Saturday, April 29, 2006

Institutional Control, or lack thereof | by Dylan

In this morning's Los Angeles Times, T.J. Simers drives the Reggie Bush story in a new direction, parking it right on Pete Carroll's chest. Can this be the first chip in the facade of Carroll as good-guy-but-kinda-out-of-the-loop coach? Here, he's inserting himself into Bush's search for an agent and arranging meetings with disgraced hucksters. Key grafs:

More importantly, what was Carroll thinking when he helped Ornstein select Segal? If he was trying to help Bush, then why didn't he do his homework? What was the point of trying to help Bush — if he wasn't going to do his homework?

Initially, Ornstein interviewed seven agents, whittled that group to three and then those familiar with the process said Carroll interrupted, wanting a role in determining who would be Bush's agent. The interviewing began anew with Ornstein, Carroll and the Bush family meeting agents, and Segal emerging on top.
As a Notre Dame grad (particularly one in southern California), you expect a fair amount of eye-rolling when you try to explain to Trojan fans that cheating is an open secret at USC and has been at least since my father was an undergrad. Before the cries of "everbody does it, including Notre Dame" rain down, I'll point out SC and ND are different in one critical regard when it comes to their respective programs' cleanliness (or lack thereof). SC's campus, like Miami's and Texas' and Oklahoma's, is located in the geographic heart of their alumni base. SC's biggest boosters, contributors, and myriad sugar daddies are literally five minutes away in the high rises of downtown L.A., well within easy palm-greasing reach. What you get is a cadre of pony-tailed power-lunchers, divorce attorneys, and breast augmenters filling the role of Luther Campbell circa 1989. In some cases, the comparison is beyond apt. It's a lot like L.A. Confidential. They're crooked, everyone knows it, but everyone's on the take, so no one cares.

This should be an interesting summer for the Poodle (more on him later), who will surely spend much of it in damage control mode as he tries to lop head after head off the Hydra of bad press. I'm not really into making bold statements (I mean, my 2005 10-1 prediction was one Bush push in the back from being dead-on), but I get the feeling that when the Irish visit L.A. over Thanksgiving weekend, they'll be playing for their second consecutive win over the Trojans.

I went to the Jimmy Clausen press conference | by Jay

...and all I got was this lousy photo.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: what kind of loser gets up at 4:45 in the morning, drives two hours and then waits through a 45-minute delay to see a high school kid announce where he's going to go to college? I was asking myself this very question as I was racing across the Chicago Skyway, popping Advil to fend off a hangover and scrounging around the floor of my car for change for the toll booth. Why would I put myself through something like this?

Here's why: the feeling is back, and has taken hold of me.

Apparently it's taken hold of lots of other people, too. The scene that greeted me at the College Football Hall of Fame was hilarious: a string of reporters seated in the front row, an array of TV cameras, and then three hundred fans chatting and smiling and waiting for JC.

First guy I see is Brian from HRB, and we laughed because, you know, it's really freaking early in the morning for something like this, and what the hell were we doing there? But the reason was obvious, and unspoken: the feeling is back.

8:30 came and went, then 8:45, then 9:00, and still no Jimmy. Some guy did a soundcheck. Then another one. Then another. We started cracking Spinal Tap jokes, as if Jimmy was lost somewhere in the bowels of the building, hoping that a janitor would point him in the right direction. We all kept waiting.

I think the hype actually had grabbed hold of me a while ago, probably at Charlie's first press conference (you know, the nasty one.) Road trip plans for the Pitt game soon unfolded, even way back in December, and started to gather steam. Friends flew in from Chicago and Los Angeles and San Diego and Seattle and Dallas and New Orleans. Our group ended up making a huge, weekend-long party out of it: baseball at PNC Friday night, then closed the bars; Saturday, setting up a tailgater outside Heinz at nine in the morning, breaking for some more baseball (a noon game against the Cubs), then back out to the tailgater until kickoff at 8pm.

Then, our first glimpse of Charlieball, Darius' fifty-yard ramble on a screen pass and euphoria: like Pete said at the time, we all felt like we had just seen the beginning of something special.

That game led to more trips: to all the home games (of course), but also roadies to Michigan, Purdue, Stanford, and finally the Fiesta Bowl. I spent I don't how many thousands of dollars getting myself to every game save Washington (even then, I had a flight to Seattle on hold that I cancelled in the wake of losing to Michigan State). The feeling can make you do irrational stuff, like blow off your family on Thanksgiving weekend to fly out to Palo Alto with your friends, or book rooms for next year's national championship game as you're checking out of your hotel in Tempe this year. (This Thanksgiving is going to be a tougher trick, as my sister is getting married on the Saturday of the Southern Cal game, a game I haven't missed in LA in fourteen years.)

I think back to when I was a freshman in 1988, and that year, the feeling was of course in full swing: every game was a huge party, tickets were scarce, and the team was rolling. I had stayed on campus through Thanksgiving that year, and some sophomores in Morrissey grabbed everyone who was around on Sunday and trekked out to the South Bend airport to welcome the team home from their stirring win at the Coliseum. When we got there, there were maybe three hundred people waiting in the bitter cold, and we all cheered as Tony Rice and the guys exited the plane, high-fiving them and welcoming them back home.

That feeling's definitely back. How else do you explain a sold-out baseball game to see an All-American wide receiver (with his own poster) make a pitching start? Or three hundred people at an early-morning press conference for a high school kid? Or miles-long autograph lines at the players' breakfast later that morning? (Brady Quinn's line seemed to stretch almost all the way around the JACC). Or a record 41,000 fans at the spring game? Or high-rise "Gameday" condos going up in downtown South Bend? (Or, as the rumors have it, a doubling of the alumni ticket application fee, to $200 starting next year?)

Or a Los Angeles kid, the #1 recruit in the country, spurning Southern Cal for South Bend?

So as we waited there at the College Football Hall of Fame for Jimmy Football to walk in, Brian and I chatted about how crazy it all was, how the hype is out of control, how it was all a little presumptuous that a high schooler would choose this venue to make his announcement (the walls behind the podium were covered with portaits of all the college football greats in the Hall; we wondered if Jimmy was bringing his own picture to post up there), how nuts everyone was about ND football. But despite all the witty criticisms and ironic detachment, we weren't leaving. We were caught up.

Suddenly, a door immediately to my left flew open, we jumped in surprise, and there he was. My camera battery had died, and all I had was my crappy cell phone camera, sans flash. I wheeled and clicked. We are pleased to present the first known picture of Jimmy Clausen as a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a BGS exclusive:

And there it is: like a grainy snapshot of Bigfoot, there's that elusive "feeling", actually captured on film.

The Ohio State game is all but a roadbump in the rearview mirror. The feeling is back.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Drafting Board | by Pat

With the NFL draft ready to kick off on Saturday, here are some of the current mock draft projections of where we can expect the Irish seniors to fall. One thing to keep an eye on will be how the Irish players do with relation to their expected draft slot. Weis has mentioned that he has been in contact with various NFL teams regarding the Irish draft prospects (as well as some of the players the Irish faced I'm sure). Will a few complimentary words from him help some of the guys like Corey Mays, who most years might go undrafted and have to sign a free agent contract? Will a year in a pro-style offense give Stovall or Fasano a bit of a boost on draft day?

Here's a quick rundown of where the Irish draft prospects are expected to fall. There are a million and one different NFL mock drafts out there, but for this I'm going to stick with the draft profiles, Pat Kirwan's 2-round mock draft on, the mock draft guide on a less official site, NFL Countdown, and the position rankings on's NFL Experts site. I figure that gives a decent range of opinions without including every random draft site on the internet.

I think it's telling that the draft profiles for Notre Dame on only list Stovall, Fasano, and Stevenson. That tells me that LeVoir, Rashon Powers-Neal, Matt Shelton, Corey Mays, and Brandon Hoyte are expected to go undrafted or at the very least be picked up at the very tail end of the draft.

Maurice Stovall grade: 6.2 (3rd round pick)
Kirwan's pick: 2nd round (54th pick - Kansas City)
NFL Countdown: 2nd round (52nd pick - New England) 4th best WR

Anthony Fasano grade: 6.2 (3rd round)
Kirwan's pick: 2nd round (49th pick - Dallas)
NFL Countdown: 2nd round (57th pick - Chicago) 5th best TE

Dan Stevenson grade: 5.4 (free agent)
NFL Countdown: 13th best OG 9th best OG

Matt Shelton grade: not listed
NFL Countdown: not in top 50 WR list 74th best WR

Mark LeVoir grade: not listed
NFL Countdown: 25th best OT 33rd best OT

Rashon Powers-Neal grade: not listed
NFL Countdown: 5th best FB not listed

Brandon Hoyte grade: not listed
NFL Countdown: 29th best OLB 53rd best OLB

Corey Mays grade: not listed
NFL Countdown: not in Top 20 MLB list 18th best MLB

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blue & Gold Gallery | by Pat

As promised, here are some pictures and video from the Blue-Gold weekend. Many thanks to BGS readers Michael S., Chris B., Clashmore Mike, Michael K. (who sent us above photo), Eddie F., Mark W., Patrick R., and Gene Z for sending us all of the pictures and video they took over the Blue-Gold Weekend.

We took all the pictures we received -- from the unveiling of The Shirt, to Quinn's Bookstore Basketball team, to Charlie Weis, Jr. throwing out the first pitch, to the game itself -- and set up a photo slideshow for everyone to view. If you have photos of your own that you have up on an online photo-sharing site, like Nathan D.'s here, feel free to add the link in the comments section. If you'd rather just email us some of your better shots, we'll add them to the slideshow.

There are also some other quality galleries to check out at the or the South Bend Tribune and over at Irish Illustrated and Blue and Gold Illustrated.

Finally, Chris B. sent us a video of Travis Thomas' 83 yard touchdown run. Check it out here (slower, better resolution) or here (faster, worse resolution).

Thanks again for all those who sent in pictures from the weekend!

Jimmy Football | by Pat

As you may have heard, prep quarterback Jimmy Clausen has committed to play at the University of Notre Dame. There might be a small mention of it in your daily sports reading; if not, here's the scoop: he's pretty good.

Perhaps the most-hyped high school football recruit coming to ND since Ron Powlus, Clausen has been pegged as one of the top recruits in this class, regardless of position, since his sophomore year in high school. That was the year he completed 227 of 330 passes for 3,665 yards, 57 touchdowns, and just six interceptions, leading his team to the Southern Section Division XI championship. His junior year saw him featured in Sports Illustrated as "The Kid with the Golden Arm" and named 2006 Junior of the Year. And that's the likely reason that the Irish decided to pass on last year's #1 quarterback, Mitch Mustain.

But what's truly noteworthy about his decision to play for Notre Dame (over Southern Cal, near his hometown of Westlake Village) is the nearly solitary, calculated criterion he used in choosing a school. While we love to eat up stories about kids that grow up Irish, with dreams of putting on the gold helmet and slapping a 'Play Like a Champion Today' sign over their bedroom door, Clausen's decision had none of that. It was strictly a business choice.

"Yeah, this is a business decision," Clausen said. "My two older brothers did this, and their dreams were to get to the NFL, and their dreams pretty much got shattered. And I think that's what's making me work so hard is to get there, because they didn't get the chance, or opportunity to. I think that's what drives me the most. The NFL is what I want to do, that's how I want to make a living, and after seeing my brothers not get to the NFL, every time I want to stop lifting a weight, it just makes me keep lifting. It drives me a lot.

"If you want to go to the NFL, you've got to want to work. You want to be the best you can be. And that's what I'm striving for. I guess I'm the No. 1 player in the nation this year, and I hope to stay that way, and I'm going to keep working as hard as I can to keep that stature. And once I get into college, I want to be the No. 1 player in college. And hopefully I can get to the next level and become the No. 1 player there.

"And part of getting there is choosing coach Weis. Honestly, I think it pretty much just just came down to coach Weis for me.
Normally, when a recruit commits we like to see him mention academics, family, faith, the beautiful campus, the lakes, the squirrels, the wonderful dining hall food: we want to hear about bucolic charm and mystique and all that stuff. But if you think about it, the fact that Clausen made a "business decision" is really refreshing. To me, at least, just about any coach can recruit kids to Notre Dame who already love the school. But for many of the best players in the nation -- the ones who didn't grow up watching Rudy -- the decision usually comes down to which college will best get them ready for the NFL. And lately Notre Dame has been coming up short in that category.

Over the past few weeks, Rivals has been running a series of stories on Position U, a look at which colleges recently have been producing the most and best NFL players at a particular position; that is to say, the best pipelines from college to the pros. The series isn't finished yet, but the only mention the Irish have had so far is as a runner-up for Punters. Yikes.

The fact that Clausen picked Notre Dame strictly because of Charlie Weis and his professional bona fides is extremely telling: the program is returning to the elite level of college football. Not because it's a given that JC will lead ND to multiple national championships; no one knows what Clausen will eventually accomplish in college football. But by selecting the Irish, especially in such a public manner, Clausen has put elite recruits across the country on notice that Notre Dame is once again a desirable destination.
"That's one thing that I was worried about, 'Can they recruit guys in?' '' Clausen said. "And coach Weis just said, 'I can get guys in.' And, again, I'm trusting him that he's going to stick to his word. He stuck to his word with me the whole time, so I think he'll do the same for that. I want to play with the best athletes, and that's just what I want to do. SC has the best athletes right now in college football, and I want that to change, and I think I'm starting to change that by committing to Notre Dame."
Clausen as Pied Piper is certainly music to the ears of Irish fans, and brings me to yet another reason why I'm happy that Charlie is running things for us. As recruits start to make more football-based decisions to attend ND, I think it's key that a graduate of the University is in charge to make sure that these kids are a good fit for the school (that they can "read and write", as Charlie likes to say); I don't think we're looking at a replay of Barry Switzer's Sooners in the making here. Even with guys like Clausen (or perhaps Sam Young), who took a calculated measure of potential colleges, there will always be players like Aaron Nagel in the mix who drip with enthusiasm about all the Irish "intangibles".

Anyway, it's still a long way until next January, which is when Clausen plans on enrolling. As it stands right now, the commitment of Jimmy Clausen was the next big step in Charlie's Notre Dame Football Reclamation Project. Over the coming months we'll see if the commitment of Clausen really does pays off in the form of even more blue-chip recruits.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Live from South Bend... | by Pat

BGS reader Michael S. was kind enough to post this video of Jimmy Clausen's press conference. After the announcement, Clausen went through a little Q&A with the media and fans present. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Notice Clausen letting friend and 5-star recruit Mark Tyler get a brief moment in the sun and some pressure to commit from the ND fans in the audience. While you're at it, check out Weis' speech at the unveiling of The Shirt.

More photos and video from the Blue-Gold weekend on its way. If you have any good pictures or video you want us to include, feel free to email us.

Quick Update. IE has the video of Clausen's presser all in one file, here. This was taken from the front row, so the sound is a little better (but the camera's a little shakier).

Tradition | by Pat

The newest version of The Shirt was released this past Friday and the early verdict is that it's a winner. Last summer I ranked the previous versions of the shirt and my early reaction to the newest addition to The Shirt lineup is that it belongs with some of the better shirts of years past.

I do admit to liking the green shirts as they do stand out better, but this navy blue is far better than the attempt at gold last year.

Also much better than last year is the current year's quote: This is the Day and You are the Team. The phrase is historically credited as the capper to Rockne's "Win One for the Gipper" speech and certainly works for a year where the team is widely considered a national championship contender.

Of course, we have to mention, along with everyone else I suppose, the omission of Frank Leahy from the back of the shirt. The images of the great coaches from ND's past on the shirt harkens back to the Mt. Rushmore version of The Shirt, except in this version Leahy is replaced with Charlie Weis. That is to say, the man who won four national championships with the Irish is not there, but the man who has won nine games is.

Now, I don't think it's worth getting too worked up over the Leahy omission. After all, as the only coach with a huge statue of himself outside of the football stadium I don't think people will be forgetting about Frank anytime soon. Still, it is worth noting.

For the record, here is the reasoning behind the design from The Shirt committee. I can see where they are coming from as the coaches listed all do have a special connection with the current students.

First and foremost, the design highlights Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen, universally recognized as the founding fathers of Notre Dame lore.

Ara Parseghian, the man who coached the teams our parents grew up watching, also appears on The Shirt, as does Lou Holtz, the coach who introduced us to Notre Dame Football when we were young.

Coach Weis completes the design and the journey through the ages, joining those who have come before him looking down on the stadium situated below.
You really can't go wrong with using Tradition to sell something related to Notre Dame, and aside from some mild argument over Leahy not making the cut, I think many would agree that the current version of the shirt is a winner.

(Next week on BGS Fashion Review I will be reviewing the last line of men's and women's athletic workout gear currently availabe in the Bookstore.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Presser tomorrow? | by Jay

A friend who was at the College Football Hall of Fame luncheon today just called, confirming what was posted over on NDN (and possibly what was speculated upon in this morning's SBT): that a "national recruit" was having a 8:30 AM presser tomorrow at the Hall to "announce something"...

UPDATE: and it looks like the cat is out of the bag...

Top prep QB Clausen to verbally commit to Irish
By Tom Friend
ESPN The Magazine

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jimmy Clausen, the most acclaimed California prep quarterback since John Elway, will verbally commit to Notre Dame on Saturday, ESPN college football analyst Lou Holtz said.

Holtz reports that Clausen, a high school senior-to-be, will make his announcement at 8:30 a.m. at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend. According to sources, Clausen chose the Irish over USC so he could be mentored by coach Charlie Weis; he is now the front-runner to replace the graduating Brady Quinn as Notre Dame's starter in 2007.
Getting Holtz to announce your decision, and holding your commitment press conference at the College Football Hall of Fame? That's what they call making an entrance.

Somebody gag Beano.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Game prep | by Pat

The rosters for this Saturday's Blue and Gold game are out. HTML version here, more organized PDF version here.

Some thoughts on the game...

• After beating up on the freshman and walk-on's last year, it will be nice to see the first units face off against each other. Good chance to see Quinn try and bait the secondary with play action or if the trio of new linebackers on the first team defense can keep Walker under wraps.

• According to the release, Bettis (running backs) and Mike Golic (defensive line) will coach on the staff of the Blue Team while Bob Golic (linebackers) and Ismail (wide receivers) will be on the staff of the Gold team. I'm giving the nod to the Blue team because Bettis can just sub himself in on short yardage situations.

• Noticed this quip about the quarterbacks.

"Starting quarterback Brady Quinn will be the only player wearing a red jersey during the game. The other quarterbacks will be fully "live" for contact."
Time to see if Dwight Stephenson and Justin Brown will be able to generate a pass rush with no red jersey to slow them down. Time for either Sharpley or Wolke to get a better grasp on that backup spot with a good showing under a live rush.

• Weis said that teams are required to run one trick play per half and that the honorary coaches have to design one of them. Will we see Bettis call the same trick play the Steelers used in the Super Bowl? I'll call it now. McKnight to Samardzija. Touchdown. What's your trick play prediction? Winner gets an internet high five.

• I suspect one of the players that fans are most looking forward to watching is early enrollee James Aldridge. It will also be the first chance for fans to see George West and Chris Stewart as well as the three freshman who didn't see game action last season; Evan Sharpley, Darrell Hand, and Kevin Washington.

• Green jerseys for the lineman, huh? That means that on a few plays a red jersey will look to throw to a blue jersey while the green jerseys tries to keep the white jerseys at bay. They should have made the kickers wear gold jerseys just to complete the rainbow of Irish uniforms.

• With Joe Brockington and Maurice Crum, Jr. still among the walking wounded, the first team defense looks to be Anthony Vernaglia at Apache, Mitchell Thomas at middle linebacker, and Steve Quinn at the other outside linebacker spot. One of these three guys will likely be a starter in the fall. This game won't decide who, but a great performance on Saturday certainly won't hurt.

• As a fan I'm a bit disappointed that there won't be any live kickoffs or punts -- Weis said all punts will be fair catches -- but I suppose I understand the desire to keep the already thin depth chart healthy as well as not show the opposing scouts in the stands everything the team has been working on.

• Brady Quinn has a chance to pick up his third straight Blue-Gold Game Offensive MVP award. Has that ever been done? Will that be added to his inevitable "Quinn for Heisman" media handout?

• As tries to offer more football related material to a rabid fanbase, I humbly suggest that plenty of pictures of the game would be a great place to start. After running pictures of the game a few years ago, the past two seasons haven't had a post-game photo gallery. I realize a lot is going on that weekend, but with the game not being televised, I'm sure fans that can't make it to the game would appreciate it.

• While we're on that topic, if any fan who attends the game this weekend wants to email BGS with pictures (or video) from the game and surrounding festivities we'll try to whip up some sort of photo gallery.

• Checking some of the recruiting sites, the visting recruits for the game is a really impressive list. Over 10% of the initial Rivals Top 100 list will be at the game. That's the kind of group usually reserved for the banquet or biggest home game weekend. I should note though, don't freak out if no one commits during the weekend (yes, that includes all-everything Jimmy Clausen). Remember that last year James Aldridge didn't commit during the Blue-Gold weekend. He waited a few more days until Weis visited his school during the May evaluation road trip.

• Finally, while too much should never be read into the performance of certain players in what is a glorified scrimmage, it's still fun for fans to watch the game looking for the next great Irish star. Who are you most looking forward to seeing?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

This and that | by Pat

News has been sparse the past week, but there are still a few noteworthy nuggets as the team ramps up for the annual Blue-Gold game. The official rosters for the spring game will be released later today, but until then, here is a sampler platter of the past week to catch you up to speed.

O Captain, My Captain

At his most recent press conference, Coach Weis announced the results of the team election for team captains. To the surprise of very few, Brady Quinn was selected as the captain of the offense and Tom Zbikowski was the choice for defensive captain. In a change from last year's rotating special teams captains, Weis decided to go with a permanent special teams captain and the team choice was Travis Thomas. From the scapegoat of the BYU game and permanent member of Ty's doghouse (dawghouse?) in 2004, it's great to see Thomas coming into his own and earning a leadership role on the team.

Weis also mentioned that also unlike last year, he's going to hold off on announcing the team's position specific leadership committee. Weis wants to see which players set up to the role during the player-supervised summer workouts.

Both Quinn and Zibby were named AP 3rd Team All-America players after last season. When is the last time ND returned All-Americans as offensive and defensive captains?

Stary Notre Dame będzie wygrywać nad całym

I have no idea if that translates properly, but it's probably closer to the actual lyrics than Pete Duranko ever gets.

If you've ever heard the Notre Dame Victory March sung in Polish - you've met Pete Duranko. The problem is, Pete doesn't know Polish - he makes up the words! He's a great guy and a joker, with a tremendous sense of humor. Even more important he has given so much to ALS with his attitude and his strength in the face of the most difficult opponent of his life. We want to rally behind him and give him something to smile about.
The above is an excerpt from the press release for the "For the Love of Pete" tribute dinner being held after the Blue and Gold game this coming Saturday. For those not aware, Pete Duranko, the former Notre Dame All-America defensive lineman and NFL All-Pro, is currently battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or as it is better known Lou Gehrig's Disease. To help support Pete, many members of the 1966 National Championship team have organized together to host a banquet dinner in Pete's honor.

The list of former players coming back reads like a who's who of Irish legends including Johnny Lattner, Jim Lynch, Bob Kuechenberg, Jim Seymour, Kevin Hardy, Larry Conjar, George Goeddeke, and many others.

Coach Weis has already named Duranko an honorary captain for the Blue and Gold game and with the dinner coming after the game (and on the 40th anniversary of the 1966 National Championship), I highly recommend that people give serious thought to attending.

The dinner details are included on the above linked press release but for reservations, dinner tickets, and to make contributions, or for more information, contact Julie at the Notre Dame Monogram Club, 574-631-5450, or Email:

The Man Who

Good news for estranged football player Travis Leitko as he was officially re-admitted to the University for the coming summer term. After missing the entire 2005 school year caring for his ailing parents while on academic suspension from the University, the first step in Leitko's quest to re-join the football team has been accomplished.

The best news out of all of this is that Leitko's parents both are on the road to recovery from cancer and hopefully will be able to sit in ND Stadium and watch their son run out of the tunnel once again this coming fall. But for now Travis still has to be fully re-admitted to the University for the fall semester and then earn his way back onto the team.
"I am about to send in my application for the fall, and that shouldn't be a problem -- but you never know," Leitko said Tuesday via cell phone from The Woodlands. "I've also talked to coach (Charlie) Weis, but nothing is in concrete. We've worked some things out, and if everything goes well, it'll give me an opportunity to play for the team next year."
Assuming he makes it back on to the team, it might be tough to see much playing time as Chris Frome, Ronald Talley, and Justin Brown all earned valuable experience last year and a year away from the program can't have helped Travis' development. Still, Leitko was a great special teams player as an underclassman and even if he only contributes there, it will be great to see him out there on the field again running around and smacking heads.
"These last few months have been so hard and have been such a blessing all at the same time," he said. "Part of you wishes it had never happened. Part of you knows you're much stronger for it having happened. It's one of those things you take it as it is.

"We'll see how this year turns out and how everything works. I appreciate the time I've had with my parents, and I love then both dearly. But it's time for me to get back and finish what I started, get everything back to the way it should be and finish everything up right."
Send in the Clowns

Internet rumors (and they're never wrong) claim that Kirk Herbstriet announced on his radio show that ESPN Gameday is already scheduled to be down in Atlanta for the Notre Dame/Georgia Tech season opener. If true, this will be the second straight year that the Irish open the season on the road with the Gameday crew on location. And like the Pitt game, the game against the Yellow Jackets will likely be an evening prime time game. Unlike the Pitt game, I don't think there will be any 0-5 predictions for the 2006 Irish.

Not So Fast My Friends

It seems some of our future schedule talk may have been a bit premature.
"The five places we've had the most conversations about and also had people from those sites wanting to talk to us have been Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Dallas and New Orleans." Heisler said. "I think when (athletic director) Kevin White has been talking about sites and years, he was talking philosophically. There are no deals in place yet. We've got some work to do."
Oh well, it was still fun to take guesses on how the Irish will play and I still hope ND is working on lining up some quality competition. Notice that Heisler mentioned Tampa as well. Assuming that Heisler wasn't speaking philosophically as well, a game at Raymond James Stadium would be fun. Of course, the likelhood of ND playing there some time in the future is already very high as Raymond James is the home field of the Big East member South Florida Bulls.

While I'm at It

The SBT article with the Heisler quote also mentions the uncertain future of the location of Blue/Gold game.
Work being done to the facility's infrastructure during the offseason over the next three years might necessitate some creative thinking when it comes to where to hold the annual spring game.

"It's going to be a year-to-year thing," ND senior associate athletic director John Heisler said. "It's certainly not going to be anything that jeopardizes games in the fall, but some of the questions are: where and when the work is going to be done and what's our ability to accommodate fans in the spring?"

During the stadium expansion in the 1990s, the spring games were played at Cartier Field, behind the Joyce Center. That's an option, but satisfying the demand for tickets would be a problem.

"There still may be some way that this can be timed and structured where we could still play at home," Heisler said. "But I guess at this point there's no guarantee. I think one consideration would be if there was work going on at one side of the stadium, would there be a way to seat people on the other side? I'm not sure we have any answers yet."
If a workaround in the stadium isn't feasible, I say go big. Rather than squeeze into Cartier Field again, pack up the team and head to Soldier Field. At least for 2007. It will be the first Blue-Gold game in five years where the starting QB job is up for grabs. Not to mention the other twelve starting spots that will be opened up by graduation. That alone should make it worthy of a trip to Chicago. Practical? Of course not. Worth looking into? Absolutely.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Weighing in | by Pat

Lou Somogyi over at Blue and Gold has a roster update on the heights and weights of players as they headed into spring practice. The biggest change is that lineman Chris Stewart isn't listed at the 340 pounds written in his recruiting bio but rather 367 pounds. In other words, he's about two Kyle McCarthys. Not only is he the biggest lineman in ND history, he's also the only lineman this year over 300 pounds. And while some may think that he's gained weight since coming to campus, the truth is he's been dropping it. He was closer to 390 when he showed up in January.

Check out the article for the rest of the scoop on which guys got bigger (Victor Abiamiri, Anthony Vernaglia) and which guys got smaller (John Sullivan, Derrell Hand).

Rockne's Ramblers | by Pat

At last weekend's Rockne Dinner in Chicago, between Charlie saying the only reason he'd leave ND is if he were fired, he died, or he retired, and Aaron Taylor's claim that he's leaving ABC Sports to become an elementary school teacher, the big news was Kevin White's announcement of some of the locations for future "neutral site" Notre Dame games.

There were discussions about adding a neutral site game back in September, but with definite locations being mentioned now, it seems the talks have moved from speculation to fact. Proposing that ND will move to a 7-4-1 type of schedule that consists of 7 home games, 4 away games, and 1 neutral site, Dr. White announced that the Irish will play in the following neutral site games:

2009 - Jacksonville
2010 - Orlando
2011 - New Orleans
2012 - Dallas
I think it's a great idea. Notre Dame will get a chance to play in front of fans and alumni in cities they don't normally visit, and I can't help but notice the games are in the talent rich states of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

On the other hand, I hope that the games are quality matchups, and not just matchups against a proverbial sacrificial lamb; the actual opponents weren't announced.

White said that this scheduling philosophy hearkens back to Rockne's barnstorming days, when the Irish would play neutral site games all over the country. While a reference to Rockne is the quickest way to the heart of any diehard ND fan, I hope Dr. White realizes that Rockne didn't line up many patsies on these trips. Unfortunately, not many top programs are going to want to give up a home field advantage, so the quality opponents might be few and far between. And with lackluster programs like San Diego State (2008) and Nevada (2009) still officially on the docket, I truly hope the future schedules aren't watered down any further.

With the '08 Navy game being played in Baltimore and the '12 Navy game being played in Ireland, I'm guessing that the 2010 Orlando game might be against the Midshipmen. As for the games in 2009, 2010, and 2011, you can get a look at what the future schedules are supposed to look like here, but obviously the teams and dates will still be shifting around to some degree.

Let me take a stab in the dark: South Florida might be the matchup for the 2009 game in Jacksonville. The Big East agreement goes into effect for 2009, meaning the Irish play three Big East teams that year. A game against USF would cover one of those slots with the other two possibly going to Pittsburgh (away) and West Virginia (home). From a USF standpoint, the attraction is obvious: I'm sure the Bulls would love to make a more serious move on Florida recruits, and the promise of a game in Florida against Notre Dame would be a great selling point. By the way, that game sounds like a cakewalk now, but honestly, I think the Bulls have the chance to be a Top 25 team by the time 2009 rolls around (if they can steal a few Florida high school studs here and there).

If I may make another prediction for a future game -- well, more of a suggestion than a prediction -- Georgia just cancelled a 2011 game with Cincinnati and now is in need of an out of conference opponent. I seriously doubt that the Bulldogs would want to travel up to South Bend to play the Irish, but what would they say to a game in New Orleans, live on NBC? (Not sure on the NBC part, but that was the rumor back in September). The Irish and the Bulldogs have only met once, a 17-10 Irish loss in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, so it would be nice to get a chance to even up the series. Besides, Georgia doesn't play LSU that year so it wouldn't be a repeat trip to the Bayou for the Bulldogs. At least one of the four "neutral site" games ought to be against a traditional power from a BCS conference school, and Georgia sounds good to me.

Finally, the 2012 game, in Dallas. I'm not going to guess a possible opponent, but consider this: the schedule for 2012 already has the Irish matched up with a Rutgers away game, presumably at the Meadowlands per the Big East agreement. Add in the Navy game in Ireland and the proposed game in Dallas, and that leaves only two genuine road games for 2012. One will be in Los Angeles against Southern Cal. The other might be Michigan State, if we continue to play them (which we should). I realize other schools do similar scheduling tricks with extra home games and such, but a 7-home game, 3-neutral site, and only 2-road game schedule sounds like a bit too much gerrymandering to me. Ideally, ND will be in the middle of a nice run of seasons at that point and shouldn't really need the home cooking.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lightnin' Hoskins | by Pat

Ever since his impressive hurdle of a Washington Husky on a kickoff return, we've been waiting for Justin Hoskins to make an even bigger impact somewhere in the starting lineup for the Irish. But it seems that won't be happening now, as the former Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year has decided to transfer from Notre Dame.

"It just wasn't a good fit for me here," Hoskins said. "I didn't get a whole lot of playing time here and I had an option of leaving so that's what I'm doing."
Many fans expected Hoskins -- a terrific athlete -- to contribute as a speed back for the Irish or possibly as a split end or cornerback. However, the emergence of Darius Walker and various other setbacks kept Hoskins on the bench. He actually did start the bowl his freshman year, but Bill Diedrick put him in to throw a trick-play, halfback pass and then pulled him. During the crucial spring practice session with new coach Charlie Weis, Hoskins was suspended for a violation of team rules. Honestly, I don't think he ever fully got out of Weis' doghouse after that. And on top of that, he injured his shoulder in the fall which required surgery from which he is still recovering.

With Hoskins missing a second straight spring practice, I'm sure James Aldridge had already passed him on the running backs depth chart. Meanwhile, George West, Terrail Lambert, and David Grimes continued to make headway as the early leaders for kickoff return, pushing Hoskins further down the ladder. In fact, Weis seemed to confirm this to Hoskins.
"He just wants to play," Brenda Hoskins said. "He's a very gifted, talented athlete. They told him his playing time was not going to be very good."
We wish Hoskins well wherever he ends up, but at the same time, I respect the honesty from the coaching staff. It's easy to try and placate guys who will end up sitting on the bench, making veiled promises of possible playing time, but at least our coaches were up-front with Justin. Now Hoskins will be able to find a situation where he can be a featured back, and ND will have another scholarship to use next year.

A few weeks ago I speculated that both Hoskins and Munir Prince wouldn't finish their ND career at tailback. But with Hoskins leaving, I think that's the deathblow to the fledgling "Prince to cornerback" theory seen floating around various message boards. Obviously a lot can change, but you have to think that Prince now assumes the speed back, change-of-pace mantle for the forseeable future.

Justin Hoskins is seventh player from this junior class to leave the football program. Out of an original seventeen only ten remain, including only three players on the offensive side of the ball (backup QB David Wolke, Darius Walker, and QB turned WR Darrin Bragg). Put another way, next season there will be 25 juniors and sophomores (combined) on the team, and 28 freshman. This lack of upperclass depth is really going to hit ND hard in the next couple of years -- unless the incoming freshmen (both this year's and next's) can step in and play right away. At some positions, they're going to have to.

A Man Named Easter | by Jay

Last week was the 75th anniversary of Rockne's plane crash and death, and a group of domers and fans congregated on the plains of Kansas to pay tribute to the greatest coach in the history of college football. Ivan Maisel did a nice piece on the day's events, and our friend Chuck, who had visited the crash site several times in the past, was also there last week for the memorial. Here's what he sent us.

Amid a cloudless and windy Spring morning in Kansas’ Flint Hills, an additional purpose to the gathering was captured aptly by Bernie Kish. The former Director of the College Football Hall of Fame reminded us that, although eight people -- including football’s greatest coach -- died in the 1931 crash of a TransWestern Continental Fokker, another man needed to be honored. This ninth man happened to be alive and among those in the pasture that day.

Easter Heathman is the only surviving witness to the event which was commemorated by nearly 200 people near Bazaar, Kansas on Friday. For the past 75 years Heathman has taken hundreds of alumni and interested passersby to the site. As a 13-year old boy, he was not a Notre Dame fan, nor did he know who Rockne was when he came upon the wreckage in the fields. However, since witnessing the event, Heathman has respectfully accepted the role of chief tour guide to this tiny shrine. No one from the University asked him to do so; no one appointed him keeper of these hallowed grounds. Heathman merely assumed the responsibility he felt “needed doing”.

Through the years Heathman has grown to understand the attachment Notre Dame has for its cherished football tradition and its chief figure. In turn, many ND fans have come to know a decent and kind man who tirelessly welcomes people by giving them a first-hand account of a major event which rocked the nation.

It is not hard to imagine that, had it not been for Easter, the monument might have been overgrown with high grass and forgotten. It has endured, however, and the number of people coming to visit has grown over the years. The site, situated on a rancher’s property, has come to represent both a standing memorial to a sad and historic event and a respectful connection between a local man and a national fanbase.

It was my personal honor to have been among the first of the pilgrims whom Heathman hosted when I made my first trip to Bazaar in 1990. He personally drove two of us across the pasture to the monument, gave a lengthy account of the event, and even tossed some passes back and forth to us. After answering every question we could imagine asking, Easter also saw us off us hours later. Upon returning for my fourth visit on Friday -- accompanied by my 15 year-old son -- Easter welcomed me back, remembering me by name and recalling all our previous meetings.

“Well, folks, it's sure good to see you all here,” Heathman offered in a softened tone to those gathered on Friday. say the very least, Easter.

Easter is 89 years young today. Happy Birthday, Easter.

We also received a couple of photos from the statue dedication that was held in Voss, Norway, Rockne's birthplace. Check them out here and here.

Finally, here's an older piece from ESPN Classic on the Rockne memorial that you'll enjoy.

Thanks again to Chuck for his report. More importantly, thanks Chuck for making the trip, and representing all of us at the memorial of the man who not only was an immense public figure and a giant in the world of college football, but also who probably had more of an impact in shaping Notre Dame than anyone since Father Sorin.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Caption Contest | by Pat

The roundhouse karate kick is most effective when surrounded by enemies.

Roster rumblings | by Pat

Spring practice is nearing the halfway point so let's take a minute and do a quick recap. As you can expect from mostly closed practices, information isn't exactly flowing out but from the online spring prospectus and the various media stories there are still some items worth noting.

Moving On

The big news every spring is attrition and this year the program has lost two players, in addition to tight end Joey Hiben. Defensive back Labrose Hedgemon has transfered from Notre Dame and will be playing football next fall at Jackson State. Former defensive back turned running back Junior Jabbie has also left the team, but at last official announcement is still enrolled at Notre Dame. Both players seemed buried a bit on the depth chart at positions seeing an influx of numbers and talent in the fall.

Number Games

Perhaps only interesting to me, there didn't seem to be any number changes this spring. Usually the younger players will grab the numbers once held by graduating seniors but for whatever reason, that didn't happen this year. Maybe no one wanted to change, but I also think that Weis held back certain numbers for incoming recruits (e.g. #21 for Barry Gallup) Again, not something that's terribly important, just something I noticed.

Picture This

The South Bend Tribune has a online photo gallery from the past few practices. Plenty of excellent pictures and, while I'm at it, kudos to the Trib for deciding to put out photo galleries from various Irish athletic events and keep them up for longer than a week.

Open practice

Weis opened up an entire practice to the media last weekend and some hints about the up-for-grabs right tackle and linebacker spots came out. Irish Eyes has a great free rundown on the practice and the first and second teams shown at practice, but we'll just focus on the aforementioned key position battles.

At right tackle, Paul Duncan got the starting nod with Brian Mattes on the first team at right guard. I wouldn't read too much into that as this battle won't likely be won until August. Mattes has the experience advantage while Duncan and Turkovich seem to offer a bit more size. Should be an interesting battle, especially once Sam Young gets thrown into the mix.

Linebacker seems to be shaping up a bit, but injuries are limiting some of the likely starters to only spot duty right now. For the media open practice, Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington sat out so the first team of linebackers was Steve Quinn at outside linebacker, Mitchell Thomas in the middle, and Anthony Vernaglia at Apache. The second team was outside backer Scott Smith Nick Borseti manning the middle, and Kevin Washington at Apache.

From the sounds of things, it sounds like Crum on the inside with Brockington and Vernaglia on the outside is the likely starting lineup in the fall. That's a really fast linebacking corp, but not much size. Then again, I'd rather have experience in the middle of the defense helping communication than the size that someone like incoming freshman Toryan Smith provides. (Feel free to clip, save, and throw this back in my face at some point in the season.)

Random bits

• It seems nearly everyone is getting a shot to try returning kicks. Terrail Lambert and George West seem to be getting plenty of reps, but I think the kick return positions are far from being filled. I imagine once the rest of the freshman show up they will all get a look too.

• Evan Sharpley just might be emerging as the backup to Quinn at QB. Practice reports have him getting the bulk of the snaps between the backups.

• Weis said in his most recent press conference that for last year's coaching clinic, over 600 high school coaches showed up for the weekend. This year's clinic, which will take place this weekend, has over 1000 coaches showing up. That can't hurt future recruiting.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Boxing Day | by Pat

Tom Zbikowski beat his roommate Jeff Samardzija to the professional athlete punch last week by officially turning pro as a boxer. At a press conference in Madison Square Garden, Zbikowski was introduced to the press as the future undercard fighter for the June 10th Cotto/Malignaggi fight at the Garden. His opponent hasn't been announced yet, but it might be one of these guys.

To end any Irish fan worry, the fight has been cleared by the NCAA as long as Zbikowski doesn't endorse any products and Weis has added his support for the venture.

"I think with any of our kids here, when you're looking at each situation as its own separate entity, I think that you always have to make sure that you take care of Notre Dame first," Weis said. "But you've got to be realistic. And in this situation, which was a very unusual situation, to take this opportunity away from him would have been the wrong thing to do."
Once spring practice has ended, Zbikowski will begin training for his pro debut, as well as a charity boxing event at the Aragon Ballroom on May 20th. In addition to working out at Cris Carter's Fast Program in Florida, Tommy will spend two weeks in New York working with Muhammed Ali's former trainer, Angelo Dundee.

Another one of Zbikowski's trainers, Sam Colonna, thinks that if football doesn't work out, that TZ has a future in the ring.
He's got all the tools,'' Colonna said. ''He's got very fast hands, but I think he would have to fight cruiserweight instead of heavyweight. His body structure is not that big, and heavyweights now are going 6-5 and 240 pounds.

''As a cruiserweight, he would do well. He's quick and has power in each hand. And he's well-balanced. He's got what it takes to do something. He's built like Evander Holyfield, and he has a lot of experience despite the fact he hasn't been doing this full time.''
Still, football is the most likely career in the immediate future and Zbikowski has a message for those fans fretting about a boxing injury impacting his play on the football field.
"I'm not going to get hurt," Zbikowski said. "Just tell them to look at the size of my head. They can check my X-rays to see how thick my skull is. Nothing's going to happen."
As for that future football career, more quotes that came out of the boxing press conference further speculation that Zbikowski most likely won't be around South Bend after this season.
'If I'm going to be a first- or second-rounder [in the 2007 NFL draft], I'm definitely going to go towards football,'' said Zbikowski, who was introduced at the news conference while the ND fight song played in the background. ''But boxing has always been a part of me. If I can't play football, I'm going to do boxing.
According to Weis, TZ is on track to graduate with the rest of his senior class so it's looking like Zbikowski will put his name in the draft next year assuming he feels he will be drafted in the first few rounds. Obviously a lot can happen in a year's time, but right now the current thought is that the first few rounds are exactly where he will get drafted.
Two NFL scouts, speaking on the condition of anonymity, are optimistic about Zbikowski's future in the NFL.

''I've seen [Notre Dame] a lot, and I love that kid,'' one scout said. ''He's definitely in the first two rounds, because we'd never let him get by us in the second.''
Irish fans will get to watch Tommy in the ring on Pay-Per-View in June but I can't really imagine him boxing much more in the near future due to his potential NFL career. He'll probably try to find his way back into the ring after his pro football days are over, but years in the NFL take a toll on an athlete so I can't blame Zibby at all for taking the shot to fight professionally now. You can't pass up an opportunity like this. His dad said it best.
"For Tommy to be a crotchety old man sitting in the corner of the bar someday and be able to say he fought in the Garden is something special."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Recruit Update | by Jay

Last year we told you about a new recruit from across the Atlantic, Finbar Tunney O'Hanlon, a Gaelic football player who was discovered and recruited by Rob Ianello. Since then, O'Hanlon has accepted an offer to play football at Notre Dame and was an early admit this semester along with Chris Stewart, James Aldridge and George West. finally updated their database; check out their page on this authentic Irish commit.