Weis Aims High, Scores Big

Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis set out during this recruiting season with three goals in mind: to load up on offensive linemen and secondary personnel and land two top quarterbacks. After a few down years on the trail, the Irish struck back in huge fashion and achieved these lofty goals.

Weis announced 27 new members of the Notre Dame football team on Tuesday afternoon, snagging the Irish a possible top-five national recruiting class on Signing Day. Three of the players, running back James Aldridge, offensive lineman Chris Stewart and wide receiver George West, enrolled early and are already attending Notre Dame in preparation to participate in spring practice. The class is highlighted by six offensive linemen, five defensive backs and two quarterbacks that bring their own unique style of play to South Bend. Weis was even surprised by the final group of star players that he had landed.

"This year was beyond my initial expectations," Weis said. "I'm really happy with this class. I told everyone in this class that this was going to be the class that started Notre Dame back to the top. That doesn't mean we don't have a chance to compete this year or next year. I'm talking about perennially being at the top."

Weis can certainly exhale for the time being. After leading Notre Dame to a 9-3 record and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl in his first year as head coach, Weis continued the momentum of the program by signing a class deep in numbers and talent. The numbers game was possible because of a decision made last season by Weis and his staff.

"We made a decision to only take 15 players on scholarship," Weis said about last year's class. "There were another five guys we could have gone ahead and taken it to 20 bodies out there. But we felt that we would rather save the numbers for this year and towards the future."

That enabled a sweeping effort to address some needs. After next season, Notre Dame will be hit hard by graduation losses on the offensive line. The problem was solved by landing six offensive linemen, led by 6-7, 292-pound offensive tackle Sam Young of Coral Springs, Florida.

Another recurring issue was the inability of the secondary to stop the big passing play. Ohio State's duo of Ted Ginn, Jr. and Santonio Holmes showed the Irish that speed kills in the 34-20 loss at the Fiesta Bowl and the performance of Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith catapulted him onto a lot of pundits' short lists for next year's Heisman Trophy. Weis and crew tackled this need by securing five commitments from defensive backs, led by the duo of Cooleemee, North Carolina's Raeshon McNeil and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Darrin Walls.

Notre Dame also scored big in that it didn't have to wait until Signing Day to land a top-notch recruit. Most of the signees, with the exception of Young's announcement last week, had verbally committed months ago. Weis did say that in the future, if the player was talented enough, that he would wait it out until the last possible second. Notre Dame did not have one player de-commit from their original intentions and it allowed the staff to start preparations for next year's class.

"We only had one official visit this month and that was Sam Young," Weis said. "We've been spending the month of January on me going and seeing every guy that was a "yes" here and working on junior recruiting.

"This was a no sweat day. This is sort of anti-climatic. You sit up there and wonder how things are going to happen. Everything kind of fell in line. They fax us, they'd call us and then we moved on."

There is a benefit for these incoming freshmen: Weis is unafraid to play freshmen in big spots. Last season, 11 of the 15 true freshmen saw game action at some point during the year. The philosophy is simple: play the best guy whether he is a grizzled veteran or a wide-eyed freshmen.

"Anytime you have a senior starter departing, that position is wide open," Weis said. "Anytime there is a senior starter departing, you have to say there is a chance for a young guy to work his way into the mix faster. That doesn't mean that any senior returning is etched in stone.

"I'm not in love with anyone. I'm in love with the guys who give us the best chance of winning. If a freshman can come in and beat out a senior, so be it. That's what gets you fired is playing a guy just because he's a senior. You got to play the best guys who give you the best chance to win."

Weis also let college football know that this high-powered recruiting haul is not a one-year wonder.

"We're going to have to have another killer class next year," Weis said.

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