Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Little Big Man | by Pat

In a a surprise twist last week, the Irish grabbed another offensive lineman for the Class of 2007. Chris Little, from Jeffersonville, Georgia, reneged on an earlier commitment to Florida State and now will be headed to South Bend in the fall.

The 6'5, 340-lb Little was rumored to be a heavy lean (so to speak) to the Irish for the past few weeks, but during the U.S. Army All-American bowl he announced his decision to attend Florida State. Six days later, Little switched his commitment to Notre Dame and became the fifth offensive lineman in the class of 2007. Little's high school coach, Dexter Copeland, suggested it was a miscommunication between Chris and his mother that led to the confusion.

It seems Little thought his mother wanted him to stay close to home. Once aboard the plane, however, she told him that her first choice had been Notre Dame.

"Chris and his momma had a communication problem," Copeland said. "Chris went, 'I wish you'd have told me that.'"

So Little had a big predicament on his hands.

What Copeland suggested was that Little rethink his decision. And when he did early this week, Little decided he should renege on his Florida State commitment and follow his heart. On Thursday, Little became Notre Dame's 18th known verbal commitment for the recruiting class of 2007.
But there's another explanation floating around that isn't so motherly. Florida State recently hired West Virginia's offensive line coach and according to rumors, when his vision of the future of FSU's offensive line didn't include Little, the Seminoles pulled his scholarship offer. The reason for the rumored snub, which was denied by Copeland, supposedly had to do with Little's ballooning weight.

As a junior, Little was a 6'5, 305-lb pound tackle who earned first team all-state honors and set himself up to be one of the top recruits of the Class of 2007. Rivals named Little to their Top 100 Juniors to Watch list back in 2005, and offers started to pour in for him even before last year's Signing Day in February. By March, Little was up to double-digit offers, including Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Tennessee, and Clemson. Offers from LSU, Florida State, and Notre Dame followed shortly thereafter and Little has his pick of just about any school in the country.

But Little kept getting bigger, and in April he weighed in at the Nike camp in Athens at 342 pounds. Still, that added weight his senior year didn't prevent him from earning 1st Team All-State honors and most impressively, 1st Team USA Today All-American honors.

Yet, it sounds like the added size did worry at least one recruiting service; Rivals dropped Little from their Top 250 list. Things started to get interesting when Little attended the U.S. Army Bowl earlier this month. A reported groin injury had slowed Little down recently and according to various reports, Little was even bigger than his previous weigh-in of 342. In the Army practices & game he had some trouble keeping the speed rushers at bay from his right tackle spot, and afterwards both recruiting services downgraded him in their rankings. And then came the supposed snubbing by FSU.

So there you have it, the saga of Chris Little, another example of why I consider recruiting to be a soap opera for football fans. It's always a drama of scandalous story lines, jealous battles, and sudden plot twists.

But really, I'm not worried about the exact reason why Little switched from FSU to ND. He's not the first kid to change a public committment (Bob Morton, Munir Prince, and Gary Gray all come to mind) and he won't be the last. And if FSU's new coach wanted to go in a different direction with his line, that doesn't mean that Little isn't going to be a good college lineman.

My guess is Little will go on the Chris Stewart makeover plan once he hits campus so it might take some time until he's physically ready to go. In the meantime, I suspect he'll be given a shot at tackle and if he isn't able to hold down that spot will slide into guard. What he will give ND is another huge body as the Irish line is slowly changing from one filled with 290 pound lineman to one filled with multiple 300+ pound players, including the two heavy hitters in Stewart and Little. At the very least, I foresee a strong OL that should be much more effective in short yardage situations. If Little is able to get into great shape, he has the potential to be a very, very good offensive lineman for the Irish. It will be interesting to watch and see how he develops over his college career.

P.S. One impact of the addition of Little (and Matt Romine) is that recruit Andrew Nuss, who was originally considered an offensive lineman, will now come in as a defensive tackle (Scout premium article). The move isn't entirely a surprise as there was talk about Nuss's ability on the defensive line when he originally committed. Recruiting isn't over yet, so I'll wait until Signing Day to dig into what ND did and didn't get along the defensive line, but moving Nuss from OT (where most schools recruited him) to DT isn't exactly an optimal solution.