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Seventeen sign letters of intent with Irish

Pat Leonard | Thursday, February 5, 2004

Terrail Lambert did not follow his cousin’s lead.Two years after California running back Lorenzo Booker reneged on Notre Dame and committed to Florida State on signing day, the defensive back Lambert chose the Irish over the Seminoles and became the 16th of 17 official signees for the Irish football class of 2007.Tyrone Willing-ham announced 16 players as official commitments at a Wednesday press conference in the football auditorium of the Joyce Center at 3:30 p.m. The football office then confirmed the signing of Connecticut wide receiver Christopher Vaughn less than one hour after the conference ended, rounding the class out at 17 players.”This day has become, in most regards to some people, probably the most important day in college football,” Willingham said.The coach did not try to dispel rumors that this year’s class is less impressive than those in past seasons, but Willingham did defend the efforts of his coaching staff.”You have this year, a season that didn’t quite meet our expectations,” he said. “That is another reason why I think [defensive line] coach [Greg] Mattison, our recruiting coordinator and our staff did an excellent job in working through all of the difficulties in putting together a really solid class with some very special players in there.”The Irish recruited players from 10 different states: four defensive backs, three offensive linemen, three defensive ends, three linebackers, two running backs and two quarterbacks.ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Lemming had the Irish class rated 27th nationally prior to signing day. With the signing of Lambert and Vaughn, Notre Dame could climb into the top 25.Lambert and Vaughn proved in a rough year for Irish recruiting that signing day can introduce some late bright spots.Lambert made 87 tackles, three sacks and one interception in his senior season at St. Bonaventure School in Ventura, Calif., returning the interception 92 yards for a touchdown. He was a first-team California all-state selection of the Los Angeles Times, and Lemming rated Lambert 85th in his top 100 national prospect list.”When you watched him in high school, he was a linebacker, yet he had all of the toughness, all of the foot quickness to be a great corner,” Willingham said. “We look at Terrail and say he has those skills to bring a linebacker’s toughness to the cornerback position.”Vaughn caught 20 passes for 650 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season at St. Thomas More in Oakdale, Conn.Lambert and Vaughn are late, solid catches for the Notre Dame coaching staff. Prior to their signing, running backs Darius Walker and Justin Hoskins were two of the top recruits of the Irish class. Walker and Hoskins were the Gatorade Players of the Year in Georgia and Michigan, their respective states.Linebacker/strong safety Anthony Vernaglia (95th) joins Lambert (85th) and Walker (63rd) in Lemming’s top 100 national player rankings.Lambert joins three other defensive backs in the present class in Tregg Duerson, Leo Ferrine and Junior Jabbie.Ferrine and Jabbie are perfect examples of athletes Willingham recruits in the hopes of molding the players to his system. Jabbie is a prep school graduate, one year removed from high school football and a year older than most other recruits.Willingham acknowledged the year could give Jabbie an edge, but he denied recruiting players just because they are older and more mature.”The player must meet the same set of criteria [as any other player],” Willingham said. “But a year may help them grow, may help them develop, which puts them in a different area. It’s not necessarily an advantage for us or the school, but it may be an advantage for the young man.”Jabbie received interest from Syracuse, Wisconsin, Boston College and North Carolina, though Lemming believes he could be a sleeper that this year’s recruiting powers – USC, Oklahoma and others – overlooked.Additional recruits include linebacker Abdel Banda, offensive linemen Chauncey Incarnato and John Kadous, defensive end Ronald Talley and quarterbacks Darrin Bragg and David Wolke.Willingham also continued his habit of recruiting athletes who can play at multiple positions.Last year, Ambrose Wooden (wide receiver/defensive back) and Tom Zbikowski (wide receiver/safety/defensive back) came in as multiple position players.This year, the Irish have several players listed at multiple positions, as well. According to Willingham, 6-foot-4, 225-pound Maryland player Justin Brown has the toughness to play defensive end along with the quickness to play linebacker.Brandon Nicolas, from Santa Ana, Calif., may play offensive or defensive line.Vernaglia is an all-around athlete.Still, Willingham cannot guarantee how much or how soon this class will contribute.”The question always arises as who will play,” Willingham said. “I can honestly tell you, I have absolutely no idea. Some will play early. Some may play later in their careers. But that will all be determined by what they do on the field.”I am excited about the toughness and also the mixture that I think they bring in terms of being the type of student and person that we want at the University of Notre Dame.”

Notes:Indianapolis defensive end Ryan Baker made a verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Jan. 25. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Baker, however, did not appear on the official signing list of 17 Notre Dame recruits.Baker, who is deciding between Notre Dame and Purdue, was unavailable for comment Wednesday night. He could make a decision as early as tomorrow, though the present time frame is a dead-period for coaches, meaning coaches cannot make person-to-person contact with a player until 48 hours after signing day, according to Willingham.