Before Rick Mirer talked to anybody, he had to see for himself.
Jordan Genmark Heath – a 6-foot-2, 205-pound safety for Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego via Sweden – told the former Notre Dame/NFL quarterback of his interest in his alma mater.
What Mirer saw was eye opening.
“Jordan told me at the beginning of the year that Notre Dame was his first choice,” said Mirer, who helped lead Notre Dame to 20 victories in 1991-92 – including Sugar and Cotton Bowl victories -- before becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the ’93 NFL draft.
“He was highly recruited, but I hadn’t really seen him play. So I said, ‘Look, man, we’ll see what this team does. I just want to see you play so if I call anybody, I can say I’ve witnessed it.’”
It was a banner season for Cathedral Catholic, which went 15-0 and claimed the California state championship. Genmark Heath made a verbal commitment to Cal. The other half of the Dons’ safety tandem – Morrison Mirer – made a verbal commitment to his father’s alma mater to play lacrosse.
Cathedral Catholic quarterback Tate Haynes, the son of College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes, will play at Boston College as a cornerback. Tight end Patrick Brown also is headed to Chestnut Hill as well, likely as an offensive tackle.
There are several others vying for college football scholarships from Cathedral Catholic, including junior Jake Lynch, a baseball/football player who is the son of former Stanford standout and long-time NFL safety John Lynch.
Morrison Mirer returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in the state championship game to tie the game late before the Dons won in overtime.
“About three weeks into the season, I texted (Irish cornerback coach) Todd Lyght and said, ‘If you don’t know about this kid, you need to,’” said Mirer of Genmark Heath. “They were familiar with him. He had been to a camp there a couple of years ago playing quarterback.
“Todd hit me up about a month-and-a half ago when things started to get a little closer and Notre Dame’s recruiting class turned into a puzzle.”
Watching Genmark Heath on the football field and interacting with him – he and Mirer’s son have become good friends – convinced the former Irish quarterback that the kid had what it took to succeed at Notre Dame.
“He’s athletically confident,” said Mirer of Genmark Heath. “When the team takes the field, he’s leading them and they’re following. There is this power – not that he’s the biggest guy, he’s a couple hundred pounds – but he plays bigger than he is, and when the ball is in the air, he gets the ball.
“On offense, the ball didn’t hit the ground when it was thrown in his direction. He’s laying out, spinning around, and that translates on defense. I don’t remember how many interceptions he had, but on jump balls, he came down with it. Certain guys can do that.”
Genmark Heath’s natural athleticism was obvious on offense, but it’s on defense where his future rests. He was the only player on the undefeated California state championship squad that played regularly on both sides of the football.
“Obviously, he’s athletic as hell and he can do a lot of things,” Mirer said. “But he’s instinctively better as a rangy, physical safety. There were times offensively when a true five-star guy doesn’t get tackled and he got tripped up. He’s more of a defensive guy, and he likes playing defense.
“Notre Dame is a huge opportunity for him. I can see them putting him to use right away. He could immediately help on special teams.”
Mirer also sees a young man emotionally developed beyond his years, due largely to his unique upbringing.
“He’s a very mature kid,” Mirer said. “He carries himself as a mature adult for somebody just finishing high school. He was raised in Sweden. He’s got an interesting background. He’s a worldly kid.
“For some people, going to South Bend is a culture shock. But he’s done all that. He’s been other places. He knows the weather. He’s not just a southern California kid. He’s only been here three or four years.
“I don’t fear the academic workload for a kid like him or the transition onto that campus. He’s the kind of kid that can do that. Todd made a big push about Notre Dame wanting the right kind of guys, and Jordan is that.”
Genmark Heath had options. Cal obviously wanted him badly and USC showed interest. In the end, the frills that come with other programs was not what appealed to Genmark Heath.
“The family had great questions about longevity, the network for the future and if it doesn’t work out in football,” Mirer said. “All the stuff you’re supposed to consider. I can see how a lot of guys get overwhelmed as a freshman, but I don’t see that for him.
“It’s a special kind of commitment when you go to South Bend for four years. If you want a campus full of coeds or fraternities or big city stuff, it’s not like that. He can handle that part. He’s a coachable guy. The biggest test for me is my kid likes him and respects him. He’s a special kid.”
Mirer has a couple of pretty special kids himself. In addition to Morrison matriculating to Notre Dame this fall, there’s high school sophomore Oliver, who is verbally committed to play lacrosse at Michigan.
“He got the offer he wanted and accepted,” Mirer laughed. “He’s wearing Michigan stuff around our house. It’s pretty funny.”
But before he spends any time in Ann Arbor, Mirer will be returning to his alma mater to watch a little lacrosse and football.
“We plan on being there more than we have for the last 20-plus years,” Mirer said. “Our parents are super excited. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if (Morrison) got the itch to try to play football. Jordan and my son might wind up rooming together. We’ll see what happens.
“I think the sky is the limit for Jordan.”