February 03, 2009

Manti Te'o, Recuiting, and why ND needs more Polynesians to compete with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and USC

First of all, I hope all ND fans are saying a couple prayers tonight that we land Manti Te'o tomorrow on Signing Day. He would be the type of difference-making recruit that ND has not had in a long time on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously there are a lot of conflicting reports out there about whether he is going to ND or USC or UCLA, but I believe that we are definitely in the mix. USC has all kinds of advantages here between the weather, the diversity on their campus, and their tradition of producing first round picks in the pros/winning championships (which we can't really offer these days), but it sounds like Te'o's dad really wants him to go to ND. Should be incredibly tense over the next 24 hours. If we land Te'o, that would be huge.

A couple thoughts on this Te'o situation:

1) The Recruiting Budget - Ok, thinking this through for a bit. I believe that we have been to visit Te'o three times now in Hawaii, and I think we've sent multiple coaches there on each trip. Just thinking on what all these Hawaii trips entailed.

We're probably talking anywhere from 6-8 round trip tickets to Hawaii, hotels, rental cars, etc. That's probably $15,000-20000! That's amazing for one kid. And the amount of time traveling to Hawaii and back is significant. Probably 10 hours each way. That is a lot of time and effort and money to go after this kid.

Is ND basically working with a bottomless recruiting budget these days?? It seems like we are. Have we always had this type of recruiting budget?? I get the impression that we have really stepped up the spending on recruiting. Weis and Polian and Corwin are literally EVERYWHERE these days. And Ianello is logging all kinds of miles in the Midwest.

We must be up at the very top or near it for recruiting expenditures I would imagine. We are recruiting nationally, and we seem to have unlimited funds. No matter what happens with Charlie Weis, I hope we keep those policies in place. We are the Yankees of college football in terms of money, so we might as well use it to our advantage.

It seems like we have really stepped up our presence in California in the last few years. Polian gets a lot of heat from ND fans, but he is really doing a lot of leg work out there. And it sounds like we are in on a bunch of guys already for 2010 in California.

2) Polynesian recruits -- Whether or not we land Te'o, I think the more important result of this whole process is that Weis is trying to open doors to the magical land of Polynesian football players. CRITICAL.

We've been talking this up on this site for a few months now, but it bears repeating. These Samoan/Polynesian guys are becoming a revolutionary force in football. It seems like every Pac 10 and Mountain West school has been grabbing these guys up in the last 5-10 years, and all of them seem to pan out. I haven't seen a lot of them in the offensive skill positions yet, but there are a ton of good Samoan defensive players. D-linemen, LBs, and DBs. I don't know what it is about the Polynesian bloodlines, but these guys are perfectly made for football. Strong, physical, athletic, tough, and instinctive. These guys aren't maybe the typical "ND man" and probably aren't shopping at Brooks Brothers, but they know how to play football. And honestly, a lot of these guys are really intelligent and good guys. Polamalu is a really good guy and a family man.

ND has had a lot of problems recently getting extremely athletic (read: black) guys on defense. Don't kid yourself. Paul Hornung was right. ND does not recruit the black athlete that you see at these other schools. The types of guys that you see on SEC rosters who start out as raw 2 star types with bad nutrition and bad fundamentals and then turn into stud NFL prospects once they get into the weight room and get some good coaching. Well, the great equalizer if you can't get those types of kids is to get these Samoan guys. Schools like Oregon and Utah and Oregon State have been recruiting Polys to improve their overall athleticism, and it has worked. And of course USC has become "Poly U" in the last 10 years. They seem to crank out one Polynesian player to the NFL every year these days.

Te'o is right in this mold. He is a supremely athletic player who is physical at the point of attack. I'd be willing to bet that he'd be have a shot to start NEXT YEAR if he came to ND. And he's a great kid with a great family. He would be a dream player for ND, and I have no doubt that he would enjoy playing at ND and fit into the faith community in some way.

I'm actually glad that Weis has caught onto the need for some Polynesian players on our roster. He's really gone out of his way to introduce Te'o to the LDS community in South Bend and to sell him on how he would be a trailblazer for Poly kids at ND. To me, it's a sign that Weis understands trends in the game and where things are headed in the future. Weis might not be the greatest coach or leader in the world, but he's no dummy. Weis is a smart guy who seems to always be ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting. If our efforts with Te'o convince some future stud Polys to come to ND, that would be a good sign for the program.

3) Te's potential impact

One thing that continues to cloud the issue on Te'o is whether or not he's going to take the Mormon mission after his freshman year. It seems like he hasn't made up his mind, but he is only considering schools that will accommodate that type of decision if he decides to do it. ND has given him the ok on a mission if he decides to do it.

From a football standpoint, how would that affect ND if Te'o came to South Bend?? What would his timeline be?? I know we have Brian Smith and Neal and Fleming and Filer back next year, but I think Te'o would have a shot to beat out some people and start as soon as next year. If he started next year and proved to be a stud, would he still leave?? If he leaves and comes back in two years, what type of player would he be?? And if he was still good when he came back, would he leave for the pros after that first year?? I'm just curious to hear how all this would work out since we've obviously never had a player leave for a Mormon mission before.

Either way, even if we only had him for 2-3 years, it's still worth it. This kid is an NFL type talent, and those types of guys haven't come around South Bend too often recently.

By the way, I think it's interesting that a lot of these Polynesian guys are Mormon. That is some crazy "history meets football" stuff when you consider that it's because of the old missionaries that went out to these islands to convert people to different forms of Christianity. Very interesting stuff. Schools like Utah and a lot of the other west coast schools with large Mormon populations (even a school like UCLA) seem to have a natural advantage for the Samoan players, but I would like to see ND tap into this area as well.

I wonder if ND has ever given consideration to sending some people out there to try to convert some of them into Catholics!! It wouldn't hurt to try! Maybe these kids who grow up playing in the "motherland" (Utah) will someday start thinking about Notre Dame as the "motherland."

Ok, I wanted to dive into this 2009 recruiting class a little bit. A lot of people seem to be down on this 2009 class, so let's take a peek at our current commits (and also address some of the still uncommitteds) courtesy of Rivals.com.

4 stars:

Alex Bullard OL 6-3 275 5 5.8 Brentwood, TN
Shaquelle Evans WR 6-0 203 4.45 5.9 Inglewood, CA
Dan Fox LB 6-4 219 4.6 5.8 Rocky River, OH
Zach Martin OL 6-5 270 5 5.8 Indianapolis, IN
Zeke Motta LB 6-2 207 4.6 6.0 Vero Beach, FL
Theo Riddick RB 5-10 185 4.4 5.8 Somerville, NJ
Tyler Stockton DT 6-1 290 4.98 5.8 Princeton, NJ
Chris Watt OL 6-3 280 - 6.0 Glen Ellyn, IL
Cierre Wood RB 6-0 192 4.5 6.0 Oxnard, CA

3 stars

E.J. Banks ATH 5-11 181 4.5 5.7 McKees Rocks , PA
Carlo Calabrese LB 6-2 225 4.6 5.7 Verona, NJ
Tyler Eifert TE 6-6 220 4.62 5.6 Fort Wayne, IN
Ben Turk K 6-0 190 - 5.5 Fort Lauderdale, FL

2 stars

Jordan Cowart OL 6-2 225 - 5.1 Fort Lauderdale, FL
Nick Tausch K 6-1 180 - 5.4 Dallas, TX
Jake Golic TE 6-4 220 4.7 5.4 West Hartford, CT

There are 9 four star players in this class!! People are talking about this class like it is some sort of redux of the 2004 class in Ty's second year, but that is laughable. That class had 2 4 star players (Junior Jabbie and Anthony Vernaglia). Same with the 2005 disaster with only 2 4 star players. THOSE were bad classes. This class is a very solid "filler" class. You can't bring in 25 guys every year. Scholarship limits don't allow it. We had very limited scholarships to give out, it was a down year for talent in the Midwest, and we addressed some needs and brought in a lot of talented players. That's what you do with a filler class. There aren't any "five star" guys, but there are a lot of high-quality players. In terms of average star ranking, it's still a top 15 class.

At the end of the day, there are only going to be 8-10 guys out of most classes who contribute big time to your roster. That's about all you can expect out of this class, but there are enough really good prospects in there that we should hit that 8-10 number.

Cierre Wood looks like a feature back type player
Chris Watt will probably be starting at guard in a year or two
Tyler Stockton will probably be a major contributor on the D-Line
Zeke Motta looks like a stud hybrid OL/DB guy
Shaq Evans will figure into the WR rotation at some point
Bullard and Martin give us OL depth and will hopefully compete for jobs
Riddick and Banks are athlete types
And we brought in 2 kickers and a long snapper - You need those guys

That's about 8-10 guys who will give us something, and it looks like there could be 3-4 standouts in that group. I can live with that. Plus, we're still in the ballgame for Te'o and a couple safeties (Byron Moore and Jawanza Starling).

If I was Moore or Starling, I would be staring at that ND safety depth chart and thinking that I could hit the field in a hurry. By my count, we have very limited depth at safety. The McCarthy Brothers, Ray Herring, Sergio Brown, Jamoris "Crank Me Up" Slaughter, and maybe Harrison Smith. There's room for a good safety to come in and get minutes.

Anyway, I think this class is fine, and I think it sets us up for a monster class in 2010.

Speaking of 2010, I will say that 2010 is going to be a critical recruiting year for this team. The Midwest is absolutely loaded next year, and we are in prime position to strike with a lot of big time players. We are in on all kinds of o-linemen and wide receivers. Should be exciting.

We'll have plenty of stuff on here throughout the winter and spring on the specifics, but here are some big themes I'm looking at for the 2010 class.

1) I think we are going to have to show some progress on the field in the fall to really maximize the potential of this class. Weis is a good recruiter, and I think he could always get kids to come to ND. There are some kids who just naturally want to play at ND, and Weis is a good salesman for the school. With all of the talent in the Midwest this year and at traditional "ND feeder" schools, we can put together a good class no matter what our record is.

But if we want to put together a GREAT class, Weis is going to have to start winning some ball games. If we start out 3-3 or something like that, Weis is going to be circling the drain and the recruiting momentum for 2010 is going to dry up in a hurry. Even if we end up at 8-4 or something like that, there is going to be a lot of grumbling from fans that will keep Weis' status at ND in jeopardy. At some point, he is going to have to prove to recruits that he can win games at ND and that he can develop players. Recruits are not going to blindly sign on with us if we don't start showing some results.

2) I am curious to see what direction we end up going at Quarterback. We didn't bring in a QB this year, so we are going to need to bring someone in next year to create some depth at the position and set up a succession line after Dayne Crist.

The guy who has been on the radar for awhile now among the juniors is Jake Heaps out of Washington. Sounds like he was the first guy that Weis contacted when the contact period began. He's another Mormon guy. I swear, Utah and BYU will be top 10 programs someday with all the Mormon prospects out there these days. These Mormon guys don't drink or smoke or cause problems, so you know they are going all out for football.

I'm assuming that we will land at least one "pro style" quarterback, but we've also offered a "duel threat" guy out of Detroit, Devin Gardner. Not sure where we stand on his list of schools, but I'm intrigued by the fact that Weis had offered this guy. I know we've had a bad experience with a duel threat QB before (Demetrius Jones), but I could get talked into the idea of using a scholarship for a guy like Gardner as a "project" type player. What if we redshirted him and plugged him on the bench for a few years?? If he had 3-4 years to develop, maybe he turns into a really effective weapon for us. If we're going to bring in 2 Qbs, I wouldn't be totally opposed to using one scholarship on a guy who is duel-threat type guy.

Demetrius was a disaster, but I don't think he's the true indicator of what an athletic quarterback would look like in the Weis offense. Demetrius is a clown and doesn't seem to get it. He's never even going to play at Cincinnati. I'm not ready to write off all athletic/mobile QBs just because he was a disaster.

I feel like it helps in college football to have a QB who can occasionally run for a first down or escape from pressure. Somebody like Brady Quinn or Colt McCoy or even Dayne Crist. If Gardner could develop into a passer, maybe he would be worth having on the roster.

I don't know, the safe bet is just to take two more "pro style" guys of course, but I would at least be intrigued if we brought in someone like Gardner.

3) The big thing to keep an eye out for in 2010 is how the "5 star" guys view this program. The 5 star guys are the guys who are thinking about the NFL and their future in football. They obviously are going to be looking at the places where they'll have the best opportunity to win big and go to the NFL. Are they going to be listening to Weis during this recruiting period or shying away from him?? It will be interesting to find out.

The guy on the top of our list is Seantrel Henderson, so we should find out from him how the top recruits view ND. He is the type of guy who ND SHOULD get. Cretin Durham High School has practically been a feeder school for ND lately, so it would be concerning if he starts listening to USC and Tennessee and UCLA. Every other coach in the country is going to be whispering in Henderson's ear that Weis is not going to be there for the span of his career, so we'll have to see how much sway that talk has on him.

If we want to have a top 5 class next year, we are going to need to strike it big with some of the elite players. These guys are the difference between another top 15 class and a top 5 class.

Finally, I wanted to end with this very interesting column by Ivan Maisel on ESPN.com the other day.

This quote from Butch Davis really jumped out at me.

Davis said the facilities that the player has available to him in high school can lay a trap for a recruiter.

"You may be buying the finished product," Davis said. "There's a little bit of that in Texas. Those schools have got more money than God. They have a strength coach, 15 high school coaches. The players have been in the same program since sixth or seventh grade. You get them and four years later they are the exact same player.

"You go to Pahokee, Fla., where a kid eats once a day, his parents may not be around," Davis said. "You get him in a weightlifting program. Two years later, he's three times better than the kid from Texas."

Isn't that sort of what we've been trying to articulate about ND recruits for years?? It seems like ND recruits an inordinate number of "finished products." Kids who were elite players in high school and highly-ranked recruits but have already matured and don't have as much upside. We are usually looking at kids from the well-known high school programs who had great facilities and weightlifting programs. The types of kids who were class presidents and 4.0 students and the star of the football team. Nothing wrong with getting those types of guys of course.

But when your whole team is filled with "finished products," you leave very little room for upside. And in football, isn't that what it's all about?? Upside?? The whole point of recruiting is that you project what a kid is going to look like in four years once you've put him in a college weightlifting program. When you have a bunch of guys who peaked in high school, you are going to have a lot of busts in your classes.

If you watch an NFL game these days, there are players from all over the place. It is amazing to see that a lot of these NFL freaks were 2 star raw athlete types out of the south that just got a lot bigger and faster and stronger when they got to college. Put them in a college program with good coaching and nutrition and weightlifting, and suddenly you have something. In a sport like football where everything is "projection" toward a bigger size and strength level, it is tough to predict which kids will mature and develop. It seems like a lot of these SEC schools recruit a percentage of "raw" players with the expectation that some of them will fill out and mature and learn football technique and become stars someday. Admittedly, these schools have an advantage over ND in finding these guys because they are regional recruiters who don't have to cover a nationwide territory, and there are always academic considerations for ND.

If you look at the ND roster, we are littered with "finished products" who were 3 and 4 star players in high school but have turned out to be 2 star players in college. I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing in some Aaron Nagel/Steve Quinn/Steve Paskorz/Scott Smith type guys, but would it kill us to occasionally bring in a few undersized but really speedy LB and safety recruits who might grow into something?? You pretty much know what you are getting with your typical 3/4 star white linebacker or white d-lineman. But look at what BC did with BJ Raji. They found that guy when he was a 2 star undersized d-lineman, and now he's turned out to be the best defensive tackle prospect in the NFL draft.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with how we have recruited in the Weis era. A lot of the "finished products" like Michael Floyd and Dan McCarthy and Harrison Smith have turned out to be good players for us. And we do have guys like Kerry Neal and Brian Smith and Ethan Johnson with big time upside. Overall, Weis has significantly upgraded the talent to the point where we should be able to compete with just about anyone if they are developed properly. But I wouldn't be opposed to the idea of passing on a couple safe bet types once in awhile in favor of a couple guys who are lower rated but have higher ceilings. Maybe just one or two a year, but it could go a long way.

Anyway, looking forward to seeing how everything shakes out tomorrow. National Signing Day is always one of the most underrated days of the year.

And then, it's time for juniors!

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