Notre Dame Football Recruiting Past and Present

The last time Notre Dame had a top five recruiting class was in 2003. The highest rated player the Irish sacked (pun) that year, was #48 overall, Victor Abiamiri. That year, the Irish picked up six players in the top 100, with Abiamiri the only one in the top 50. One of those six, Isaiah Gardner, subsequently transferred to the University of Maryland. Was the 2002 class overrated? Of the 21 recruits, only Quinn and Samardzija have approached All-American status, with Zbikowski getting a few honorable mentions.

Next year, the mostly likely All-American’s are Quinn, and senior offensive tackle Ryan Harris. Zbikowski can propel himself into the country’s elite. I’m hesitant to name a unanimous All-American at wide receiver, because of the return of Rhema McKnight. McKnight planted his seed in the Notre Dame offense long before Maurice Stovall did, and showed more consistency doing so. That given, it’s easy to realize that factor may cause Brady Quinn to spread the ball around more between McKnight and Samardzija earlier in the season than he did last year with Stovall. A couple things can happen next year at the receiver position.

  • Baring any injuries, Quinn will have two favorite, reliable targets in McKnight and the Shark, and their statistics will support that by being eerily similar. If this happens, I think voters would probably look elsewhere to name an All-American because when was the last time that two receivers from one team were named first team A.A.
  • A defensive strategy throughout the season could key in on one receiver or the other, causing one of their numbers to be significantly higher than the other’s. This is the mostly likely scenario for at least one ND wide receiver to be named All-American next year.
  • However, if McKnight is the one with the higher numbers, I don’t see him being named All-American unless his touchdown numbers rank among the country’s top three. The same could have been said about Samardzjia last year, but he was noticed so early in the season that his consistent play and the statistics that resulted landed him near the top receivers in the country in every category. There just isn’t the hype surrounding McKnight coming into the season compared to the Shark.

Now before we take a look at this year’s recruiting class, let’s recall some of the more noteworthy recruiting losses that Notre Dame has suffered in recent years.

  • 2001Shaun Cody– was down to Notre Dame and USC on signing day. The defensive lineman was a difference maker for a Trojans team that has been among the college football elite since 2002.
  • 2002Lorenzo Booker narrowed his choices to Florida State, Notre Dame and USC on signing day. Washington was listed but was considered a long shot. UHND’s own “Miss Cleo” picked Booker to head to the Irish, but a late push by Bobby Bowden made Booker college football’s next bust.
  • 2003Reggie Bush was down to USC and Notre Dame. Fans all over the message boards were proclaiming, “Bush is Irish.” But did the Irish really even have a chance? As learned in recent months, Kent Baer, the defensive coordinator, was the person recruiting him. Bush picked the Trojans without ever visiting Notre Dame, then ran and caught his way to helping the Trojans to three straight victories over Notre Dame, and a tie with the Irish in total number of Heisman winners. The saving grace about losing Bush to USC, is that he single-handedly would have saved Ty Willingham’s job, by masquerading horrible coaching by phenomenal on the field play. But the loss of Bush in the big picture is Notre Dame’s gain (Weis).
  • 2004Morelli/Brohm. After striking out on Gavin Dickey in ’02, Chris Olsen transferring in ’03, and unproven freshman Brady Quinn leading the Irish depth chart, the Irish needed one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2004’s recruiting class. They struck out on the two that were at the top of their list, losing Morelli to Penn State and Brohm to Louisville. Instead the Irish received commits from David Wolke and Darrin Bragg, both of whom are unlikely to ever to start a game for the Fighting Irish.
  • Specifically since 2001, Notre Dame has numerous head-to-head recruiting losses to the likes of the Irish’s top competition on their schedule at the times (and in the following years that those recruits would play), including USC, Michigan and Florida State. Other losses were to teams who weren’t necessarily among the college football’s elite. Morelli went to Penn State at a time when fans were calling for the head of Joe Paterno. And Brohm went to Louisville who had the nation’s leading offense guided by head coach Bobby Petrino, while Notre Dame lingered near the bottom in the nation statistically.

    However, Weis has done something at Notre Dame that they haven’t been able to do in recent years. Win the head-to-head recruiting battles against the Irish’s top competition, specifically USC.

    Weis failed on five elite recruits he aimed at getting this year. Micah Johnson signed with Kentucky and Gerald McCoy will be attending Oklahoma. Percy Harvin is heading to Florida, while Butch Lewis is off to USC. Steve Brown is headed to Michigan (this loss was offset by the signing of McNeil and Walls). Johnson was recruited by Ohio State, Louisville, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

    But if anybody saw his interview on ESPN’s Cold Pizza, then you realize Johnson picked Kentucky mostly as a result of the relationship he has with his father, an officer in the US Army who is stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

    But perhaps the most important statistic is the to follow. In the past five years, it can be argued that Notre Dame has never won a head-to-head recruiting battle. Each time a recruit had to make a decision, they chose to go somewhere else, and ND had to settle to fill that void spot. This year, Weis & Co. have matched up with USC head-to-head on four recruits thus far. USC won the battle for Lewis. Notre Dame has lost out on McCoy, but this is not as bad for the Irish in the recruiting war since he is heading to Oklahoma. Conceivably the most impressive wins for the Irish in this recruiting season has been the commitments of tight end Konrad Reuland and offensive tackle Sam Young. Both were down to the Trojans and Irish as their final two. Sam Young is the number two rated lineman in the country and Reuland, who is the number two tight end, was plucked right from USC’s backyard. Equally impressive about both is the Irish survived a late push by Pete Carroll to land Young, and Reuland is high school teammates with next year’s potential starting quarterback for the Trojans, Mark Sanchez.

    Weis has also gone into the South, and has received commitments from several players from below the Mason-Dixon line, directly competing with the best the SEC and ACC have to offer. Weis’ prize pick from Big 12 country was Chris Stewart. But supporting his goals to reclaim the Midwest are the commitments from seven players who were four stars or better from within the boundaries of the Big Eleven.

    The 2005 season showed fans what abilities Weis and his staff, bring to the table when it comes to developing their player talent. If he sticks to his blue print — recruiting base from Chicago outward, while taking two or three players from USC each year, and obtaining some of the best the South has to offer, then Notre Dame’s recruiting classes will be perennially in the top five.

    Yes, 2005 proved Notre Dame is back among the nation’s elite on the playing field. The 2006 recruiting season proved that Notre Dame is back among the minds of the blue-chip athletes. And winning head-to-head recruiting battles with our opponents is a huge accomplishment that should not be overlooked, especially when that opponent resides in South Central.

    Uplifting shots are on me stat of the day: Ty got nine players ranked in the top ten at their positions in three years. Notre Dame’s recruiting class of 2006 turns up eight players in the top ten at their positions.


    Yours in silence,

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