The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Disappointing season may affect recruiting cruits

Pat Leonard | Tuesday, December 9, 2003

The frustration dissipated a bit with three straight wins in the month of November, but the Notre Dame football team is now searching for answers to turn around a 5-7 losing season after a 38-12 loss to Syracuse in its final game. That search has already begun in the recruiting process, as coach Tyrone Willingham’s job gets even harder.Last season, Willingham rode the wave of momentum from a ten-win season into the month of January. He announced his first recruiting class as Irish head coach, a group ranked top-five in the country behind only programs like rival USC. Notre Dame secured commitments from top prospects such as true freshmen starters quarterback Brady Quinn, offensive tackle Ryan Harris and defensive end Victor Abiamiri.The question now is, will the second go-around be just as successful?”I think we are hanging in there,” Willingham said. “I think we have got some key players that if we can get the right ones to fall, it will help us.”Notre Dame has received seven verbal commitments, as no official commitments can be made until the first week of February after bowl games have been played.Its most recent recruit is Chicago area cornerback prospect Tregg Duerson. The son of a former Notre Dame football player, Duerson stands at 5-10, 170 pounds and runs a 4.5 60-yard dash. He also played running back at Loyola Academy, where he carried the ball this season 184 times for 1,200 yards.Recruiting analysts said Willingham is bringing Duerson in as a defensive back with possibilities of contributing on special teams.”We’ve got to have continued growth and improvement in every area,” the coach said.Willingham and the Irish struggled this season with the meshing of recruits of two systems – that of former coach Bob Davie and of Willingham.Speedsters like Duerson and present freshman talents like promising cornerback Freddie Parish and wide receiver Jeff Samardzija are the type of players made for the system Willingham and his staff of former Stanford coaches plan to implement.Securing a prospect like Duerson puts Notre Dame on the right track to another solid class. The Irish hope winning just five games this season does not affect the caliber of the recruiting class.”Winning helps,” Willingham said. “I think guys like to see themselves and believe that they have got an opportunity to score a lot of points and do a lot of things.”The 57-point run-up on Stanford last weekend could be a booster to offensive recruits looking to come to Notre Dame and run a spread, passing style offense.”We want to be balanced, but balance should mean that you have a slightly more passing yardage than you do rushing yardage,” Willingham said. “I think we’re getting a little bit closer to where I’d like us to be.”To have a passing offense, there must always be a reliable player behind the center.Although Brady Quinn stepped into the West coast offense as a true freshman and will remain at the helm to start next season, Notre Dame is lacking depth at the quarterback position with the early season transfer of Chris Olsen and the uncertainty of Carlyle Holiday’s future.Willingham sounded optimistic about the quarterback prospects in the workings up to this point.”I think we are hanging in there okay,” Willingham said. “I think we are on the lists of some very good players, and we just need them to say yes.”