope and Notre Dame football coach, not necessarily in that order.

"It doesn't matter to me," Wade said. "We're all Christians anyway."

In South Bend, he'll find everyone on the same page. Irish alums, people he didn't know from Adam, were coming up and welcoming Wade as he walked around Notre Dame Stadium last weekend.

"I know they haven't won for a while," Wade said. "It's my job to help put them back up there."
Lots of interesting points in that article. The fact it's been a decade since ND signed a kid from Cincinnati. ND guys like Crable coming right out and saying he wants to send his players to ND. The apparently scattershot and dare I say bumfuzzled QB recruiting under Willingham. The obligatory Lemming quote pumping up Irish recruits. Coach Minter's connections to southern Ohio that he sowed while head coach at Cincinnati. All of it great stuff.

Getting back to the Ryan committment though, in addition to being another signal that ND is making a strong push back into Ohio, he appears to be a solid player that will be an excellent strongside defensive end compliment to Kallen Wade's pass rushing. Look for this pair to keep opposing quarterbacks on the run in the years to come.