Like you, I make my little wish list every year of prospective recruits. I'll say "if Notre Dame can sign these guys, this will be an outstanding class." And for the first time in many, many years, my initial wish list looks very similar to the list that Irish head coach Charlie Weis and his coaching will sign today.
Early in the recruiting season Notre Dame targeted four top quarterbacks--Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones, Mitch Mustain and Matt Stafford. Stafford made it known early that the Irish were not in his plans, but Frazer, Jones and Mustain all were very interested in Notre Dame. The Irish signed Frazer and Jones, and could've had Mustain as well, despite whatever is said out there.
The Irish targeted their men and went out and got their men. Frazer gives the Irish a very big and strong classic pro-style quarterback. Frazer has all the physical tools to be a great one at Notre Dame, and even surprised me a bit with his quickness and pocket awareness at the Army All-American game. He should do very well under Charlie Weis' tutelage.
Jones brings a much different dynamic to the quarterback position—his feet. But it would be wrong to discount Jones as an "athletic" quarterback. At 6-4, 205 pounds, Jones is also a solid passing quarterback, throwing for 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. He also added over 1,100 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns on the ground as a junior.
What did Jones do this year as a quarterback? 3,200 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in his senior season. Not too shabby for an "athletic" quarterback.
As well as Notre Dame did at quarterback this season, they did even better at running back. Notre Dame offered three running backs in 2005, and they signed all three of them.
Aldridge certainly impressed us with his Army All-American practices and is already enrolled in school. As a five-star player, everyone expects Aldridge to challenge Darius Walker and Travis Thomas for playing time in the fall. There's no question Aldridge has all the talent to be a great player. We'd be surprised if we didn't see him on the field in 2006.
Luke Schmidt was also a highly-rated four-star prospect. Schmidt finished his senior season with 2,200 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. Many expect Weis to use Schmidt as a big back, much in the way he used Rashon Powers-Neal earlier in 2005. But can he be a fullback? Will he push Asaph Schwapp and Ashley McConnell on the depth chart? He clearly has the size already at 6-4, 235 pounds.
Munir Prince was only rated a three-star prospect, but I firmly believe that happened because he committed early, and Scout.com never received his film. Prince has that extra gear that seems to be lacking in Notre Dame's backfield, and the quick feet to dart through holes. The most important question will be: Where will Prince play? He could play running back, receiver or defensive back, and I could see him excelling at all three positions in the future.
Notre Dame targeted a number of top wide receiver prospects and ended up signing four. Most had hoped for targets that could stretch the field vertically, and I honestly think Notre Dame landed that in this class. I think Irish fans will be pleasantly surprised by this group's ability to get deep in the vertical passing game.
Admittedly, it was only one game, but watching Rob Parris light up Mishawaka Penn on an early September evening made a believer out of me. Parris has been likened to Jeff Samardzija—a comparison he loves to hear—but I'll be even more bold as to say that I believe Parris might have even a little more speed that the 2005 All-American Samardzija. Parris was setting the world on fire before succumbing to injury halfway through his senior season. He recorded 34 catches, 675 yards 12 touchdowns during the first half of his senior year. Yes he's recovering from hip surgery, but with a full recovery he should make an early name for himself in the near future.
What's not to like about Richard Jackson? He's got size (6-2, 200 pounds), and he has surprising speed. Jackson also has the knack for making the miraculous look easy. He reminds me a lot of Rhema McKnight on film, and if he's that good in person, the Irish got a big steal with Jackson's signature. It also wouldn't hurt to have a Southern Florida kid do well early for Charlie Weis when recruiting the talent-rich state.
Secretly I was grinning from ear to ear to hear the reports coming out of the Army All-American practices regarding Gallup's skills. I've always been a guy who rooted for the underdog, and Gallup represents the role well. Great kid, underappreciated and undervalued, and guy who just keeps jumping over every obstacle put in front of him. You can't deny his quickness or athleticism. Gallup rushed 1,700 yards and chipped in 500 receiving yards while scoring 26 touchdowns during his senior season. The real question is: Does he have the type of speed to outrun the best defensive backs? It sounded like he did against the nation's best in San Antonio so hopefully Gallup will silence his doubters once again when he arrives this summer.
George West already impresses me for his unselfish "team" attitude by enrolling early into Notre Dame to help out his new team. It was obvious West wasn't completely sold on this idea, but he certainly "took one for the team." All I know is last time we checked West had seven kick and punt returns for touchdowns and he was injured all year long. I don't care who you're playing against, anyone who returns seven kicks or punts for touchdowns has something special. West will certainly get a look at receiver, and by enrolling early he'll have a head start on the rest of the receivers in this class. I'd also expect to see him on special teams a lot in 2006.
Notre Dame did sign a good group of wide receivers in this class, but they did miss on some of their very top targets as well. Normally I'd grade this group lower, but I really think this group is better than their star ratings. Personally, I'd take Rob Parris over David Ausberry any day of the week.
This is pretty simple. Notre Dame offered two tight ends and landed both. Mullen is likely headed to defensive line so we'll list him here, but mainly talk about him as a defender. Reuland is a five-star recruit and obviously highly recruited.
Reuland gives the Irish a player that likely can come in and play right away. He has a lot of potential to be a guy who can stretch the field vertically, but he also should add some excellent blocking to go with his hands.
Another positive with the Reuland signing is the Irish beat rival USC for his service in their back yard. If Notre Dame is going to get back to the top of the college football world they're going to have to start landing the very best players available more often. Reuland fits that mold.
Heading into this recruiting campaign offensive line was deemed the most important need in both numbers and talent. Once again the Irish staff hit a home run on both quantity and quality.
Notre Dame offered a group of eight offensive linemen early in the campaign and ended up landing four of the eight. The second round of offers also produced two more commitments in this class.
As I said above about Reuland, it's vital that the Irish start landing the very best players at all positions, and Notre Dame did just that when they landed five-star recruit Sam Young. Young's 6-7, 300-pound frame will certainly fit in at a needed tackle position. Someone will have to replace Ryan Harris after next year and many think Young is the man to do it. But don't be surprised to see Young competing for the starting right tackle position this season. And the best news about Young's commitment? The Irish beat the Trojans again for Young.
Matt Carufel was another top player that the Irish offered early. The four-star prospect chose the Irish over schools like Miami, Iowa and Florida. At 6-5, 290 pounds, Carufel will likely play guard for the Irish.
The Irish decided they needed an offensive center in this class and they landed their No. 1 center target in Dan Wenger. The Irish were behind a number of top schools like Florida and Penn State after a late start, but the Irish won out in the end. Almost everyone has Wenger ranked at the No. 1 center prospect in the country, and he proved that with an outstanding week of practice at the Army All-American bowl.
Another player who dominated at the Army All-American week was massive guard prospect Chris Stewart. Listed at 6-5, 360 pounds, Stewart is light on his feet. He more than held his own against consensus No. 1 defensive tackle Gerald McCoy all week in practice. Stewart, a four-star prospect, has already enrolled in Notre Dame, and the winter conditioning and spring practices should help Stewart prepare for a starting position in 2007.
Eric Olsen is another four-star offensive guard prospect who will sign with the Irish. Olsen comes from the famed Brooklyn Poly Prep high school and is listed at 6-5, 300 pounds. We've heard Olsen made a huge jump his senior season and might even be a better prospect than most anticipated earlier in the year. He jumped from a three-star to a four-star prospect on Scout.com after Scout's experts viewed his senior film.
Finally, the Irish signed another top offensive tackle target in Bartley Webb. Webb received one of the first official offers from Charlie Weis and jumped on board in early August. The four-star prospect also participated in the Army All-American game and is considered a right tackle prospect.
It's been awhile since the Irish signed an offensive line class with this much talent and numbers. I'm not sure Notre Dame has ever had an O-line haul like this one.
Overall the Irish signed three five-star prospects and seven four-star prospects on the offensive side alone in 2006. Obviously this group has the chance to be outstanding over the next few years, and more importantly, they've landed the most impressive group of offensive linemen that I can remember the Irish signing in many, many years to build this offense around.
The good news for Irish fans is that this coaching staff has already proven they know what to do with talent when it arrives on campus. I expect to see a lot of these players make a big impact on the field for the Irish in the next four years.