"These kids we have coming in, we're very happy with them," Weis said on Wednesday at a press conference. "I'm not saying it just to sound good. I love the guys we're bringing in here and compliment who we have. It puts me on track to where I can take 20 next year, depending on how many fifth-year guys are coming back. And for the first time since I've been here, we'll be back on track. You have to have a plan and be on track. We're on track."
Things almost fell off track this morning among the Notre Dame faithful. The class number would have been 20 but four-star wide receiver Greg Little of North Carolina decided to de-commit and chose the Tar Heels and head coach Butch Davis. Another Little, offensive lineman Chris (no relation), decided that Georgia was the best destination for him and his four-star status after committing to the Irish a few weeks back. They, along with five-star defensive end Justin Trattou of New Jersey who ended up at Florida after telling Weis he'd be in South Bend, brought the number of commits who changed their mind in the past month to three.
Despite the reversal of fortune among the trio of prep stars, Weis still collected a class of players who probably will be ranked in the top-10 in most recruiting rankings. By the numbers, there are some impressive standouts. Three players were selected to the USA Today All-American team. Seven went to the Army All-American Bowl down in San Antonio, TX. They 18 players came from 12 states with the most hailing from Florida (three). Even though they struck out on some big-time names this recruiting cycle, Weis isn't afraid to go all around the nation to persuade top-notch talent.
"You have to be able to go into Oklahoma for a Matt Romine (offensive lineman) and have it go down between Oklahoma and Notre Dame," Weis said. "You have to be able to go down to Florida and get Armando Allen (running back) to Notre Dame. As I give you winners, I also give you losers. Going after the top players, taking a kid out of his home state is the toughest task you have.
"We're going to recruit nationally."
The biggest catch of the class is quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The quarterback from Westlake Village, CA is the most heralded recruit to land at Notre Dame in some time. He won the Ball Park National High School Player of the Year Award at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Clausen was also honored with USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year. The 6-3, 207-pound signal caller threw a mind-boggling 49 touchdowns to just six interceptions in his senior year to help Oaks Christian to their fourth consecutive state championship. Clausen never lost a game he started.
The reason for the excitement is because of the departure of Brady Quinn. Notre Dame fans will miss the outgoing senior's productivity and experience on the field. Quinn's leap into the NFL leaves the quarterback position wide open with the Irish. As Weis has shown in two years on the field, his offensive system is extremely quarterback friendly. Clausen enrolled early to get a head start on the playbook and will participate in spring ball. As a precautionary measure, Weis has instructed him not to throw any football until the end of February so that his dynamite right arm will be fresh come practice time in March.
"The biggest misnomer is that he's a Hollywood guy because of what happened at the spring game," Weis said of Clausen's announcement at the Hall of Fame last April. "I thought it was cool and some thought it was way overboard. But this guy is kind of quiet. He doesn't walk around campus with a jacket saying, ‘I'm Jimmy Clausen.' He's kind of quiet. He's doing good on-and-off the field. He's working hard. The people at academics say he's doing good. He's probably nothing like the reputation people have other than the fact that he's a fierce competitor that wants to come in and compete for playing time."
Weis hauled in one of the best offensive classes in the country but didn't hit the home run on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Chris Donald and defensive end Ben Martin, both five-star players, both considered the Irish but eventually chose Tennessee. There were others that Notre Dame struck out on that could have made this class even better.
By the way he talks, Weis is enamored with defensive lineman Kerry Neal, who he called a "dynamic pass rusher". Weis envisions Neal as an OLB or DE in new coordinator Corwin Brown's system, which will be played with 3-4 personnel and sometimes employ a 3-4 philosophy. The same goes for Brian Smith of Kansas, who switched last week from Iowa to Notre Dame. The 6-3, 230-pound linebacker is also thought to be in the running for that OLB/DE spot. But for a team that lacked the ability to make plays on the defensive side of the football in prime-time contests, the effort might have fell a little short.
"You have to realize where you are light at numbers and talent," Weis said about recruiting offense vs. defense. "You have to make a concerted effort. The one thing that's happening for our benefit is that we have established more of a definition of what we want to do on defense. We have a definition instead of just recruiting players. You might recruit a defensive lineman that you don't think is very good but in our system he's just what we're looking for. We can't be concerned with recruiting analysis. We need to find fits in the system."