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Football: Firm commitments

Chris Hine | Thursday, September 20, 2007

After an 0-3 start to the season, Notre Dame is searching for positives.

One good sign for the future of the Irish is the strong recruits coach Charlie Weis has lined up for the class of 2012. And even after a sluggish start to the season, those verbals seem as solid as ever.

“I’ve spoken with a number of [recruits], and all of them were very much behind Notre Dame and the coaching staff,” said Mike Frank, who covers Notre Dame recruiting on Irisheyes.com. “I think they realize this is a young team that’s going through some growing pains and they also realize there’s a very good chance that they’ll be able to come in and play early and be part of the solution.”

The Irish have 19 verbal commitments, including Sherman Oaks, Calif., quarterback Dayne Crist and Chicago linebacker Steve Filer. The Irish also hold the No. 1 rated class in the country according to both rivals.com and scout.com.

So far, recruits such as Chicago linebacker/defensive end Darius Fleming, still have faith the Irish can turn this season around.

“I wouldn’t say I’m worried about it, but it’s shocking,” Fleming said. “I didn’t expect anything like this.”

Fleming said he has talked to defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and wide receivers coach Rob Ianello frequently since the beginning of the season. He plans to attend this weekend’s game against Michigan State, and he’s confident the team will improve. He is not having second thoughts about attending Notre Dame, he said.

“They’re struggling right now and they’re trying to fix some things. I’m not sure what needs to be fixed,” Fleming said. “But I’m pretty sure they’ll get it together.”

Frank said Fleming’s attitude reflects that of most of the recruits.

“We’ve spoken with almost all of them in the last week or so and they’re all very much behind the coaching staff and they seem really firm in their commitment,” Frank said.

Frank said recruits like the fact that Weis is not afraid to play some of his younger talent even though the team is struggling. Recruits are also attracted to the non-football facets of the University, Frank said. But without improvement in the next couple of weeks, those commitments may be hard to maintain.

“He will play the best player and that has been a big selling point,” Frank said. “In the end, the recruits are very excited about the opportunity to come play at Notre Dame. I’m sure they’ll be looking for improvement throughout the season. But I think as long as Weis and the staff can show they’re improving and getting things done, they should be pretty good.”

Former quarterback Demetrius Jones’ transfer to Northern Illinois could also represent a stumbling block for Irish recruiting.

Jones, a highly touted prospect from the Chicago Public League, was unhappy with how Weis handled the team’s quarterback situation. There is some speculation that his transfer could make recruits from the Chicago area reluctant to come to Notre Dame, but Frank said it should not be much of a problem.

“I think that first of all, there are some good football players in the Chicago Public League, but a lot of the better players are actually in the Catholic League,” Frank said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect Notre Dame in any way – maybe a player or two – but I just highly doubt it. I think Corwin Brown is a great recruiter and he’s in charge of recruiting that area and he will overcome any questions anybody would have regarding why Jones left.”

Notes:

This weekend, three notable recruits will attend the Michigan State game on their official visit:

-Ryan Williams, running back from Virginia, who Frank said is one of two running backs Notre Dame is pursuing this season.

-Another is defensive end Chancey Aghayere from Garland, Texas.

“He’s a big time defensive end, outside linebacker type and a big time player. He’s got offers from just about anybody,” Frank said.

-The third recruit is Chris Harper, a wide receiver/quarterback from the Kansas City area.

“He’s kind of a combo guy and the Irish have a shot,” Frank said. “The problem they’re going to run into is he also wants to play quarterback and Notre Dame is recruiting him as a wide receiver. So, that could be a little bit of a problem. … They have to convince him that wide receiver is his future.”

-Associate Athletic Director John Heisler announced in a statement Wednesday that 75,000 fans will receive towels to wave at Saturday’s game against Michigan State.

The towels will be white and will read “Tradition Never Graduates – Notre Dame Football.”