Notre Dame juniors Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate announced that they will both forgo their senior seasons at Notre Dame and enter the NFL Draft in April on Monday confirming what many have suspected for weeks. With their former head coach at their side, the dynamic passing duo announced their intentions together on the same day it appears the Irish are zeroing in on their next head coach.
“Growing up as a kid, one of my life long dreams has been to play professional football in the NFL and with that being said, with the support of my family, coaches, I’ll be forgoing my senior year and entering the 2010 NFL draft,” Clausen said in his opening statement Monday.
Tate’s reasoning echoed Clausen’s. “This was a very tough decision for me. I have made so many great friends at Notre Dame, and the coaching I have received in football and baseball has been the best. But after talking with my family and Coach Weis, I’m going to pursue my dream and enter next year’s NFL draft.”
Neither decision was much of a surprise for Notre Dame fans. Both juniors skyrocketed up draft boards almost as fast as Notre Dame plummeted in the polls this season and neither would have much to gain from coming back for their senior seasons in terms of improving where they will be selected in draft.
Clausen improved dramatically as a junior in almost every facet of his game despite playing most of the season with a lingering turf toe injury that caused him to miss most of the Purdue game. Clausen ended up throwing 28 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions in 2009. Two of the interceptions came off of tipped balls that should have been caught making those stats even more impressive.
NFL draft experts widely considering Clausen one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and should be a lock to be one of the top 3 quarterbacks selected along with Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Washington’s Jake Locker in a draft that will have several teams looking for a franchise quarterback in the first round.
Draft gurus aren’t quite as in agreement on Tate and at this time it looks like he could be drafted in either the first or second round.
Both players were advised by former head coach Charlie Weis that they were ready for the NFL. All season long Clausen maintained that he wouldn’t think about the NFL until the season was over and he insisted that was the case again on Monday. “That first conversation he just told me that I’m ready to go. Whether he was going to be here or not, it was my time to go,” Clausen said. “He think that’s I’m ready for the NFL. I’m just really excited right now.”
Tate on the other hand said he talked about the possibility of leaving early for the NFL before the season. “Coming into my junior season Coach Weis and I actually had a conversation. He said I wouldn’t leave after junior year unless I had 17 touchdowns and about 1500 yards. He hit the nail right on the head. I think it’s the right moment for us.”
Tate ended up with 18 touchdowns (15 receiving, 2 rushing, 1 return) and 1,496 yards on 93 receptions. His receptions and yardage were both Notre Dame records.
For Clausen, it wasn’t hard to predict that this day was coming even three years ago when he enrolled at Notre Dame in the midterm. With getting a head start on his college career, Clausen was able to get three years of starting experience and is very close to finishing up his degree – something that he says is important for him to complete.
As a former #1 overall recruit, envisioning this as a possibility when he enrolled at Notre Dame in almost three years ago wasn’t too farfetched.
That wasn’t the case with Tate at all. Tate came to Notre Dame as a converted high school running back and caught just six passes as a freshman. “My freshman year, you can ask some of these guys up here, you could tell me a play and I still wouldn’t know how to run it,” Tate said. “I think I’ve grown a lot. I’ve made big steps. But, no, I never would have thought I’d be sitting here after my junior season declaring to go to the draft,” he would add.
The strides Tate made as a receiver were remarkable. After catching those six passes a freshman, he improved to 58 catches for 1,080 yards with 10 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2008 before exploding in 2009 with a record breaking year.
Some felt that Tate’s promising baseball career could play a role in his decision and could entice him to return for a senior season, but for now Tate will focus on football. He did leave the door open for a return to the diamond in the future though. “Who knows, maybe in five or six years I’ll enter some softball league.”
Notre Dame fans miss Tate for comments like that are going to make almost as much as his jaw dropping plays on the field.
With Clausen gone, the Irish will turn to former five star recruit Dayne Crist who will almost certainly miss most of, if not all of the spring, while recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Washington State game. Crist will have three years of eligibility left at the start of the 2010 season. Incoming recruit Tommy Rees will enroll in the midterm like Clausen did in 2007 and will get a head start in learning whatever offensive system gets installed with the new coaching regime, but Crist is still the odds on favorite to start next season as the starter baring any setbacks in his rehabilitation.
At receiver, the Irish will still be well stocked with talent. Super star receiver Micahel Floyd (junior), Duval Kamara (senior), John Goodman (junior), Deion Walker (junior), Shaquelle Evans (sophomore), and Roby Toma (sophomore) will all be back in South Bend next season with incoming freshmen Bennett Jackson, Daniel Smith, and Tai-ler Jones joining them.