Feb. 6, 2008
COACH WEIS: Well, obviously it’s a good day for our program. Last year at this time as we wrapped up recruiting, we were forced to, due to a couple of defections, make sure we kind of changed or tweaked a couple of things in our methodology in recruiting, especially as it relates to the word commitment.
We had decided as a staff to try to go through a teaching process with the young men that we’re dealing with because when you’re 17 and 18 year old young men that are getting swarmed with attention from people all over the country, it becomes a bit overwhelming, this whole process that they have to go through. And the best thing that we could do is just kind of try to explain, using an analogy of my wife, try to explain to them what it means like to be married.
I always talk about Maura and my kids as you know, but I think that when we explain to them when you’re looking, you’re out there dating, and once you get married and you’ve got the right one, that’s for good; that it doesn’t make any difference who else comes walking by, that your wife is it.
I think that it’s paid great dividends this year.
As we’ve gone through this recruiting class and as this whole thing has matriculated, obviously a number of these guys jumped on board early in the process, some in the spring, some in the summertime, some in the fall. As the numbers started growing, except for one defection — which I’ll talk about later on. With the exception of one defection, these guys really understood or bought into Notre Dame and what Notre Dame is all about, what we were representing and what we’re trying to get done.
And I think that you’ve got to give a lot of credit to these young men for the intestinal fortitude that they’ve showed, because as we know, our performance on the field this year was far below expectations and far below average. And try being those guys that are walking into their school and walking into the grocery stores in their hometowns, and everyone says, “You’re going to Notre Dame? Why are you going to Notre Dame?”
I give them all the credit in the world. From coast to coast, these guys are getting hammered by their peers and school, by their communities, by staffs across the country, and they held tough. And they actually became a very, very closely bonded group.
A number of you went down to the All American game this year in San Antonio and saw the 14 guys we had down there and how they did everything together. I mean, they almost were being mocked by everyone else because it seemed like they had known each other for years and years.
And I think when you’re part of a program that is trying to represent a family type of atmosphere and being bonded like that, having special relationships, it’s great to see coming in that we have a good head start on that whole thought methodology as it’s related to this class.
There might be a couple surprises. I don’t see any. There’s a couple of guys that are still out there that aren’t committed, but I’m not expecting anything major to pop up. So I really just want to talk about the 23 seniors that we’re adding to our family. They come from 17 different states. We signed five defensive linemen, four linebackers, three DBs, four offensive linemen, two tight ends, three wide receivers, a running back and a quarterback.
You’re allowed to bring in 56 official visits in the recruiting process. That’s what the NCAA allows you to bring in. Well, we don’t over offer, as a lot of guys who do research on recruiting know. We don’t over offer and give tons and tons of offers out there because we’re always doing research on grades and character, as well as their play.
So this year we only brought in 33 guys on official visits, of which 23 of them ended up saying yes. And that’s just about a 70 percent completion percentage. I think that that’s a pretty good rate.
Let’s start with the defensive linemen. As many of you know, we have one of our defensive linemen enrolled mid year, and that’s Sean Cwynar out of Woodstock, Illinois. He went to Marion Central Catholic and played for Coach Brucker. Sean is big enough to play inside, and I see him playing as a defensive end.
I’m going to start with the outside guys first and the wider bodies second.
Here’s a guy who was Mr. Football in the State of Illinois. My other guys from Illinois are kind of mad at that one. He was down there at the All American game and played pretty well. He was defensive lineman of the year twice in the suburban Catholic conference. This year he had 82 tackles and he had 16 for loss and 11 sacks.
He’s really a versatile player who I see who can play as an inside player, and I also — because he’s big enough, an outside player, because he’s strong enough and athletic enough. He’s a guy, as we were showing a couple of clips on each person, he’s a guy who we’re very happy to have, is a very good candidate for a mid year admit because he’s a very, very good student, and I think he’s a welcome addition to our team. We’re kind of glad he’s in here, enrolled in school and getting indoctrinated into our way of doing things.
Second player I’m going to talk about that’s also an outside player who’s got a pretty good body to him, Ethan Johnson. He’s out of Portland, Oregon. He went to Lincoln High School, played for Coach Carlson out there. Now, Ethan, I’m going to talk about more of his statistics as related to junior year because he missed a good portion of his senior year with a knee injury. That is going along great.
As a matter of fact, he’s actually taken up — he’s on the swim team out there this year. He might be the biggest swimmer in America, but he’s on the swim team because he thought it would be a good way to continue strengthening his legs while putting not as much weight bearing things as some other sports would do.
He was selected to the All American game. He didn’t participate in the game because of that. He erred on the side of caution.
But as a junior you could see where this guy was heading. As a junior he had 83 tackles and he had 10 sacks and he’s been considered as one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Certainly he’s been touted by a lot of the recruiting gurus as the top player coming out of the Pacific Northwest.
Ethan came here and came and went to camp, and he fell in love with the place, and we fell in love with him. We really, really hit it off. He was our type of guy, and we’re really happy to have him on board.
The third defensive end type player is Kapron Lewis Moore out of Weatherford, Texas. He went to Weatherford High School, played for Coach Wheaton there. We’ve been on Kapron for a long time. He’s one of those guys who some people see as an outside linebacker. I don’t know how big he’s going to end up because you look at him and he’s 6’4″, 230, now, and who knows how big he’s going to end up at the end of the day.
He played predominantly a defensive end position, which is where I see him coming in here. He’s one of the top players in the state of Texas. You watch this guy, he’s a versatile guy. He can play with his hand down, he can play with his hand up. You know, he’s playing hoops right now. He’s a good basketball player. He’s on the track team. He does a lot of things right there.
But what he is, is he is another guy who brings a great deal of athleticism to our class, and I think that we’re very fortunate to be able to get him out of the state of Texas and get him in here, and I think that we’re very happy to have him on board as going into this year’s class we had put athleticism and the defensive line as a position as an area of great need, both physically and numerically.
We have a couple of wide bodies in there, as well, that I see more as inside players. Brandon Newman is the first one. Brandon is out of Louisville, Kentucky, went to Pleasure Ridge Park High School, played for Coach Wolfe. A lot of people started to become more familiar with him when they watched him down at the All American game where he stood out, but this is a big, physical inside player.
You watch him — in his career he’s got 126 tackles, and 31 and a half of them are tackles for a loss. This is a big, powerful inside player, and as most of you know who do research on our program, you know that it was important for us to get a couple of wide bodies in there as well as the athletic guys who can play on the edge.
We had set as a big priority in our recruiting this year to go in and get ourselves about four or five defensive linemen, a combination of defensive ends and defensive tackles and noses and everything like that. We needed a couple of guys that instantly walked in the door bringing in a 300 pound body in there, and Brandon was this guy walking in the door that fills one of those big voids.
The other guy who fits that same type of criteria is Hafis Williams out of Elizabeth High School. He played for Coach Parlavecchio at Elizabeth High School. Chet and I have known each other for a lot of years, and we have some war stories that I’d rather not pass on. But when we got into New Jersey, Chet is my type of guy. We see eye to eye, and he coaches in a very similar manner to me, just as far as how he treats players and thought methodology.
We got going on Hafis last year, and he’s one of the most recruited players out of the state of New Jersey. Any time you make the Star Ledger First Team All State team in New Jersey, that is like the mecca as far as awards in New Jersey goes.
Here’s another 295 type body, another wide body that’s explosive, an explosive inside player. They played him both on the defensive line and the offensive line. He’s going to be an interior defensive lineman for us, and I think of that chemistry of the different types of players we recruited, this one was a very, very important get for us.
Going to the linebackers, we wanted to pull in four linebackers this year, and we have a great mix. It’s interesting, the first two guys I’m going to talk about, Steven Filer and Darius Fleming, let’s talk about Steven first, it’s going to be interesting how this Mount Carmel/St. Rita combination work out here now. We’ve got some fierce rivals right here, and there’s not a lot of camaraderie between these two schools. So I think I might just room them together this summer just to see how miserable they can end up being.
With Steven, he’s got size and athleticism to play inside or outside. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois. You saw him down in the All American game. He was a Parade Prep All American. He was a finalist for Mr. Football that Cwynar won, so he was mad at that.
He had 107 tackles and had an interception for a touchdown this year. He’s an excellent hoop player, as well. He’s been down at our camp. He went to Mount Carmel High School, and Frank Lenti, who I both like and respect, we’ve been telling Frank since the day I got the job, we’d like to get some guys out of Chicago. This was one of the guys we earmarked back when he was a sophomore, and we’ve been working on this for quite some time, and we’re happy to have him.
And his partner in crime now is Darius Fleming. He went to St. Rita, Coach Kuska. It’ll be interesting. He’s another athletic guy. He’s an outside pass rusher. I mean, he’s going to bring a lot of edge pressure for us. He also played in the All American game. He led his team to a state title as a junior, and as a senior they went to the Prep Bowl City Championship there in Chicago. Obviously he was a First Team All State by the Tribune.
Everyone has got him rated as one of the best players. I think his best sport might be bowling, I have to tell you the truth. An interesting story, Coach Kuska almost lost him to another school in Chicago because they had a better bowling team at the time. So we’re going to try to sandbag Coach Oliver on this one, so please don’t tell Coach Oliver that this kid is a good bowler because it’ll be a fun one to kid him. I think the kid has bowled a 300 game in his past. I think competitively this year he bowled either a 279 or a 289, so I hate to be talking about bowling on signing day, but it’s probably the most interesting combination I’ve seen since I’ve been involved in recruiting. We are delighted to have somebody with the athleticism of Darius joining our linebacker corps as an edge player.
Now, as an inside player we were looking for two different type of bodies. Remember, I already said that Steven could play inside or outside. He can play anywhere we want. Anthony McDonald, we were looking for a Mike linebacker, a true Mike linebacker, a physical middle linebacker that enjoys hitting. This guy fits the bill.
He was also at the All American game. He has excellent instinct for finding the ball and filling in the holes. He’s grown up around the game. His dad, Mike, played for USC, so that’s great. It’s all right.
It’s interesting, I wouldn’t want to be him on game day when we play against one of our rivals, USC. Obviously he went to Notre Dame High School there in Sherman Oaks, Kevin Rooney. Coach Rooney we got to know here in the last several years. We’ve been spending a lot of due diligence out there at Notre Dame High School, and their program seems to be a great system for us, and their mentality and their methodology at the school is very similar, and we really needed to get that big, physical inside linebacker. And Anthony certainly fit the bill as far as that went.
The other young man who’s an inside linebacker that we fell in love with, actually at camp, a year — it might have been two years ago — as a matter of fact it was two years ago, was David Posluszny. He came in here at the time, he was an oversized strong safety or an undersized linebacker at the time. He was out of Aliquippa, went to Hopewell High School and played for Coach Vestal. This is one tough, hard nosed, physical player.
We see him as a weak side inside linebacker. A lot of people want to stereotype him as Paul’s little brother, you know, but recently I was in the home and visiting and Paul had come down for the visit, and I’m sitting there and I’m looking at the two of them, and David has gotten himself up to over 220 pounds, and he’s just one rocked up unit with good football instincts, and you just see there’s something about the kid that when you’re around the kid.
He’s not a young man of many words. He’s kind of a quiet kid. But when he plays football, he plays football with that hard nosed mentality that makes you look forward to his career as it progresses here at Notre Dame.
Robert Blanton, as we get to the secondary. Robert Blanton is one of those guys who can play safety or corner. We wanted to bring in a couple of corners that had safety hit ability but corner athleticism, and Robert was the first — one of the two I’m going to talk about, Jamoris Slaughter a little bit later.
Here’s an athletic and physical defensive back that can play corner or safety. That is a rare combination now because especially with the big wide receivers that you have out there today, if you don’t have guys that have hitting ability like safeties they’re often stereotyped as, you can’t match up, and this is what Robert likes to do.
He’s another one that played in the All American game, was the Defensive Player of the Year in North Carolina named by the Charlotte Observer. He was the First Team All State as a junior and a senior in North Carolina. This year he had 94 tackles, five interceptions, and he also blocked six kicks, and that did not go unnoticed by our staffs. He was one of the five finalists for the Glenn Davis Award, which is a national award based on community service, academics and athletic accomplishment.
It’s kind of cool when you go into his school because he’s in ROTC. He’s in Butler’s junior ROTC program. I think he’s the second highest ranking person in their program at ROTC, and it’s kind of cool to see him walking around in school with his uniform on, and he has a lot of pride in that.
Dan McCarthy, obviously a lot of you know is the brother of Kyle.
By the way, one thing, Blanton played at Butler High School for Coach Newsome. I want to make sure I don’t overlook that, in Matthews, North Carolina.
Dan McCarthy out of Youngstown, Ohio, Cardinal Mooney High School for Coach Fecko. He’s a versatile athlete and a physical player with a nose for the ball. He obviously played safety and quarterback for them. We’re going to play him at safety. He has great leadership skills, and they also use him as a returner, both punt return and kickoff return. He told me although he’s a quarterback, the ball was not in his hands throwing it very often because we had a lot of fun with that. Just visited him Saturday this past week. I was in his home.
He was a Second Team All American honors with USA Today as a senior. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio. Rudolph didn’t like that one too much. But he was the Gatorade Player of the Year. He had 137 tackles and nine sacks as a senior, and it’s always interesting when you have a sibling on the team to see how that works out, especially when you play the same position. As I told him, there’s two guys that play safety so there’s no rule that says we couldn’t have you out there at the same time.
To finish off our defensive group is Jamoris Slaughter. Jamoris is similar to Robert. As a safety — can play either safety or corner. He played the majority safety but he has a skill to play corner or safety. We were looking for some safety types that had that corner cover ability. He played in the Under Armour All American game. He’s an extremely physical and aggressive player.
He was the leader of a very good defensive Tucker High School. He was First Team All State by the Georgia Sportswriters in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He had 56 tackles, he had three interceptions, he had double digit pass breakups as a senior. Their team went to the 4A Semi State Finals.
Jamoris is another guy just like Robert where you watch these guys play and say they give you some versatility because you can play them at safety, you can play them at corner, you’ve got corner cover skills with safety ability, but then you can put them at safety and not limit yourself to just having limited range and just bringing everyone in here that played strong safety. And going into this recruiting class we wanted to make sure we brought some versatility on that side of the ball.
Now, as we move over to offense, like I said, we had one mid year enrollee on defense. We had one on offense, as well, and that’s Trevor Robinson.
I missed before, Tucker High School, Coach Stevens, for Jamoris. Make sure I don’t miss that.
Trevor is out of Elkhorn, Nebraska, Elkhorn High School, Coach Wortman. He was also a prime candidate for a mid year admit. He’s a very, very good student. He played in the Army All American game so both he and Sean were kind of rushed to finish that All American game and then be back here in school.
He’s a physically tough player. He’s a big man when you see him. He doesn’t look like a freshmen when you see him walking around. He enjoys contact, plays hard on every down. He’s a very, very intelligent student, but he’s also a very intelligent football player. He’s one of those students of the game.
He came to our camp a couple years ago, and he was one of the first offers we had in this class. They used him for both offensive line and defensive line. He was named first team All American by USA Today. Obviously he was First Team All State his junior and senior years of high school. We see him an interior presence on our offensive line, and we’re very fortunate to have him here in school right now because he can get his feet wet and get going in the springtime and see if he can’t help us continue our ongoing pursuit to play better on the offensive line.
A local product Braxston Cave out of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Coach Yeoman. He’s been one of our favorites from the start. Just like Chicago is an area where we wanted to get players out of, we wanted to find local people, people from the South Bend area, and we pinpointed Braxston at an early time. Here’s a guy, physical at the point of attack. He’s a center, he can play guard, as well. He went down to the Under Armour game.
The thing about Braxston that really, really has been wonderful is he has been one of the key people in this recruiting class as far as recruiting this class. A lot of times your own players are the guys that help recruit the class, and between Braxston and Dayne Crist — I mean, Braxston Cave, his mom, I don’t know how many pasta dinners she’s made, but it seems like every time everyone comes in town, they’re all hanging at Braxston’s house. His parents have been great. They’ve opened their doors.
Every time you turn around — the only problem with Braxston is I see him too much. He’s here all the time. He’s done a great job, and not only is he a great player but he’s been one of our best recruiters. He’s one of the 12 finalists for Indiana for Mr. Football and the runner up for the Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Lane Clelland, he’s out of Owings Mills, Maryland, McDonogh High School, Coach Damico. Coach Damico played for Coach Latina at Temple, so we kind of had an “in” on this one. He’s an athletic guy. We see him playing tackle. Even though he right now is only at about 270 because he’s wrestling, he’s a heavyweight wrestler, he’s about 6’5″, 270, and the reason his weight stayed down is he has to stay under 275 pounds because over 275 they don’t let you wrestle, so it’s kind of kept his weight down.
I don’t think he’ll have — if you take a look at his brother Lance who played at Northwestern, I don’t think you have to worry about him being a big man because he will be. He’s athletic, he’s got great footwork. I think he’s one of the top tackles athletically that I’ve seen in not only the northeast but around this year. He was at the Army All American game, and don’t be misconstrued when you see him at 270 right now because a lot of that is by design as he’s deep into the wrestling season.
It’s interesting because we’ve got a couple of wrestlers on this team that we’re going to have to put some mats down now and let them battle it out and see what happens with a couple of these guys.
Mike Golic, Jr., West Hartford, Connecticut, Northwest Catholic under Coach Tyler, now obviously Mike — one of the things he’s going to have to put up with is having to listen to all this garbage about his dad and his uncles and being a legacy. He has a nice saying that he gets on his father about, but he wants his father to end up being forgotten by the time he’s done playing, which will mean that he played some pretty good ball because his father was a good player, both here and in the NFL for a long time.
This kid is true center who plays with great leverage and great effort. He’s also a long snapper, which Lane has some long snapping ability, as well. He’s a long snapper that I could see competing right away. He was down at the All American game and was All State in Connecticut as a junior and senior.
Sometimes it’s just a right fit, and in this case right here we’ve got an athletic guy. Obviously Sully is leaving, and coming into this year one of the things we wanted to do, we wanted to bring in a couple guys that have center ability because at the center position, just like at the quarterback position, you never want to be pigeonholed and run out of guys that can play center.
Tight end, Joseph Fauria from Encino, California, Crespi High School for Coach Ross. It’s interesting, with Joseph, I met him I bet at Super Bowl XXXIX. I coached his uncle Christian, who was a tight end for me when we were playing for the Patriots. One of my favorite guys. And we’re at an event, we’re at a party, Super Bowl party, and Christian was there with his dad and his nephew, and says, hey, he introduced me to his dad and his nephew, and he says, he’s going to play for you some day.
I’m looking at this kid. At the time he’s about 6’7″, about 230. I said, he’s not going to be playing for me; I’m not going to be coaching in the NFL anymore. He said, he’s a freshman. I said, nice to know you. Then it turned out he was a freshman in high school. This is one big muchacho now. He’s every bit of 6’7″, might be taller, 6’7″, 250. He’s got a great combination of size and athletic ability. He can block, he can catch. He had 35 receptions for 516 yards and eight touchdowns this year.
They blank him out at wide receiver and go ahead and throw him the ball, led his team to the Sara Lee title and advanced to the Pac 5 final and finished the season ranked 6th in California. He’s playing hoops, and you see a guy with this type of body — I mean, this kid is a good hoop player, too. There’s going to be guys battling for bookstore basketball teams now. With this team coming in here, I mean, I have coaches that are already recruiting guys to play on their bookstore basketball team, especially Corwin. So if you see Corwin play bookstore basketball and his team do anything, you’ll know he had an unfair advantage because he knew which basketball players to go ahead and recruit. This is a player, I’ve known his family for a long time.
And then of course Kyle Rudolph from Cincinnati, Elder High School, Coach Ramsey. Kyle is all everything. Another huge guy, his weight is down because of hoops, but as soon as hoop is over we’ll take care of that. Athletic, complete player. He was down at the All American game where I made fun of him. I asked him how it was playing tackle, because I don’t know if they threw a ball to him all week. Oh, they did throw one screen that he got killed on.
But this is a guy who’s a dynamic type of athlete who’s a First Team All American by USA Today. He had 37 catches for 673 and 11 touchdowns. He was one of the 11 finalists for the Maxwell Award. Like I said, he’s an accomplished basketball player, second leading scorer in Elder history, and he holds the school record for career rebounds with 568 last we checked. But I’m telling you what, these two tight ends are two tight ends that are going to press to get involved in the mix pretty quickly in their career because they’re both big and athletic.
Going on to wide receiver, we signed three wide receivers that we were really, really excited about, starting off with Michael Floyd. He’s out of St. Paul, Cretin Derham, for Coach Scanlan. I have to throw a little kudos to Coach Bischoff, too, because Andy has not only worked our camp every year but he’s one of these guys that a lot of these players at Cretin Derham have turned to year after year.
He’s a complete player that loves to compete. He’s been at our camp the last couple years. He was one of our first offers. He played in the All American game. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and senior in Minnesota. I’m not sure he wouldn’t be Mr. Basketball if he just played basketball. He’s another guy that would be heavily recruited for bookstore basketball, I can promise you. You watch him play basketball and he’s pretty darned good.
He made it to the Parade Prep All American team, voted First Team All American by USA Today. This year he had 59 catches for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns. This program, we’ve had a lot of guys come out of this program to us. It just seems to be a very good fit. He plays basketball, he runs track, he’s active at the school and the community for that matter. He’s one of those special guys. Obviously if you watched the All American game, all those quarterbacks were looking to throw it to him as much as they possibly could.
We’re really excited to have Michael on board, and we think, like we are with all three of these receivers, think that they’re guys who can go ahead and press the issue early on in their careers.
Then we go on to John Goodman out of Fort Wayne, Bishop Dwenger, Coach Svarczkopf. He’s another guy who we fell in love with early, had great body control and ball skills, playmaker at just about any position. The thing about it, I watch him play, and although he played for predominantly quarterback for them this year, the way he plays, the way he acts, reminds you a lot of a former wide receiver from Indiana, Valparaiso, a lot of the same mannerisms. And it’s almost uncanny to watch this guy act. You would think he had been taking lessons. His hair isn’t as long.
He played in the All American game, attended summer camp since he was a freshman. We know a lot about him. He played the majority of this year at quarterback. By the way, he thinks he can start there here, too. He leads his team — he led his team to an undefeated regular season. They lost in the state semis. He was named All State in Indiana by the Associated Press as a senior. He’s one of the 12 finalists for Mr. Football. He plays basketball. He’s another guy who’s a very, very good basketball player, as you hear a common theme.
He also runs track, as well. It’s always good — one of the good things about not coming out early and staying in your career is when you play in these other sports to get an opportunity to finish for one last time, go ahead and have fun with the fellows doing this. He’s having a lot of fun in hoops right now.
Deion Walker out of Christchurch, Virginia, Christchurch High School and Coach Homer. Coach Homer has been great to work with. Sure, he’s a little distraught because he’s a New Englander so I can feel his pain. But the interesting thing in this process is that Deion’s father Art is the offensive coordinator there. I’d like to know how that went, having to be the offensive coordinator and having your son playing with you.
But Art has been invaluable in this recruiting process. I think that Art and his wife have gone out of their way as educators and both working at the school to make sure that their son had all the information on Notre Dame. This kid has got great potential.
He was at the Under Armour All American game and committed at that time. As a junior he had 50 receptions and seven touchdowns. He plays basketball, and their team right now is 15 and 5. So here’s another one of these guys that between basketball team and wrestling team, the only one I have to worry about is Fleming because he’d be bowling.
Deion completes the trifecta of three receivers that we brought in here that are all different players. All three of them have special skills, and I think that going in here that was important for us to get some young receivers that we thought could compete early on.
At running back we’re really excited to get Jonas Gray out of Beverly Hills, Michigan, Detroit Country Day School, Coach MacLean. Here’s a guy that’s an explosive back, runs hard downfield, got great footwork and balance.
This year he rushed for 2,614 yards on 341 carries for an average of 7.7 and had 32 touchdowns. So the one thing that this kid definitely showed for this season is not only does he have a great ability but he also has great stamina. They kept feeding it to him and he’d keep on producing as those numbers would indicate. He was named the Parade Prep All American team, he was All State by the Detroit Free Press as a senior. He was down there at the All American game. He was a little tweaked at the time. But he’s another one of those guys that you guys are going to love because he’s another one of those infectious personality types.
I mean, he’s calling our coaches up last night, making sure everything is going good in recruiting. He’s making the phone calls, he’s waking coaches up. Are we okay here, are we okay there. It was really, really interesting to watch this group of players. We can’t text the players, but they were wearing each other out now, and Jonas was one of the ring leaders and we’re really happy to have him.
Last but not least is Dayne Crist out of Sherman Oaks High School, Coach Rooney again. Before I talk about him as a player, Dayne was probably the guy who was pummeled the worst during this whole recruiting process, hey, what’s going on with Notre Dame. He’s out there in Southern California. You do the math on that one. Here’s a guy that really was under duress the whole time, and this guy just stuck to his guns, and not only did he stay committed to us but he did a great job of keeping everyone else along for the ride because everyone knew that he had great size and a strong arm.
But this guy showed during recruiting — always when you’re looking for quarterbacks, you’re looking for the intangibles, and one of the biggest things is that special leadership that they can show on or off the field. Well, watching him with his high school team, you could see that it was on the field. But what he’s done for us off the field rivals only Braxston in the grand scheme of things in the recruiting process.
He was obviously down at the All American game and was Parade Prep All American. He’s one of the six finalists in the Army All American Player of the Year. But one thing that I really like to look at when you have a quarterback is the touchdown to interception ratio, and this year he completed just under 60 percent of his passes for over 2,100 yards, but he threw 16 touchdown passes and one interception. I told him that would be okay if he kept that ratio. I told him that would be okay.
You’re talking about a 6’5″, 225 pound guy walking in the door. For a quarterback this is a big body guy with a strong arm. But he’s not a stiff. This is a guy with athleticism, as well.
I think that in wrapping up this class of 23, there’s a lot of people I need to thank. Obviously I always have to thank my assistant coaches, Rob Ianello, who directs our recruiting; Dave Poloquin; Tim McDonald; Kathryn Schussler, people who are behind the scenes people that work in the office that are invaluable to our recruiting process. Father Jenkins gets involved, Kevin White gets involved, Stan Wilcox gets involved. Our whole administration gets involved.
Okay, our professors, deans, the food service, travel, all the things that go on in there. It’s just so many people that are involved in this. Our professors are great on football sides, so is our academic support staff. Adam and Colleen do a wonderful job showing how our support system is in place for these guys academically.
There’s so many people that are involved in this. Obviously John and Brian and sports information and all the things that happen to teach a valuable lesson. But I can’t count the number of people that are involved in this recruiting process. I just know that when you go 3 and 9 and you end up with one of, if not the best recruiting classes in the country, okay, there’s a lot of hard work and effort and due diligence and a lot of people should be commended and thanked for the success of this program.
As I wrap it up, what I have to say, we try and create a family atmosphere with relationships and commitment, and we only had one defection, and I think that it was really important. Of our guys there was one guy that wanted to be a soft verbal, and we stuck to our guns and we said no, that’s not the way it’s going to be. I think that even made us stronger in the long run. And I think that we learned a valuable lesson on the right and wrong way of doing it and hopefully can continue this process for years to come.
Q. You’ve been a proponent of an early signing period, and now with kids committing as early as they do, you had 18 or something like that before the season started. How acute of a problem is that now, because you almost have to administer to the kids that have been committed more than you have to to the ones that you’re still pursuing?
COACH WEIS: Well, I know walking to Rob, who’s the head of the assistant coaches, they’ve been kind of pushing as assistant coaches to try to get a mid December when that quiet period takes place, for there to be an early signing period there. I’d be in favor of that. I recommended having August early signing period just because of — what happens is everyone stays on these guys and stays on these guys and stays on these guys. I mean, these kids are still getting called at midnight last night by schools. There was kids getting called this morning by schools. They stay on them and stay on them. We’re forgetting these are 17 and 18 year old kids that we’re talking about.
I think the one big benefit that would happen by having an early signing period is, A, they can get it out of the way and take the pressure off themselves, but B, then you’d know exactly what holes you had left to fill and have an opportunity to go out and try to fill them.
Q. How receptive are the powers that be towards something like this?
COACH WEIS: I don’t know, but I’m going to — that’s as far as I can know because Rob being the voice of the assistant coaches, he’d have a better feel for where they are. But I think more people are — I’m not saying it’s anywhere close to being done yet, but I think it’s more in the mix now than it’s ever been.
Q. Is there a player or two that when you started the recruiting process with them you said, wow, this is going to be a long shot, and you ended up signing them? Does somebody jump out that would fit that description?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, but some of those long shots jumped on in a hurry, like Dayne. You know, you come in here, just signed a quarterback last year, a high profile quarterback a year ago, and he comes in here and says, well, come on, let’s go. What, are you afraid to compete? That stoked him now. He had fire in his eye. He said, let’s go, come on, Coach, I’m ready.
But there’s some of them, you take a run at and figure, okay. But I think that as long as a guy — if you find a guy, regardless of where they are, regardless of what the circumstances are, if you find a guy that’s a good kid who’s got — school is important to him and he can play, you’ve got to take a shot at him, and you’ve got to understand you’re not going to get them all. You’ve got to understand that. That comes with the territory.
Q. You alluded to the Omar Hunter situation. What did happen there? Did you pull his scholarship?
COACH WEIS: I’m not going to — I’m just talking in general. I’m not going to talk about somebody who’s not on this 23 right here. It would be self serving for me to go into the answer right there because then all I’m doing is making us look good and him look bad, and that doesn’t do him or me — it doesn’t do either one of us any good.
Q. Were you worried when you talked a year ago about the meaning of the word commitment, were you worried how that was going to play with kids who were 17, 18 years old? You were kind of venturing into some uncharted territory.
COACH WEIS: Was I worried, yes, but I felt a very strong conviction in this despite the apprehension. It was the right way of doing this. And even if it felt — even if you risked having some negative residual effect there’s still a right way and a wrong way of doing it. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about it, but the dividends have seemed to have been great.
Q. You told us last year at media day before the season, God strike you dead if you used the word rebuilding. Did you tell the kids, however, that, brace yourselves, maybe things aren’t going to be as good as they were the last couple years, just so they didn’t panic?
COACH WEIS: I think that what they do is they see a bunch of young guys out there playing, and I think that anyone who’s being recruited really wants to see themselves out there playing at a relatively young age. I think what ends up happening is if you really want to take a negative season and turn it into a positive, you look at these guys and say, look, you want to play? You’re watching the games, right? You’re watching the same thing we’re watching, so do you think you can play? If so, let’s go; and if not, go somewhere else.
And I think at the end of the day, the things that Notre Dame stood for long before I got here still stand true. I think that these guys want to go somewhere and be a part of something special, and I think to a man, everyone you talk to, every one of those kids will sit there and say they think they’re going to be a part of something special.
Q. You talk about the class being highly rated. Do you think it’s the best class you’ve had here so far?
COACH WEIS: Well, I’ve kind of liked the last couple in a different manners. The one thing I felt this class did better than the last couple classes, we filled a bunch of significant holes, and I think that it’s important — like bringing in five defensive linemen, that was significant. Bringing in four linebackers, that was significant. Bringing in three DBs was significant, but having two that could play corner or safety and having some versatility, that was significant.
You know, we aren’t at the 15 scholarship mark yet on the offensive line but getting closer to that spot, and especially with the athleticism at a couple of positions, that was significant. Getting some receivers and tight ends that you thought could compete early in their career, that was significant. And with our depth and having lost a couple of guys at the quarterback position last year, getting another front running quarterback, I mean, that was significant. And throwing Jonas on top of it, I think that as we went in and looked at this class and tried — if you were to say how many guys — you can have 23 guys, where would you put them? I probably would have come back with this number at that time right there. If you had told me the number was 23, how many of each position you want, that was the most significant part, to not only bring in good players but to fill a bunch of holes.
Q. I know you don’t want to give away jobs in February, but is there a player today that you think should have the most significant impact?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think, there’s only a few positions — let’s use a generic one because I can talk about receivers and everything, but John Carlson has left, and really you don’t have significant experience coming behind him, so you’d have to say anyone that’s on this roster at the tight end position has chances of getting on the field. But there are very few of these guys that I brought up here that don’t think that they can come up and get themselves on the depth chart and get in position to play.
I never promise them playing time. I promise them an opportunity to get into the mix.
Q. The one thing in common with all these names you mentioned is a lot of players have relatives, whether it’s nephews, brothers, whatever. Is there something to that? The gene pool or something like that that leads you to players like that?
COACH WEIS: Well, it usually gets your attention because usually a guy that’s a football guy, he kind of has it in his blood, kind of a gym rat. The chance for a gym rat to be successful as long as they have the other attributes usually is pretty good.
Q. Just wondering if you could talk about what today means after the long season for maybe people outside the program, you know, keeping this class together and what that can kind of mean for the future after what was a real tough season.
COACH WEIS: Well, I think I’m a pretty practical person, and I think that after the record that we had, as disappointed as everyone was, obviously me at the head of the pack, I think that our program needed this boost. I think this is a significant boost. The right type of players, the right type of kids, okay, and the right type of day. This is the type of day where everyone has got to feel good and say, God, what a good day. And I think that we all needed that, especially me, because I don’t want to go home and be abused by my son or my wife, and this was a good day.
I think the whole program needed this boost, and now let’s worry about getting back in here and getting after it with the guys that are already on campus, and when those guys get here, plug them in there and let’s move forward.
Q. Are you surprised — I know you obviously put a lot of emphasis on commitment and talked about that a lot in the last year, but are you surprised this class held as well as they did given the nature of the season?
COACH WEIS: What we did is we involved them in everything that was happening all year long. There was not one player that — once they were on board, they knew everything that was going on, good and bad. We kind of gave them part ownership of this team, kind of made them part of the family, where they felt that — they felt our pain. They weren’t even here and they felt it.
We always had a good laugh any time I went and did a home visit, yeah, you felt that pain from afar, how would you have liked to have been here. I think these guys were all ready to go a long time ago. They’re really looking forward to getting in here and trying to be part of the reason why we get this headed in the right direction.
Q. I wanted to follow up on the Braxston Cave thing. When a kid does that, a family does that, do you just kind of stay out of their way? Do you encourage him? How did you react to that whole situation?
COACH WEIS: You obviously don’t know Braxston’s mom. You stay out of the way and let her do her deal. They’ve been — she’s been like the surrogate mom of this recruiting class. I mean, those guys from Chicago, I mean, I wonder if they have their own bedrooms. They’ve really gone out of their way. It’s really nice to — this isn’t just a kid from Penn High School. We have to make sure we avoid a recruiting violation just the fact that we ride by his house every day. I mean, he lives about 200 yards from our offensive line coach. God bless John Latina. But I mean, this is a guy who’s around all the time.
But their family has gone out of their way to kind of be a focal point, like the off campus base of Notre Dame recruiting, and it’s really been great.
Q. The last follow up I had, I think you were pretty clear, I just wonder if you would repeat it. If you have a player that’s committed somewhere else and then wants to take a visit here, is your rule kind of they have to initiate contact?
COACH WEIS: Always. Remember the rule that when they’re looking, we’re looking? It’s all about looking. If somebody is committed to us and they start making phone calls, then they’re really not committed to us. And if somebody is committed to somebody else and they call us, then they’re really not committed to them, either.
But I think it’s important, you never have to worry about me making a phone call to somebody who’s committed. If that kid calls me up and said I want to talk to you, I’ll return the phone call. I’ll always do that because I believe that it’s something that should not be initiated but it’s something that should not be overlooked because I’ve learned the hard way on that one.
Q. How does the relationship with these guys sort of evolve now after today going forward with you and the staff? Do you get more involved with that? What’s the next step?
COACH WEIS: The heck with them. We don’t worry about them anymore (laughing). We have a little joke, but I probably should save that one for a rainy day.
But what happens now is there’s certain materials within the NCAA guidelines you can get in their hands, and the rule has now been passed, texting, correct? As of tomorrow we can start texting these guys. You can’t text recruits, but these guys that have signed letters of intent as of tomorrow, we can actually — we don’t even have to call them all the time, we can actually get into texting. So we can crank those old texting figures back out of retirement there and stay in constant contact with them, as well.
Q. What kinds of things can you and will you do to sort of keep them involved during spring practice, during spring ball?
COACH WEIS: Well, a lot of them will spend time here during spring ball. Might be for a weekend. Almost all of them will show up for spring. I’m sure Braxston will be here every day.
But I think that one things you have to do is make sure within the legitimacy of the NCAA, get them what you can get them, nothing more, nothing less.
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