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Football: Irish nab linebacker from Iowa, kicker from Louisville

Ken Fowler | Thursday, February 1, 2007

Poaching season reached its apex for Notre Dame this week as the Irish stole two prospects from schools that had received verbal commitments from the players.

Players cannot sign binding letters of intent until National Signing Day Feb. 7, but the cycle of recruits reneging on oral promises and going elsewhere continued the past two days. For Notre Dame, it included linebacker Brian Smith of Overland Park, Kan., and kicker Brandon Walker of Findlay, Ohio, committing to Irish coach Charlie Weis.

Smith, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, originally committed to Iowa over the summer. But Notre Dame made a late surge and nabbed the son of a former Irish fullback.

Smith had 100 tackles, three fumble recoveries and an interception return for a touchdown as a junior.

Mike Frank, who covers Notre Dame recruiting for Irisheyes.com, said Smith wanted to go to Notre Dame all along and the Irish only recruited him late.

“Ultimately, that’s what he wanted to do,” Frank said. “He thought that ND wasn’t an option for him, so he closed that door. … I think he probably really appreciated Iowa and the opportunity that Iowa offered him.”

Smith’s father, Chris, played at Notre Dame from 1981-84 and then suited up for two seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. Originally from Cincinnati, the elder Smith is a member of the Monogram Club board of directors and CEO and president of Divine Cleaning LLC, a commercial cleaning contractor.

“He’s a very good player,” Frank said of the younger Smith. “He was very, very close to getting an offer.”

Brian Smith’s best asset, Frank said, is his long history at linebacker.

“In this guy, what you’ve got is a guy that plays linebacker,” he said. “That’s what he does, and that’s what he’s always done.”

Frank said the Irish waited until star linebacker prospects Malcolm Smith of California and Chris Donald of Tennessee announced they would go elsewhere before offering a scholarship to Brian Smith.

The Observer was unable to contact St. Thomas Aquinas Athletic Director Sarah Burgess Wednesday.

Walker visited Notre Dame this weekend before de-committing from Louisville and giving Weis his verbal assurance that he would go to Notre Dame.

Frank said former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino’s departure from the Cardinals opened up the Findlay High School product’s recruitment. Walker is expected to serve primarily as a place-kicker, Frank said.

“He’s got a really strong leg,” Frank said. “He can get it to the end zone [on kickoffs].”

Findlay High School coach Clifford Hite did not return phone calls from The Observer Wednesday.