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Football: High school junior prospects visit campus

Lorenzo Reyes | Friday, October 31, 2008

Although Notre Dame got off to a hot start on the recruiting trail despite last year’s 3-9 season, the Irish coaching staff is already looking ahead at the class of 2010.

With 16 members of the class of 2009 already pledging their verbal commitments, Notre Dame will have close to 50 high school juniors on campus for the game against Pittsburgh Saturday.

Mike Frank, who covers Notre Dame football for Scout.com, spoke about the importance of making a notable first impression on many of these elite talents.

“They’re going to have players coming in from all over the country,” Frank said. “This is essentially a junior day in October, which is unheard of. This just kind of goes along with the success that they are having with recruiting right now.”

Much of the reason as to why all these high-school juniors will be visiting is a testament to the effort coach Charlie Weis and the rest of the Irish staff has invested in recruiting top talent.

“The staff is so, so far ahead than they have ever been,” Frank said. “I’ve never seen a more organized group of guys when it comes to getting ahead of the game. They are light years ahead of where they were, even at this point last year.”

With the 2008 campaign shaping up in a favorable manner, a strong finish will go a long way in terms of gaining interest from several of these elite junior prospects.

“What it means is, if Notre Dame can finish this season strong, meaning they pick up eight or nine wins, you’re going to see Notre Dame have a tremendous 2010 recruiting class,” Frank said. “They’ve come in on so many of the elite players already.”

Of the numerous prospects in attendance for the Pittsburgh game, a few have already garnered the attention that only elite talents receive. Offensive tackle Matt James, who attends the same high school as freshman tight end Kyle Rudolph, is no exception.

“Matt James is 6-foot-7, 285 pounds has offers already from Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, and he’s a big-time player coming in,” Frank said. “I think a lot of people are going to look at him as a top offensive lineman in this class for sure.”

The Irish are looking to keep the pipeline state of California alive with their recent success in the area and are bringing in some impressive juniors from the region.

“A guy like Brett Thomas, who is a safety at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, will be one of the better prospects in California,” Frank said. “To get California kids on campus is impressive in itself. They’re coming in on their own dime. Notre Dame can’t pay for their trip, so just to get so many guys from Florida, guys from Pennsylvania, guys from all over the country, it says something about the effort Notre Dame is putting in.”

Shawn Afryl, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive end from Niles West High School in Illinois, will visit this weekend as well. Chase Rettig, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound quarterback out of LaSalle High School in California, and Dylan Davis, a 6-foot 215 pound linebacker out of St. Bonaventure High School, will both make the trip from California.

Although the prospects are showing serious interest in the Irish, there is still work to be done. It will be essential to perform well on the field to pick up pledges.

“I think if Irish fans just wait for what happens, if Notre Dame wins eight or nine games, which I firmly believe they will, if they can wait for 2010, I really think that Notre Dame is going to have at least a top 5 class next year, if not the top spot