Filling needs is the most important factor in recruiting. Based on those criteria, Notre Dame's 2006 class might well have been ranked even higher. Now that the Irish staff has turned its attention to 2007, the overriding question is what positions constitute the areas of most pressing need and how successful will the coaching staff be in addressing these. If early recruiting is any indication, defensive tackle will be a major priority, and two previous areas of need, wide receiver and defensive back, are again going to receive much attention.
Notre Dame signed only one defensive tackle, Paddy Mullen, in the class of 2006. Though the depth chart appears fairly stable for the coming year, this position is going to need an infusion of talent and soon. One player who appears poised to meet that demand is Marvin Austin, DT, 6-2, 292, Calvin Coolidge High School, Washington D.C. Austin is a Scout.com preseason five-star player, and more importantly to Irish fans, he is very interested in Notre Dame.
"Of course," Austin emphatically stated when asked if he had interest in Notre Dame. "It has a great tradition. Notre Dame is ‘the' college football team. When you think college football, the first thing that comes to your mind is Notre Dame."
Irish quarterback coach Peter Vaas is recruiting Austin. He has yet to visit Notre Dame but it is on his "to do" list.
"I haven't been down to Notre Dame but I'm definitely looking forward to it," said Austin. "I talked to coach Vaas during football season. He's e-mailed and sent letters—we've been in touch."
Notre Dame has made a strong impact on Austin but competition for his services will be heavy. USC is already in the mix and Austin has received offers from such major players as Penn State, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Virginia Tech.
Still, despite the competition, hopefully Notre Dame has an ace up its sleeve. Austin is a friend to fellow D.C. native Aurelius Benn, with whom the Irish appear to be in a very strong position.
"That's my man," Austin said of Benn. "We talk about a lot of schools and what they have to offer. Schools that want good guys, good athletes—good student-athletes."
As a junior, Austin compiled 76 tackles, 8 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles and 5 fumble recoveries.
While considerable attention will undoubtedly be paid to defensive tackle, the defensive backfield continues to be a point of concern for the Irish staff and recruiting outstanding athletes there will represent a yearly need. Gary Gray, CB, 5-11, 165, Richland Northeast High School, Columbia, S.C. matches that description.
Stealing a player like Gray right from under Steve Spurrier's nose will be a Herculean task, but if Gray's early comments about Charlie Weis and Notre Dame are any indication, the Irish head coach just might have the muscle to get it done.
"I would love to play for a coach like Coach Weis," said Gray. "He has a winning tradition. He's done it in the NFL and he's doing it in college right now. They have a good academic background, they have a great tradition."
Obviously Gray's enthusiasm for the Irish is being returned in full. Notre Dame has already offered the young defensive back, indicating that Gray will be one of the staff's primary targets on defense. And like many primary targets, his recruiting coach will be Weis himself.
"I got the (Notre Dame) offer in the mail on Monday," said Gray. "He (Weis) told me what he was going to do as far as recruiting me personally. I took a liking to that. I don't think any other head coach is personally recruiting me."
In addition to Notre Dame, Gray currently holds offers from in-state schools South Carolina and Clemson and regional heavyweight Tennessee. He has yet to narrow his list of favorites.
As a junior Gray had 65 tackles, 4 interceptions and 19 pass break-ups. He also accounted for 1500 total yards on offense.
Though defensive recruits will be a top priority for 2007, the staff will not be neglecting the offensive side of the ball. The Irish are looking to add dynamic playmakers at wide receiver. Despite signing five receivers in the 2006 class, Notre Dame appears interested in signing at least three more this year. One of the early targets on the Irish radar screen is Malcolm Williams, WR, 6-3, 205, Garland High School, Garland, Texas.
Williams is not just big but he's also fast with a 4.45 time in the 40. Some schools are considering him for safety but Williams prefers offense.
"I'm an aggressive player," said Williams when asked to describe himself as a wide receiver. "Some people let things happen but I prefer to go out and get it."
Williams already has a top five. His list consists of Texas A&M, Texas, Texas Tech, Florida and Notre Dame. Though the other four schools on his list reside in the South, Williams denies that distance or location will be a factor.
"It really doesn't matter where the school is," Williams explained. "If the school's right for me, I'll go. My mother would like me to go somewhere close so she can come to my games, but she really wants me to go where I'll be happy."
So far, of the five schools on his list, only Texas A&M has offered, but its early and that's certain to change. Williams has said he wants to take his visits before signing and predicted a decision around signing day.
The summaries of these three stories are just a sample of the outstanding Notre Dame recruiting information available each week on Irish Eyes. If you were a subscriber you could also have read the following: