Notre Dame Picks Up Recruiting Game

From Associated Press

Randy Moss, a Heisman Trophy candidate out of Marshall. Jeff Kramer, Iowa’s starting defensive end. Travis Minor, the freshman phenom running back at Florida State.

They all either seriously considered, committed to or enrolled at Notre Dame. And they all ended up playing a big role somewhere else.

With an NCAA-limit of 85 scholarships, schools can’t afford to gamble when it comes to recruiting. Have a kid transfer or lose one to academic or discipline problems, and a program can feel the effects for years. Throw in the competition between powerhouses for the same small pool of top players, and recruiting is a risky business.


That’s why one of the first things coach Bob Davie did when he was hired last year to replace Lou Holtz was shake up the Irish recruiting effort.

“You cannot afford to” lose players, Davie said. “We’re paranoid about it. We want to find a guy that three or four years from now will still be here and will be making progress.”

So far, his moves seem to be paying off. Notre Dame already has verbal commitments from five players, including David Terrell and Javin Hunter, two of the country’s top receiver prospects.

If things continue the way they’re going now, the Irish could end up with one of the nation’s top classes and their best in three years.

“They’re on the right track now,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst with Prep Football Report. “They should have a great year.”

While its history and tradition--not to mention that little perk called the NBC contract--still give Notre Dame an edge, schools like Florida State, Nebraska and Penn State have some history of their own to offer. Those schools hit recruiting hard all year long, and the Irish found themselves playing catchup in recent years.


That’s not the case this year, Lemming said.

“Notre Dame got in there with all the top players as soon as the other big-name schools,” he said. “The coordination was fantastic this year.”

As soon as Davie put his staff together, they sat down and decided who they wanted. And athletic talent was only part of what they considered.

Notre Dame isn’t like other Division I-A schools. Its academic standards are higher than anyone’s except maybe Stanford and Northwestern, and they’ve gotten tougher in recent years. Partial qualifiers are no longer accepted, and Notre Dame doesn’t take junior college students or, except in very rare cases, transfers.

Behavior and character are factors, too. Holtz wanted Moss desperately three years ago, but the university turned him down after he was convicted of charges involving a fight that left a fellow high school student hospitalized.

That means there are some prospects Davie has to write off automatically. It’s frustrating at times--and other schools use it against the Irish--but he said it can also work to Notre Dame’s advantage.

“We have something to sell. We have something different than what other people have,” he said. “It’s not for everyone. It takes a special young man to first of all get admitted, and second of all to stay and be successful.

“To take a kid that just barely is admissible or try to make something fit that’s not a good fit, you end up losing in the long run,” he added.

Once the Irish staff decided who they wanted, Davie altered the way they went about getting them. In the past, the Irish assistants divvied up the country, concentrating on the areas they knew best. Davie, for example, grew up near Pittsburgh and spent most of his coaching career at Texas 6A&M;, so he’d probably take Texas and Pennsylvania.

Sounds logical except for one problem: Notre Dame assistants are a nomadic bunch. When they’d leave, they’d take their territory with them and the whole process would be set back.

Not anymore. Now all of the coaches go everywhere.

“All the evaluations are done as a staff. All the decisions on who we take and who we don’t take are done as a staff,” Davie said. “We try to get everybody equally involved in the process.”

He also made Notre Dame’s summer camp a priority; Lemming called them “a joke” in past years.

While schools like Michigan, Texas A&M; and Ohio State were attracting the blue-chip prospects, the Irish were getting the leftovers. So Davie and his staff worked hard to sell the camp to high school coaches and left pamphlets for players. The camp ended up getting more blue-chip athletes than ever, Lemming said.

And Davie hired a football administrator, Elizabeth Dalton, to work with recruiting coordinator Bob Chmiel. She’s the one who makes sure a recruit is really the B student he says he is, checks on who has cleared admissions and tracks down missing transcripts. She sees to it the coaches have the game film they need on a prospect.

As a result, the Irish staff had personally seen and evaluated each of the 70 prospects by Dec. 1, when coaches could begin meeting players face to face.

“We feel like we’re way ahead of where we’ve been as far as evaluation; we’re already through the evaluation period completely,” Davie said. “Now we’re just in the process of trying to get them.”