First Major Test for Willingham

It's cold, windy and dismal on campus; just another January Friday in Northern Indiana. But Tyrone Willingham and his coaching staff are doing their best to turn up the heat in the biggest recruiting weekend of the year. The prime target? California running back Lorenzo Booker. IrishEyes has the report from the Joyce Center offices.

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January 18, 2002

Willingham Needs
Big Weekend

The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) Tyrone Willingham’s first game for the record will be this coming August at the Meadowlands versus Maryland. But a better indication of future success may well be determined by how he and his staff succeed this weekend.

A full crop of blue-chip prospects – 15 in total -- have descended on Northern Indiana to view the campus and football facilities. By noon on Friday, the football offices at the Joyce Center had an open house feel, with refreshments set up in the lobby and strapping young men in letter jackets, many with parents in tow, getting a glimpse of Irish football tradition.

The higher authorities didn’t come through with the weather, depending on your perspective. It’s a typical January day this part of the world, dark and windy with multiple layers necessary to cut the chill.

For a complete look at the official visits, check out the "visits" tab on the left-hand navigation bar on the IrishEyes home page. There are 10 "blue-chippers" listed with extended comments on each.

The prospect most desired by Notre Dame Nation is running back Lorenzo Booker of Ventura, California, rated the No. 1 running back in the country. He doesn’t like the cold, but is fond of Willingham and his close friend, offensive lineman James Bonelli, has already committed to the Irish. (See "commit list" also on the IrishEyes home page.)

Booker, 5-11 and 175, has a 40-yard dash time of 4.43. According to Greg Biggins of (part of network of recruiting experts), Booker’s family feels "Willingham would be a great role model" for the running back. Booker, who rushed for more than 5,000 yards his final two years in high school, has already visited Florida State and Washington.

Willingham’s "recruiting" began on Thursday when he met for the first time with his current team. The new coach earned rave reviews.

"My first impression is that the guy is really pushing us to win," said center Jeff Faine, an All-American caliber returnee. "He is all business, very focused. There wasn’t any slouching over in chairs in the meeting."

Willingham instructed his team to report to the Loftus Center at 6:20 a.m. on the dot Friday for weight training and conditioning. There were no stragglers.

"This is fantastic," said tight end candidate Billy Palmer, suddenly a player with a future in Willingham’s more diverse offense. "He has a great presence. There’s an impact with everything he says."

"He’s all about winning, nothing else," said cornerback Vontez Duff.

Prep quarterback and official weekend visitor Chris Olsen, who committed to Bob Davie in the fall, has strengthened his resolve to enroll at Notre Dame after talking to Willingham.

"I told North Carolina State ‘no’ and I’m firmly committed to Notre Dame," Olsen said. "I’m really excited to be here, especially with the type of offense coach Willingham is going to run."

Willingham is attempting to play catch-up this weekend after Notre Dame fell into a recruiting hole by canceling its annual football banquet in December. The Irish have fallen out of consideration with several quality prospects, including Dominique Byrd, Gavin Dickey and Julian Jenkins. Lineman Jeremy Van Alstyne also changed his verbal from ND to Michigan, though he has also told he has not reached a final decision.

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