Kyle Rudolph spent most of his time in South Bend with John Carlson, being shown around campus and going with him to those team meetings. They later went out to eat with a few other players and saw a movie.
"The players, when you're up there for the spring they are kind of there to help you," Rudolph began to explain. "Obviously they have practice, but when I was up there, John Carlson did a lot for me. He showed me around and I was kind of shadowing him. On a game weekend I wouldn't be able to do that."
Hence the importance of spring football on the recruiting process. It's becoming as important, and in some ways better and more beneficial than an official visit by a prospect in the fall.
With a prep standout like Rudolph's recruitment starting earlier and earlier than in years past, spring camp has become a more integral part in wooing a prospect. On top of that, as Rudolph said, a school's coaches and players can give out way more personal attention than say on a game weekend where the primary focus is on getting the job done on the field.
The Irish have had several recruits on campus this spring getting personal attention, viewing practice and touring the University. Most of the players visiting are in driving distance from the school, like Rudolph who hails from nearby Cincinnati. At today's practice a few players made it in despite the winter weather conditions including defensive tackle Brandon Newman from Kentucky and linebacker Darius Fleming from Chicago.
Some kids are driving in from far away like Nebraska product Trevor Robinson has, or flying in from California like Anthony McDonald did today. The point is, more kids are trying to visit schools during their spring breaks.
"Well, I think the big problem, or maybe it's not the problem, it's just the lay of the land now, is recruiting has been pushed back so much, a lot of these guys are making decisions before they even get to the season," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said. The Irish have already secured six verbal commitments for the class of 2008. "There'll be half of them that have made decisions before September even rolls around. So I think that a lot of them are just trying to gather information. Some of them are closer, some of them are just on fact-finding missions, but I think obviously the ones that have the opportunity to visit a number of schools, it gives them a better chance of making what they feel is the best decision for them."
In Rudolph's case, he had already made his decision to attend Notre Dame before taking in a spring practice, but it was still valuable for him to visit.
"It reinforced my decision after being around the players and seeing spring practice and what I'm going to go through up there."
For guys like Fleming, it's an opportunity to compare one school's style of practice with another.
"I think there is definitely some value of them seeing you practice, but it is spring practice," Weis said. "I think it just gives them an opportunity to gain more information. There will be plenty of guys that commit to places that they don't watch them practice in the spring. It's just one more bit of evidence that they get. Like we are one of those teams, when we start practice, by the time we end practice, we're only on the field two hours. We start at 4:15, we end at 6:15. So there is a lot of stuff that goes on in a short amount a time."
Even though coming up for a spring practice might not be the most important element, it helps strengthen a relationship between a recruit and coaching staff. There is just more intimate contact than on a game-day visit, and especially than a phone call, email or text message.
"I think one of the key things when these guys make decisions, one of the things they want to do is have a feeling for the coaches and their future teammates," Weis said. "I think that's significant. I think they want to know what it's going to feel like being around the coaches and being around the players. Seeing whether or not they fit in or not. I'd say that is significant."
Another significant part of visiting Notre Dame is the academic side of things. Whether a recruit visits in the spring, summer or fall, they have academic appointments where they learn the lay of the land from that aspect. And if a recruit has more time to talk and visit, like say the spring, even those meetings strengthen a school‘s chances of receiving a commitment from a recruit.