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Football: Coaching staff hits road

Chris Khorey and Ken Fowler | Thursday, December 6, 2007

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis has a long list of things to do before next season.

But right now, he’s concentrating on just one of them.

“I’m recruiting,” Weis said Monday, after staying on the road talking to high school players most of last week. “That’s what I’m doing.”

So far, Weis’ commitment to recruiting has paid off. The Irish have the No. 1 class in the nation according to Scout.com, with 21 verbal commitments – seven of whom are in the Web site’s top 100 national prospects.

And that class has stayed in tact – in fact, it has grown – during the team’s 3-9 season.

One of the reasons for that is how well Weis and his staff keep in touch with recruits. They sent commits almost daily e-mails during the season to detail the inner workings of the team and give the players a sense of ownership of the team.

“They’ve gone a very good job of keeping the players informed,” said Mike Frank, who runs IrishEyes.com, the Notre Dame recruiting site on the Scout.com network.

Frank also said that Weis and the Irish assistant coaches have formed good relationships with the parents and high school coaches of the prospects on their list, which means the players aren’t feeling pressure to start looking elsewhere.

“Recruiting is just like sales,” Frank said. “You’ve got to build relationships with people. I think the results of them building these relationships with the families and the high school coaches gives them the opportunity to say ‘Here are the reasons you chose Notre Dame and they’re still here. Nothing’s changed.'”

But Weis, who by NCAA rules cannot mention specific recruits or high schools, credits the players themselves – many of whom have already formed friendships with their fellow Irish commits.

“They’ve already got relationships going,” he said. “They can’t back out on their friends. They’re already close with a whole bunch of these guys.”

Weis said at most one or two players will enroll at Notre Dame early, meaning the team could take up to 27 players this year – leaving precious few spots to finish out the class. Frank said the Irish are still in the market for at least one more wide receiver, offensive lineman and defensive lineman or linebacker.

Players cannot sign binding letters of intent until National Signing Day in February, but those who enroll early are essentially exempt from the rule.

Notre Dame already has one player planning on coming to South Bend in January – defensive lineman Sean Cwynar from Woodstock, Ill.

Among the 17 high school players that will be attending Notre Dame’s football banquet this weekend is offensive lineman Trevor Robinson from Elkhorn, Neb. Robinson is deciding between Nebraska, Michigan and Notre Dame and would like to enroll early wherever he goes.

The other 16 players attending the banquet have already verbally committed to Notre Dame.

Weis’ single-minded focus on recruiting will end Dec. 17, because NCAA rules severely limit contact between coaches and high school recruits during the holidays and bowl season.

Right now, college coaches can call players on the phone, invite them to campus for official visits – which means the player’s travel expenses are paid by the school – and visit their high schools. But between Dec. 17 and the American Football Coaches Association Convention on Jan. 9, coaches are only allowed to call once a week and cannot meet with players face-to-face.

Players, on the other hand, are allowed to call coaches whenever they want.

Frank said he thinks Notre Dame’s No. 1 recruiting ranking will probably hold up until signing day, unless Southern California gets several late commitments – which, he said, is highly likely.

“If anybody catches [Notre Dame] it will probably be USC,” Frank said. “USC continues to get commitments from great player after great player.”

Notre Dame’s current commitment list includes nine offensive players: quarterback Dayne Crist; running back Jonas Gray; wide receivers Michael Floyd and John Goodman; tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Joseph Fauria; and offensive linemen Lane Clelland, Mike Golic, Jr. and Braxton Cave.

The Irish also have 12 defensive players committed: defensive backs Robert Blanton, Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy; linebackers David Posluszny, Darius Fleming, Anthony McDonald and Steve Filer; and defensive linemen Ethan Johnson, Hafis Williams, Brandon Newman, Omar Hunter and Cwynar.

Scout.com rates four of the players as “five-star” recruits, the highest rating it gives. None is rated lower than “three stars.”