2006 appears to be shaping up to be an outstanding year for Notre Dame fans. In February the Irish will likely sign what many consider to be a top five recruiting class or higher, and Notre Dame will likely head into fall camp ranked in the top five in all polls leading into the 2006 football season.
But the good news doesn't end there. Head coach Charlie Weis and his staff are currently out prospecting for more top players, and the 2007 recruiting class is shaping up to be one to remember.
Winning cures all
At this time last year it seemed almost every media source known to man were lining up to pile on the plight of the Irish. Every day it seemed ESPN led the charge to kick Notre Dame one more time while the Irish searched for their next head football coach. The Irish were certainly done and insignificant in college football according to many of these talking heads.
Charlie Weis was, according to these "experts," Notre Dame's desperate reach to land a coach, any coach, to silence the critics.
But they certainly didn't count on him winning, and Weis did plenty of winning in his first season, spoiling the pity parties of the many lining up to say "I told you so." Instead, the proverbial pie is on the face of this lot, even though some are too stubborn to admit it (Eh, Mr. May?).
However, being a member of the media is a great job because you rarely have to be held accountable for anything you say. What a gig!
What a difference a little effort can make
Taking a little peek through the archives to research this story had me chuckling a bit. I took a peek back to 2004 to see how drastically things have changed since the arrival of Charile Weis.
If you were following recruiting in 2004 you'll remember that Notre Dame's July football camp appeared to be the main importance for the Irish staff and many hopeful prospects—"come to camp, earn an offer" appeared to be what the Irish were selling.
Notre Dame was coming off a successful 10-3 season and had plenty of momentum to build for the future despite a disappointing ending to the 2003 season. They had just inked one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory and had plenty of buzz surrounding the program. Unfortunately the buzz died, or at least wasn't properly nurtured.
The Irish were trying to woo quarterbacks Anthony Morelli and Brian Brohm early in the 2004 recruiting season, but neither landed an official offer for quite some time (August). Many felt Brohm was a lock to sign with the Irish, but neither showed up to camp ‘to earn their offer.' In the end, Notre Dame lost out on both, and quarterback recruiting became a mess at this point.
Sifting through some older articles, it appeared Notre Dame didn't even offer a single prospect until late June of 2004, and landed their first commitment from running back Justin Hoskins on July 2, 2004.
The Irish struggled to fill out their class at the end of 2004, signing just two offensive linemen, and inking just 17 prospects total. Nine of those prospects, or over half of the class, verbally committed to Notre Dame after January 17. That means the Irish had only eight commitments heading into January.
Contrast that to this year and Notre Dame had landed eight commitments by June 14, 2005, and had already landed one of their top quarterback recruits, as well as their only three offers at running back, and two out of their first three offers at defensive end—oh, and their first offer at tight end as well.
2005 didn't seem to be any different for Notre Dame recruiting. The Irish, once again, were selling the "come to camp, earn an offer" approach and it backfired once again.
The Irish were wooing another large group of quarterback prospects. Mark Sanchez was certainly the top name. Sanchez didn't show up to compete at camp, but he did come on an unofficial visit to Notre Dame. Unfortunately, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Bill Diedrick wasn't able to be there to meet Notre Dame's top target at quarterback.
To be fair, the date Sanchez was to be there was changed, but funnily, Sanchez and Diedrick never spoke after the fact according to Sanchez—not usually a good way to schmooze your top prospect. Sanchez signed with USC, and Irish fans will likely wish he hadn't in the future.
But the Irish were successful luring many top quarterbacks to Notre Dame's camp. Plenty showed up and competed, but the Irish lost out on another top prospect, Rob Schoenhoft, in what many thought was a misunderstanding. Schoenhoft was leaning towards Notre Dame the entire time, but somehow he ended up at Ohio State. Notre Dame did sign Evan Sharpley, who was one of their top targets all along, so all is well that ends well, I guess….
Willingham was eventually let go, as we all know, but even before the fact, he still only had eight verbal commitments at the end of 2005 football season.
Today is December 14, 2005 and the Irish already have offers out to a number of top junior targets already. Players such as Jimmy Clausen, Ben Martin, Josh Oglesby, Marc Tyler and Ronald Johnson already have spoken to Irish head coach Charlie Weis a number of times, and many have told us they speak to him on a weekly basis.
Chances are the Irish will likely sign a number of these top targets in 2007, and it will be because this Irish coaching staff is out laying the groundwork right now. It will certainly pay off in the near future.
I've been asked many times recently why the Irish are doing so well in recruiting compared to previous years. Winning certainly helps, but effort also goes a long way, and likely will when it comes to the 2007 recruiting class.
Tomorrow we'll take an early look at some top names on the offensive side of the ball for 2007.