Ty Willingham and his staff have probably identified which positions are need positions for the 2002 recruiting season. Notre Dame has a lot of holes to fill this year in recruiting and it's going to be vital for this staff to hit instead of miss in this recruiting campaign.
The single best thing any staff can do to help their recruiting effort is to win on Saturday. If you win, the players will want to join your program. I do think this team is going to win more games than last year but I am not sure how many more. If this staff does win a lot of games early, recruiting is going to be much easier for them. Let's look at the needs of each position and break it down.
At Quarterback, Notre Dame is going to have to land some true talent this year. Jared Clark has made the move to tight end so that leaves just Carlyle Holiday and Matt LoVecchio as the only two players with any playing experience. Each player has two years left so Notre Dame is set for a couple of years.
Chris Olsen is coming in this year with a strong arm and experience in a similar offense. I am going to guess that Notre Dame will likely take two Qbs this year and both will be pro-style Qbs that throw well but still can move. Total 2.
At Running back, Notre Dame is also going to need to land some quality halfbacks. Notre Dame would have loved to land Lorenzo Booker last year but missed on him in the end. This staff has Julius Jones coming back this year and we all hope he returns to the promise he once showed. Tony Fisher and Terrence Howard have exhausted their eligibility.
Ryan Grant played some last year and looked fantastic in the spring game as well. Marcus Wilson also shows promise as a player. I am going to guess that either Chris Yura or Corey Jones moves to fullback permanently if not both. Notre Dame does have Jeff Jenkins reporting this August to add some depth. I am going to guess that Notre Dame will take two halfbacks. They would love to land two very talented players. Ideally, I think you would love a true halfback with another guy who is a little smaller, very quick and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Total 2.
Fullback is going to be an exciting thing to watch this year. Notre Dame has both Tom Lopienski and Mike McNair back this year for one final year. Neither has proven they can catch the ball well out of the backfield and McNair hasn't proved he can do much of anything yet. This might be the year we see McNair shine but fullback is very short on players and experience after this year.
I do think Chris Yura will be a fullback this year but this is his last year. Corey Jones or Rashon Powers-Neal will likely be moved to this position. Notre Dame does have Nate Shiccatano reporting in August and many people believe he will also play fullback. Notre Dame will need a fullback this year and a player who can catch the ball. He will also have to be able to block and run with ball. Total 1.
Wide receiver has been such a problem area for Notre Dame in the past. The good news is that coach Davie and his staff left some quality players. Coach Willingham and his staff recruited two very talented players to play wide receiver this year.
Is this the year Arnaz Battle finally shows his potential? Arnaz hasn't been healthy and the previous staff didn't get him the ball when he was healthy. I think coach Diedrick will get Arnaz the ball and often. It would be a crime for Arnaz not to touch the ball 10 times a game or more.
One name out of spring ball that kept being mentioned was sophomore Carlos Campbell. I heard a lot of wonderful things about Carlos all spring long and he appears ready to play a lot this fall. Ronnie Rodamer has three years left as well but cannot remain healthy. Omar Jenkins has made some nice plays in his career and has two years left. Matt Shelton has 4 years remaining and was making some noise this spring as well. Matt has blazing speed and is developing the hands to go with his speed.
Notre Dame does have two potential stars in Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight reporting in August. The highlight film for both players showed tremendous play-making potential. Many are projecting them to see playing time this year but the 4 mentioned above will make them earn it.
I do think Notre Dame will likely take two more wide receivers in this class. With Notre Dame moving towards a more balanced attack, they will need more wide receivers and hopefully some that can stretch the field. The need at least one wide receiver that is a threat for the deep ball every time he is on the field. Total 2.
Tight end is going to be another position that will be very interesting to watch. Gary Godsey is back for two more years and has developed into a nice tight end. He isn't going to kill you while running after the catch but he is 6' 7" and 260 pounds so he makes a nice target. It has long been my thought that Billy Palmer should move to offensive guard because they need him at offensive line. Palmer has lost some weight and is slated to play tight end again this year. He has 2 years remaining and is a nice compliment to Godsey.
Matt Root and Jared Clark appear to be the future at tight end. Root came in with a knee injury and appears to be completely healed. I heard he really started to shine this spring so look for big things from him in the future. Clark moves from quarterback to tight end. He has plenty of athletic ability to play the position and the right size as well. He will need to add weight but has more athletic ability than the others ahead of him.
Notre Dame does have two top quality tight ends reporting in August. Anthony Fasano is a natural tight end catching 78 balls for 1460 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior. I can't remember seeing such impressive stats from any tight end. Marcus Freeman is also one heck of an athlete. His film shows a very graceful athlete full of potential.
Notre Dame appears to be set at Tight End for the future. They might take another tight end depending on if all the current players stick at tight end. Freeman could play defensive end as well. I don't think they will take a tight end. Total 0.
Offensive line is going to be a need position this year. Notre Dame is pretty thin on the offensive line after this year. Sean Mahan, Ryan Scarola and Jordan Black exhaust their eligibility after this year. Brennan Curtin and Jeff Faine and Sean Milligan have two years remaining but many think Faine will opt for the NFL draft next year. Jim Molinaro and Ryan Gillis have two years left but neither has proven they can play the position yet.
After these guys, you have all sophomores this year who have yet to play a down of football. Dan Stevensonand Mark LeVoir appear to be the most advanced at this point. Darin Mitchell and Zach Giles are rumored to have a ways to go yet but show potential.
Reporting in August are James Bonelli (OG), Scott Raridon (OT), Bob Morton (OC) and Jamie Ryan (OG). I was impressed with all of them on film but Ryan is recovering from a blot clot and you never know how those things turn out.
Notre Dame is horrendously thin on offensive line. They will likely take at least 5 and need one that can play the difficult left tackle position. I would think that they would recruit two that can play left tackle because they are very thin at left tackle. Total 6.
Defensive line is also very thin. Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell have two years remaining, which is the good news. Ryan Roberts has his final year this year. Kyle Budinscak has three years remaining and will likely play both defensive end and defensive tackle this year. He showed great promise last year after coming in with little fanfare.
Greg Pauly came to Notre Dame with a lot of accolades and a bum knee. His knee is healthy now and he looked good in the spring game. He has three years left as well. Jason Sapp has three remaining at defensive end but has played very little. Many think the future at defensive end is Justin Tuck. A freak of nature in the Jevon Kearse mold and has shown much promise in the spring.
The good news is Willingham and his staff has addressed some of the defensive line needs in this current group reporting in August. Travis Leitko (DE), Chris Frome (DE), Brian Mattes (DE), Dan Santucci (DE) and Derek Landri (NG) are all reporting in August. Not all of the 4 listed will play defensive end and probably a couple will move inside to a defensive tackle spot.
Notre Dame will likely continue to recruit some defensive line positions. I think they will likely be after the speed rush type of defensive end in this class. I am going to guess they will go after two that can really get after the quarterback and probably one guy who can play inside. Total 3.
Linebacker is kind of thin as well. Notre Dame missed last year at the linebacker positions and can't afford to miss again. Some players might be moved to this position but the staff has yet to really move anyone. Rashon Powers-Neal was a linebacker. Corey Jones could also be a candidate.
Carlos Pierre-Antoine is in his final year. Courtney Watson should start the next two years. Pat Ryan, Mike Goolsby and Justin Thomas have two years left. None has much playing experience. Jerome Collins, Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte possess a wealth of talent and should be names we hear a lot of in the future. All have at least 3 years of eligibility left.
The problem is, Notre Dame has zero linebacker prospects reporting in August. Coach Davie always seemed to fail in balance between the classes. To be successful, I think you need to bring in players at each position in every class. Notre Dame will likely take 3. One for each position. Total 3.
What appeared to be a real strength quickly became a weakness with the loss of Donald Dykes and Abe Elam from the football team. Elam had vast potential and was likely a high draft pick. Dykes was a solid player who added depth to a talented safety position. Notre Dame is now thin at the safety position.
Gerome Sapp has been hurt but when healthy, he shows the talent he possesses. The problem is, this is his last year. Glenn Earl has gone from sleeper to potential star. He can't stay healthy but when he is playing, he has star potential. He didn't play in the spring game either.
After that, Notre Dame will likely have to play a walk-on in Matt Sarb. Sarb is actually a very talented player and fierce hitter but that is how thin they are. Lionel Bolen will likely move in the fall but he showed play-making ability at cornerback in the spring game.
Jake Carney is the only safety coming in. After viewing film, he is likely a strong safety candidate and hits very well. Notre Dame will take at least two. Total 2.
Cornerback is now the strength of the team. Shane Walton has gone from walk-on to Mr. dependable in a few short years. This is his last year but what a great story he has been. Vontez Duff has the most potential out of any cornerback they have recruited in a long time. He has two years left and we should see some great things from him.
Jason Beckstrom has been a solid player his entire career. He was hurt last year but plays well when healthy. Notre Dame has Preston Jackson, Dwight Ellick and Quentin Burrell as backups as well. Jackson appears the most likely to see playing time and Burrell is a candidate to be switched to free safety this year as well. I have heard good things about all three of these players.
Mike Richardson reports in August. He is a sleeper candidate and I am not sure why. He is 6-2 175 and can run. There wasn't much film of him playing cornerback but that is where they would like him to play. He has a tremendous amount of athletic ability. If he isn't a cornerback, he will be one heck of a free safety. Notre Dame will likely take two corners. Total 2.
Special teams are special. You only need to watch the first 3 years of Davie's tenure to understand how important special teams are. Notre Dame has one of the best kickers in the country in Nicholas Setta. The kid has iron will and confidence that can't be shaken. He has two years left. Notre Dame has an equally good punter in Joey Hildbold. Hildbold only has one year left so a new punter is needed. Setta can handle the job if need be and they have David Miller back for another year as well.
This will likely be the year that Willingham goes after a kicker and punter. He will at least take a punter but every coach is looking for a guy who can do both. Notre Dame will look long and hard for a guy who can do both well. I expect them to take at least one and he will be able to punt. Total 1.
I do believe Notre Dame will give the full 25 allotted scholarships. With the loss of Abe Elam and Lorenzo Crawford, Notre Dame will be thin and able to take the full 25. That leaves one extra from my list of projected scholarships. That scholarship will come from an athlete that can play a number of positions. Wide receiver, cornerback or tailback likely will be the positions. I am going to guess it will be a halfback because they have the athleticism to move to other positions.
This class will be very influential on the success of coach Willingham's career at Notre Dame. History has shown most first year head coaches do a good job in the first year of recruiting but gain momentum with their second class. Coach Davie and Holtz had much better second classes so expect the talent to be up in this class from the last class. If this staff can win a lot of games this year, I fully believe they will have a hugely successful class. The future of Notre Dame football depends on it.