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Football Recruiting: Weis inks top-five recruiting class

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, February 2, 2006

A lot has changed since last year’s Feb. 2 signing day when then-new Irish head coach Charlie Weis, in Jacksonville for the Super Bowl, announced via videoconference the signing of his first 15 Notre Dame rec-ruits. Wedn-esday, after his first full year of recr-uiting, Weis announced the signing of 27 of the country’s top high school players – a class many have ranked among the top five in the nation.

All of the players expected to sign with the Irish did on Wednesday, making Weis’ day a little easier.

“This was a no sweat day,” Weis said in his signing day press conference. “This was kind of anticlimatic to sit up there, you’re wondering how everything is going to happen. Everything just kind of fell in line.”

The 27 commitments include six offensive linemen, five defensive backs, four wide receivers, three running backs, three defensive linemen, two quarterbacks, two linebackers, one tight end and one kicker.

Of the 27, three have already enrolled at the University, Weis said. James Aldridge, a running back from Crown Point, Ind., Chris Stewart, an offensive lineman from Spring, Texas and George West, a wide receiver/kick returner from Spencer, Okla., enrolled at Notre Dame in January, enabling them to participate in spring practice, which starts March 22.

The three scholarships also count against last year’s class, enabling Notre Dame to have more than the NCAA-maximum of 25 scholarships per year. Weis said he left one extra scholarship available this year for a walk-on who might earn a scholarship.

The class, ranked fifth by ESPN.com and Scout.com, is one that has fulfilled Weis’s needs.

“As a matter of fact, I was satisfied,” Weis said. “Our biggest areas of concern numbers-wise this year, we were going to overload on offensive line and defensive backs. We wanted to make sure we got two quarterbacks.”

The Irish lose two offensive linemen this year and next year lose three more. As a result, Weis signed six offensive linemen, with 6-foot-7 Sam Young from Coral Springs, Fla. – a five-star recruit – the highlight of the group.

“This guy could have gone anywhere,” Weis said of Young, who was one of the last to verbally commit to Notre Dame. “He picked us and really put a smile on my face. We’re very happy to have Sam here.”

The other linemen include: Matt Carufel of Forest Lake, Minn.; Eric Olsen of Staten Island, NY; Stewart, Bartley Webb of Springdale, Ark.; and Dan Wenger of Coral Springs, Fla.

The Irish were able to secure top commits at quarterback and defensive back as well. Cornerbacks Darrin Walls, of Pittsburgh, and Raeshon McNeil, of Cooleemee, NC, are expected to make an impact early, Weis said. McNeil was a U.S. Army All-American who blocked a field goal and ran it back 65 yards for a touchdown in the game, and Walls was selected for the game but did not play due to injury. The duo should help improve an embattled secondary, providing both talent and depth.

“Both these guys were frontline corners that we had earmarked from day one,” Weis said. “We felt we had to go out and get us some cover corners that could play, play at a young age.”

The Irish also added defensive backs Sergio Brown of Maywood, Ill., Leonard Gordon of Clarksville, Tenn., and Jashaad Gaines of Las Vegas, Nev., whose sister, Tulyah, plays on the women’s basketball team.

Two other big pickups for Notre Dame came at the quarterback position, where the Irish nabbed Demetrius Jones out of Chicago, Ill., and Zach Frazer out of Mechanicsburg, Penn. Both were selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American game and were tabbed four-star recruits by Rivals.com.

Notre Dame also signed three wide receivers to join West in the fall, including 6-foot-4 Robby Parris and 6-foot-3 Richard Jackson. Parris is listed as a three-star by both Scout.com and Rivals.com, and Jackson is a four-star according to Rivals.com and a three-star according to Scout.com. Barry Gallup, a 5-foot-11 wide receiver from Wellesley, Mass., rounds out the position.

Weis also signed one tight end, Konrad Reuland, who hails from San Capistrano, Calif., and is a five-star recruit according to Scout.com.

“We’re really happy to be able to take one out of Southern California,” Weis said. “It’s a tough thing to do.”

Rounding out the offense and joining Aldridge at running back is 5-foot-10 Munir Prince, who went to junior high with Aldridge in St. Louis. Prince will be joined by 6-foot-3 Luke Schmidt, who could play either running back or fullback, Weis said.

On the defensive side of the ball, Weis signed one defensive tackle, Paddy Mullen of St. Louis, who played high school football with Prince, and two defensive ends – John Ryan of Cleveland, who played high school football with Parris, and Kallen Wade out of Cincinnati.

Rounding out the defense are two Georgia linebackers – Morrice Richardson out of College Park and Toryan Smith of Rome. Weis said the biggest thing he was excited about is these defensive players is they pressure quarterbacks.

“We wanted guys that could get after the passer,” Weis said. “Because, if you just sit back there and wait all day, you can’t blitz on every down just to create pressure. Sooner or later, some guys are going to have to win some one-on-one battles. So we wanted some guys that could get after the passer.”

Finally, kicker Ryan Burkhart, a Wakarusa, Ind., native, finishes the class. He will be key to replacing graduating senior D.J. Fitzpatrick and will compete for the starting spot immediately.

Weis said his first full class was a great one that will be instrumental in the future, as both he and the Irish have come a long way since last year’s videoconference.

“I told everyone in this class that this was going to be the class that started Notre Dame back to the top,” Weis said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have a chance to compete this year or next year. I’m talking about perennially being at the top.

“It’s easy for a team once in a while to have a good year and a lot of times they flounder afterward. That’s not what we’re shooting for here. We want to be a top team every year.”