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Irish lack commitments as signing date looms

Pat Leonard | Thursday, January 15, 2004

Time is running out for Tyrone Willingham and the Notre Dame football team as the Irish look to strengthen their recruiting class of 2008. With just under three weeks remaining until the designated official signing day of Feb. 4, Notre Dame has received only eight verbal commitments.Notre Dame does not have one of the top 25 national recruiting classes according to most publications, while many past and future Irish opponents – Boston College (17), Michigan State (21), Pittsburgh (20), Purdue (21), Southern Cal (14), Tennessee (12) and Washington (21) – have secured a significantly higher number of more talented recruits, according to recruit experts.If there is a headliner to the Notre Dame class of verbal commitments, according to IrishInsider.com columnist Mike Frank, that player is Justin Hoskins, a shifty, 6-foot, 195 running back out of Grand Rapids, Mich.”I think they have a star player in Hoskins,” Frank said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he started at some point next season.”The possibility of playing and making an impact next season could be attractive to recruits looking to step in and play immediately, such as Kentucky quarterback prospect Brian Brohm, who has yet to make a decision.It is apparent, however, that this selling point has not been strong enough to attract the country’s top talent.In addition to Hoskins, Notre Dame has secured verbal commitments from offensive linemen Brandon Nicholas (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), Chauncey Incarnato (6-foot-7, 280 pounds) and John Kadous (6-foot-6, 310 pounds).ESPN’s Tom Lemming rated Kadous, an Arizona native, and Incarnato, an Ohio native, the 10th and 19th offensive tackle prospects, respectively, but the best players have slipped through the cracks.Players such as Colorado top offensive line recruit Jeff Byers, who committed to USC a few weeks after his visit to the Notre Dame-USC game are indicative of how Notre Dame has struggled to secure future talent.Frank believes monitoring the percent of players who commit after initial offers is an accurate method of measuring the success of that year’s class.”It’s interesting to see how many of the initial offers are left standing at the end,” he said.Of the players Notre Dame initially offered, the Irish have lost defensive back Nick Patterson to Ohio State, defensive lineman Jeff Schweiger to USC and defensive back D.J. Davis to Texas A&M.Notre Dame has secured the verbal commitments of defensive end Ronald Talley, a 6-foot-3, 240 pound strongside end out of Detroit, Mich, and Abdel Banda, a 6-foot-2, 215 pound Morristown, NJ linebacker.Anthony Vernaglia brings athleticism to the class with experience at linebacker and tight end. The Orange County, Calif. native caught 31 balls for 470 yards and ten touchdowns in his senior season. He also had four sacks, one interception and three fumble recoveries on the defensive end.One of the most recent and the eighth commitment is Tregg Duerson, a defensive back with average speed who had been recruited by few top programs.Unlike at this time last year, the nation’s top players are glancing past the Irish as they look to play winning college football.”The Syracuse loss probably took some wind out of their [Notre Dame’s] sails in terms of recruiting,” Frank said. “With the low number of players Notre Dame is taking, and the season that they had, it puts them in a difficult position to land the top guys.”Notre Dame coaches have said the team will most likely sign 17 or 18 players, a significant number less than the 21 players who received scholarships last spring.”The prospect of maybe even starting as a freshman for a struggling program is intriguing, and that’s what Willingham and his staff is selling right now,” Frank said. “Where it becomes difficult is the very best players want to play on the very best teams. Guys want to play for conference championships, bowl championships and national championships.”