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Football: Cavalry coming

Chris Khorey | Thursday, February 8, 2007

Notre Dame has signed 18 freshmen for the class of 2011, head coach Charlie Weis announced Wednesday.

“I think we basically attained what we were trying to do at all positions,” Weis said. “I have to tell you, I’m very happy with the group of young men we’re bringing in here.”

The Irish expected to sign two more players Wednesday, but wide receiver Greg Little of Durham, N.C., and offensive lineman Chris Little of Jeffersonville, Ga., decided at the last minute to sign with North Carolina and Georgia, respectively.

Notre Dame signed eight offensive players, seven defensive players, a kicker and two players – Andrew Nuss out of Ashburn, Va., and Emeka Nwankwo out of Hollywood, Fla. – who could play on either the offensive or defensive lines, Weis said.

Overall, Notre Dame’s class was rated eighth in the nation by Rivals.com and eleventh by Scout.com.

Quarterbacks

On April 22, 2006, the day of the Blue-Gold Game, Notre Dame received a verbal commitment from the nation’s top-rated high school passer, Jimmy Clausen of Westlake Village, Calif.

Clausen, the younger brother of former Tennessee quarterbacks Casey and Rick Clausen, passed for 3,428 yards and 49 touchdowns as a senior, leading Oaks Christian High School to a state championship. He was undefeated as a starter at Oaks Christian.

“Obviously he comes in with high accolades,” Weis said. “The fact that he’s 42-0 as a starter, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Clausen enrolled at Notre Dame at the beginning of the spring semester and will compete for the starting signal-caller job with rising junior Evan Sharpley and rising sophomores Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer.

Running Backs

Notre Dame signed two tailbacks with very different styles.

Armando Allen, of Hialeah, Fla., is a speed back who runs a 4.35-second 40-yard dash. He also enrolled at the beginning of the semester and will participate in spring practice.

“This kid can flat out fly,” Weis said.

Allen broke his leg during his senior season, but is expected to be at full strength by spring workouts.

Robert Hughes, out of Hubbard High School in Chicago, is a bruising, 228-pound back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a senior. He committed to the Irish in January after choosing Notre Dame over Illinois.

Both Allen and Hughes could push for playing time next season in Notre Dame’s backfield, left wide open by the early departure of Darius Walker for the NFL.

Receivers

To fill the void left by departing wide receivers Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame signed two wideouts and a tight end to the class of 2011.

“The two guys we have coming in are very contrasting in their styles,” Weis said.

Duval Kamara, of Hoboken, N.J., verbally committed to Weis on May 10, 2006. At 6-foot-4, he is similar in style to former Irish receiver Maurice Stovall and is ranked the eighth best receiver nationally by Scout.com.

Golden Tate, out of John Paul II high school in Hendersonville, Tenn., is a smaller, quicker receiver in the mold of Notre Dame rising junior David Grimes. Tate is listed at 6-foot but runs a 4.4-second 40.

Mike Ragone, out of Cherry Hill, N.J., was Notre Dame’s only tight end signee for 2007. He was ranked second nationally at his position by Scout.com. Ragone stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. Six of his nine touchdowns went for 60 yards or longer.

“You won’t find many tight ends that run as fast as him,” Weis said.

Linemen

Notre Dame signed two true offensive linemen for the class of 2011 – Taylor Dever of Grass Valley, Calif., and Matt Romine of Tulsa, Okla. – and one true defensive lineman – Ian Williams of Longwood, Fla.

Dever was credited with 80 pancake blocks during his senior season.

Romine had to be pried away from his home-state Sooners.

“He’s an Oklahoma kid, but he’s a Notre Dame fit,” Weis said. “He’s a guy we wanted. He fit great with our players.”

Williams stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 295 pounds. His style is similar to that of Notre Dame fifth-year senior Trevor Laws.

“This guy is a very disruptive interior defensive lineman, the type of guy that can make us better in a hurry,” Weis said.

The Irish also signed Nuss and Nwankwo, who could play either side of the ball.

“As you go through the offensive line/defensive line process, it was important for us to find a couple players that could play either offense or defense because we couldn’t really take the risk of doubling the numbers up,” Weis said. “But we had to find a couple guys that were capable of playing our offensive or defensive line.”

Linebackers

Notre Dame signed four linebackers to strengthen a unit that struggled at times in 2006.

Kerry Neal was the first Irish commitment for the class of 2011. He gave his verbal to Weis Feb. 24, 2006. Neal, from Bunn, N.C., weighs 230 pounds and will play outside linebacker in new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown’s 3-4 personnel package.

The Irish also picked up commitments before the season from Aaron Nagel of Lemont, Ill., and Steve Paskorz of Allison Park, Pa. Weis said both players will probably end up playing inside in the new defensive alignment.

In January, Notre Dame offered a scholarship to outside linebacker prospect Brian Smith out of Overland Park, Kan. Smith had committed to Iowa, but changed his mind after the Irish offered. Smith’s father Chris played at Notre Dame from 1981-85.

“When our system changed [to a 3-4], he became a perfect fit,” Weis said.

Scout.com’s No.1 and No. 2 linebackers, Lorenzo Edwards and Chris Donald, strongly considered Notre Dame, but signed with Florida and Tennessee, respectively.

Defensive Backs

The Irish picked up five defensive backs last year and limited their offers in the secondary this year, picking up cornerback Gary Gray from Columbia, S.C., and Harrison Smith from Knoxville, Tenn.

Gray was rated Scout.com’s sixth best cornerback. After decomitting from South Carolina this summer, he choose Notre Dame over the Gamecocks and enrolled at Notre Dame along with Allen and Clausen at the beginning of the spring semester.

Smith, who grew up in the Volunteers’ back yard, runs a 4.45 40-yard dash and had scholarship offers from Tennessee and Auburn in addition to Notre Dame.

“The thing we’re bringing him in as a safety who can cover from sideline to sideline,” Weis said. “One of the things we think we need to do is get additional range in the secondary with our safeties.”

Kickers

Late in the recruiting process, Notre Dame got a commitment from Brandon Walker of Findlay, Ohio.

Walker had previously committed to Louisville, but he decided to come to Notre Dame after Weis offered. He will push sophomore Ryan Burkhart for the starting kicking job next year.

“I was only interested in bringing in a guy at this position with another scholarship if it was a guy who had a chance of unseating somebody and being able to get on the field for us as a freshman,” Weis said. “We think, looking at this kid, he has the potential to do that walking in the door.”