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Football Recruiting: Prater, Ferguson make official visits

Matt Gamber | Thursday, November 19, 2009

Notre Dame will host a pair of highly touted recruits — wide receiver Kyle Prater and defensive tackle J.R. Ferguson — for Saturday’s game against Connecticut, but high school players with an interest in the Irish will have their eyes and ears tuned in to South Bend this weekend. And that may have as much to do with the product on the field as the media circus off it surrounding Charlie Weis’ future at the school.

“It would be foolish to say that recruits don’t hear the speculation, but the coaches have to do their best job of explaining the situation,” said Mike Frank, an Irish recruiting analyst who runs the ESPN-affiliated site irishsportsdaily.com. “At the end of the day, I think recruits should choose a school because of the school, the players. Obviously coaching plays a huge part, but coaches come and go, and assistant coaches especially come and go all the time. It’s more about selling the Notre Dame program, tradition and academics.”

Frank said while winning games is a program’s best recruiting tool, the close nature of Notre Dame’s four losses — which have come by a combined 18 points — allows the Irish coaches to tell recruits just how close they believe the program is to achieving greater success.

“They get on the phone and just say ‘Hey, we need you. If we get a few of these players, we get over the hump,'” Frank said. “That’s really the message you can sell at this point — that you’ve done a lot of good, bad bounces and things not quite going our way, but we’re close in every game.”

Notre Dame hopes to take one step closer to securing commitments from both of its guests this weekend. Prater and Ferguson are both 4-star prospects by ESPN.com’s rankings.

The 6-foot-6 Prater is one of the top receivers in his class. The Proviso West H.S. product out of Hillside, Ill., has issued a verbal commitment to USC, but after coming to Notre Dame for the Irish-Trojans matchup, he decided to take an official visit to South Bend.

“I think he’d like to stay closer to home if he could, but at the same time, I think he likes a lot about USC and their offense,” Frank said. “That’s something that really intrigues him. It’s a nice environment out there as well.”

“He’s always been involved with Notre Dame, and they have always liked him,” Frank said. “It’s all about the offense and how he’s going to fit in there. And more importantly, if he likes hanging out with the Notre Dame players, and the environment, what he thinks about that.”

Unlike Prater, Ferguson has yet to declare a leader in his recruiting search. ESPN lists Miami, LSU, Oklahoma and Maryland as schools the Frederick, Md., product is considering in addition to Notre Dame.

“He’s an athletic guy that can move,” Frank said. “He’s got a lot of offers and there’s good reason for it. Guys that big usually don’t move like he does.”  

At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Ferguson is already a physical force. But Frank said schools are even more excited about his potential to add muscle with a college strength and conditioning program.

“He’s just scratching the surface of his real potential,” Frank said. “He’s got great upside. Where other guys might come in as a polished project, he’s got a whole lot to work with. That’s why so many teams are interested in him.”  

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com.
E-mail Mike at mikefrank18@sbcglobal.net and tell him The Observer sent you.