Searching For Signal-Callers

After signing a five-star signal-caller in its previous two recruiting classes, Notre Dame did not ink a quarterback this past signing day. For the class-of-2010, the Irish staff has made this position a priority.

Head coach Charlie Weis and company would like to see two quarterbacks sign next February, that have the ability to eventually push Jimmy Clausen, Dayne Crist, Nate Montana and each other for playing time and positioning on the depth chart.

So far, Weis has extended scholarship offers to six prospects he thinks fits that bill. They are Jake Heaps, Devin Gardner, Connor Wood, Nick Montana, Blake Bell and Austin Hinder.

The Irish staff can already cross the 6-foot-4, 203-pound Wood off its list. In mid-February, the top-100 player from Houston, gave a verbal commitment to the in-state Longhorns, just three days after Notre Dame extended him a scholarship.

While Wood is off the board, Notre Dame appears to be in good early shape with the other offered quarterbacks.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Heaps is one of just 10 players to earn five-star status, and is currently ranked as the best quarterback in the country. Back in August, Weis showed Heaps how important he is, by leaving one of Notre Dame's practices to take a phone call from the Skyline High (Issaquah, Wash.) standout and offer him a scholarship. Weis has never done that for any other recruit.

"It was an honor," Heaps told Irish Eyes back when he was offered. "I was completely star struck. I was like oh man, you have to be kidding me. It's definitely a great honor when a coach wants to talk to you that bad to leave his own practice. I definitely understand the circumstance of that, and am very honored and grateful he thinks that highly of me.

"I was talking on the phone with him and I was just going, I was watching this guy on TV and he was calling the plays for Tom Brady. It's funny how things work and how the world goes. It was definitely a cool thing to talk with coach Weis and I look forward to continuing my relationship with him."

Heaps has done just that, remaining in regular touch with Weis and Ianello. Both Weis and Ianello actually attended one of Heaps' games this past fall when the Irish were in Seattle to play Washington during the season.

Heaps remains adamant that he will visit South Bend for the first time in the coming months. Notre Dame cracked his initial top-10, and will likely stay among the leaders until he visits. After that, the Irish staff should know exactly where they stand.

This past season, Heaps threw for 2,910 yards, 38 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He completed 65 percent of his passes, helping lead Skyline to another state championship. The three-year starter has not lost a game in his prep career.

Heaps wants to decide before his senior season, and though he has a top-10, is still evaluating the majority of his offers.

The next quarterback Weis offered is Gardner. The Inkster (Mich.) High standout is a top-100 player, and likely the best in the state of Michigan.

"They have a nice pro-style system, and the game atmosphere is real live too," Gardner told Irish Eyes when he was offered back in January. He camped in South Bend over the summer, and returned in the fall for the Michigan game. "They have a real nice campus, and they have real good academics."

Gardner is looking to return to Notre Dame for a third time this spring, and keeps in touch with Weis and assistant coach Corwin Brown.

This past season, the Gardner tossed 26 touchdown passes, and ran for 22 more scores, leading Inkster to the state championship game. Notre Dame was his 11th scholarship offer. Places like LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Cincinnati have also stepped to the table with full-rides.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Gardner isn't sure if he'll make a decision this summer and claims no favorites.

With the importance of trying to land two quarterbacks, Weis made his next three quarterback offers in February.

Wood was the first to get one. The next one went to the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Montana, who needs no introduction to Notre Dame fans.

The son of former Irish quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, and the younger brother of sophomore-to-be Nate Montana, Weis wanted to iron out some details before offering the Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) High standout.

"We talked about my brother being there and the whole situation with that, and then he told me he was going to offer me," Montana told Irish Eyes when he was offered.

"With my brother being there, he wanted to make sure he didn't disturb the brotherhood thing. He wanted to make sure my brother was alright with it, and I was alright with it. It was good."

Montana is also high on the offer, with both of his sisters attending Notre Dame as well. For the time being, Montana is keeping his options open, but it's hard not to imagine the Irish aren't one of his leaders alongside places like Ohio State, LSU, South Carolina and Stanford.

This past fall, Montana completed 133-of-241 passes (55 percent) for 2,404 yards and 33 touchdowns. He only threw seven interceptions, helping lead his team to a 14-0 record and the Southwest Section Northwest Division championship.

Montana has been to Notre Dame's campus several times over the years, and will return again for the spring game in April.

Bell was the next quarterback to catch Weis' eye. The top-100 player, and likely best player in the state of Kansas, was excited to land his Irish offer.

"Since I'm Catholic and I go to Bishop Carroll, a private catholic school, there is a lot of Notre Dame fans in our school and in our community by being catholic," Bell explained to Irish Eyes when he got his offer. "It's a big honor. It's Notre Dame. Coach Weis has coached a lot of big-time quarterbacks, guys like Tom Brady, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen. It's a big-time program and a big-time school, and that's why I'm so interested in them."

Bell claims no favorites, but it's obvious he is high on Oklahoma. He said he won't eliminate Notre Dame from consideration until he visits this spring or summer.

Last fall, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Bell threw for more than 3,200 yards and 37 touchdowns, to just eight interceptions. The Golden Eagles finished 9-2.

Weis next turned his attention towards Steamboat Springs (Colo.) High, where Hinder has shown he is one of the nation's best. Like Bell, the top-100 player was excited about Notre Dame, and plans to visit sometime this spring or summer to give the program a good look.

"It's awesome," Hinder stated to Irish Eyes about his Notre Dame offer. "Very exciting. Such a great program with Charlie Weis there. He's done so many things with quarterbacks these days, and it's such a well-known program, it was really exciting."

So is Hinder's game. This past season, the dual-threat passer completed 67 percent of his passes (90-of-134) for 1,228 yards and 16 touchdowns, to just four interceptions.

The 6-foot-5, 180-pound Hinder claims no favorites, but is obviously attracted to his offers from Alabama, California and Colorado as well.

Though Notre Dame isn't the clear-cut leader for any of these uncommitted prospects, they are currently getting legitimate consideration for the time being. Other quarterbacks to keep an eye on, as the Irish staff is too, is Peter Thomas, Chandler Whitmer, Kyle Smith and Ryan Kasdorf. Top Stories