Posts Tagged ‘Jonas Gray’

ND NSD Liveblog

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

I can’t say I’ll be at my computer all day long (it is Ash Wednesday, after all), but at least through these early morning hours I’ll be posting NSD-related news as it breaks. Stay tuned …

10:20am PST: … and so the liveblog endeth. Congrats to Weis & Co. on an amazing class, and to all the recruits for signing up with an amazing program. Let’s get this train back on the rails!

Check back in this afternoon for Milton Knox’s decision - last I heard, he wants to go to ND but his dad won’t let him …

9:17am PST: In an interview on Rivals Radio this morning, Dayne Crist apparently said that he’s going to enroll at ND in mid-June. I guess that means he’ll be around for summer practice, which is GREAT … [EDIT: Err, not quite. See Grant's helpful comment.]

9:14am PST: Via GoshenGipper:

During his presser CW just mentioned that there are still a few guys out there that are uncommitted so there might be a few surprises, but that he wasn’t counting on it and he wanted to focus his presser on the 23 that have already signed.

Sheesh. A FEW?! Hold on to your hats, folks …

8:54am PST: Word is there is still some uncertainty about what the heck Omar Hunter is going to do with himself. I hope Urbie is having as miserable a time as we all were a month or so ago. Stay tuned …

8:39am PST: Via the Scout liveblog once again, this is the kind of thing that just has to make you smile:

11:28 am EST: Joe Adams just pulled a stunner, spurning USC, where he was a longtime commit, to sign with homestate Arkansas. — Brandon Huffman

There has been a simply unbelievable number of recruits today who’ve sent their LOIs to schools other than the ones they committed to. The fact that ND has managed to avoid this really speaks to the character of their recruits, and to the terrific job the coaches have done of making them feel a part of the team from Day One.

7:53am PST: Steve Filer is in as well. So that’s all for now in the LOI department, pending Milton Knox’s announcement this evening. My kid is up, though, so I’m off to make some breakfast. Get back to work, folks - I’ll be back soon.

7:52am PST: NDNation is reporting that Dayne Crist has faxed in his letter.

7:47am PST: This is worth passing along, for anyone who hasn’t seen it or didn’t notice this particular story. It’s Charlie Weis talking about what recruiting was like this year:

“The biggest highlight for me, personally, is the great player from a distant place that decided to go to another school. Obviously, I can’t say his name. As much as it hurt, I called him and wished him the very best. It turns out the Mom was in our corner, and the next night he called back and asked, ‘You still got that scholarship?’ When I said ‘Yes I do,’ he responded, ‘Well, I came to my senses. I am coming to Notre Dame.’ That was a great feeling that we had handled things the right way.”

It certainly seems like he’s referring to Kapron Lewis-Moore, though at the time he couldn’t mention him by name. Great story …

7:45am PST: Hello out there. Not yet eight in the morning, and already over 1,100 pageloads today. Sheesh.

7:39am PST: From Scout’s Bob Lichtenfels, commenting on the commitment of Kapron Lewis-Moore:

… the race for No. 1 in the Scout.com recruiting rankings narrows.

Ahh yes, the famed MRNC. Standings here and here, btw.

7:35am PST: Damn:

10:27 am EST: Apparently there was a lot of truth to DT Omar Hunter (Buford, Ga.) wavering on his Florida commitment. Hunter heard some rumors late yesterday that DL Coach Greg Mattison might be leaving for the Ravens and wavered. Whether Mattison leaves or not is not known at this time (or it could be a bad rumor that got to Hunter) but it did cause a moment of pause for Omar. Hunter just signed with the Gators. — Jamie Newberg

7:33am PST: LOIs are in from Anthony McDonald and Joseph Fauria. Crist and Filer are the only ones left, by my accounting.

7:17am PST: Hafis Williams and Ethan Johnson, done and done.

7:05am PST: Take this FWIW (from the Scout.com live blog):

9:53 am EST: I am hearing some rumblings that five-star D-tackle Omar Hunter (Buford, Ga.) may not sign with Florida. Could it be Georgia? Don’t know just yet and I’m trying to track this one down. This could be devastating to the Gators. — Jamie Newberg

One can only dream.

6:50am PST: Expect letters from Steve Filer and Hafis Williams in the next ten minutes or so … that will take care of the non-PSTers.

6:47am PST: In more karma-related news, Florida has lost yet another verbal commitment, as Ramon Buchanon has sent an LOI into Miami (where he had “committed” before he “committed” to Florida). Methinks this is what happens when you keep telling kids who are committed to other programs that verbal commitments aren’t binding … word gets around, you know?

6:38am PST: According to Scout, the idea of being Omar Hunter’s back-up plan was part of what turned Mike Martin off to ND. Never mind that Michigan recruited Hunter as well, of course, and may not have given Martin as much attention if Hunter had committed (or “committed”, as the case may be) to them. Goes to show you the consequences of insincere - or at least less-than-solid - verbal commitments, though … this wouldn’t have been a problem if Omar had just told ND he wasn’t sure in the first place.

6:33am PST: Lewis-Moore’s letter is in, per Rivals.

6:32am PST: In other news, Josh Jenkins snubbed Florida State and Ohio State to stay local and play for West Virginia, and Florida commit Ricky Barnum jumped ship to go play for Michigan. Poetic justice, much? Suck it, Urbie.

6:30am PST: Jonas Gray, check.

6:17am PST: Apparently bad weather in the Midwest might delay the Chicago- and Detroit-area guys …

6:14am PST: Fleming is in …

6:12am PST: We’re still waiting on: Hafis Williams, Jonas Gray, Ethan Johnson, Dayne Crist, Anthony McDonald, Darius Fleming, Steve Filer, and Joseph Fauria. With the exception of Williams, all those guys are in the Central or Pacific time zones, though …

6:09am PST: I’ll well aware that I’m one of those “dorks”, thank you very much.

6:06am PST: Per GoshenGipper, Kapron Lewis-Moore apparently kept himself entertained over the weekend by reading message boards and watching everyone try to figure out who the “secret commit” was. LOL … what a bunch of dorks.

6:01am PST: … and Braxston Cave makes fourteen.

5:57am PST: Lane Clelland, too …

5:55am PST: Kyle Rudolph, David Posluszny, and Dan McCarthy are safely in the fold now … that’s twelve so far, not counting Lewis-Moore.

5:51am PST: Michael Floyd’s letter is in …

5:41am PST: More here on the supposed “mystery” recruit, for all you insatiable rumor-sharks out there.

5:30am PST: Apparently BGI is reporting that Kapron Lewis-Moore will be sending his LOI in shortly. They’re also indicating that he’s the “mystery” recruit whom all the whispers had been about … we’ll see, I guess. If it is him, though, then thanks for ruining Christmas, Tom Lemming!

5:15am PST: Rivals is also reporting that Omar Hunter has faxed his LOI in to the world’s biggest douche Urban Meyer the world’s biggest douche.

5:14am PST: According to Rivals, the following LOIs have all been sent in:

  • Robert Blanton
  • Sean Cwynar
  • Mike Golic Jr.
  • Brandon Newman
  • Trevor Robinson
  • Jamoris Slaughter
  • Deion Walker

4:57am PST: Apparently it has been confirmed that Deion Walker will honor his verbal commitment and enroll at ND in 2008. Whew. He will be on Rivals Radio in about a half an hour.

4:54am PST: A quick update of the morning’s big stories:

  • Apparently Deion Walker is going to be on Rivals Radio in a few minutes “announcing” whether he’s decided to stay at ND or switch his verbal to ND or PSU. Ugh.
  • Mike Golic Jr. signed his LOI on the Mike and Mike Show about a half-hour ago.
  • Milton Knox will announce his decision at 7pm EST; I’m not sure when the official word will be in on Kapron Lewis-Moore.
  • No word yet on the mystery recruit who supposedly offered a super-secret commitment to ND in the last few days … stay tuned.

Friday Night Lights roundup for the weekend of 11/23

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Here’s the Roundup’s weekly overview of how the players currently committed to Notre Dame’s 2008 recruiting class fared in their high school games this past weekend:

  • Michael Floyd had three catches for 85 yards but was kept out of the end zone, and his Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) team fell to Eden Prairie, 50-21, in the class 5-A state championship game. Cretin-Derham ends the season at 13-1.
  • Jonas Gray had 34 carries for 144 yards, but was largely contained overall - he had only 36 yards on 20 carries in the first half, and was tackled for a loss seven times - as his Detroit Country Day (Mich.) team fell to Marine City, 21-7, in the Div-IV state championship game. The Yellowjackets finish the season with an 11-3 record.
  • Dan McCarthy was on the sidelines once again with a neck injury suffered a couple of weeks ago, but his Cardinal Mooney (Ohio) team still managed to make it to their fourth straight state championship game, defeating Pleasant by a final score of 28-0. The 14-0 Cardinals will play 13-1 Coldwater for the state title.
  • Omar Hunter (pictured here) and his Buford (Ga.) team moved to 13-0 with a 41-0 blowout of Darlington in the second round of the state playoffs. Next up for the top-ranked Wolves is second-ranked Charlton County (11-0).
  • Jamoris Slaughter’s Tucker (Ga.) team is now 12-0, after a 56-10 shellacking of Northwest Whitfield in their second-round game. The Tigers’ next playoff opponent is 9-3 Bainbridge.
  • Joseph Fauria had touchdown catches of 23 and 40 yards and played great defense to boot as his Crespi (Calif.) team pulled off a shocking, 48-26 rout of Mater Dei in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Pac-5 playoffs. There’s more on the game, and on the play of Fauria and 2009 QB recruit Matt Barkley in particular, here. Next up for the 10-2 Celts is 9-2 Servite.
  • Ethan Johnson watched from the sidelines as his Lincoln (Ore.) team ended their season at 6-6 with a 28-21 loss to West Salem in the state 6A quarterfinals.
  • Despite a disappointing three-loss regular season and an early exit from the state playoffs, Darius Fleming and his St. Rita’s (Ill.) team still have something to cheer about, as they beat Morgan Park, 31-7, to claim their first Prep Bowl title since 1997. The Mustangs end the year at 10-4.
  • Hafis Williams’s Elizabeth (N.J.) team ends their year at 6-4 after a 39-24 victory over Scotch Plains in their regular-season finale. Their loss to Hunterdon Central in the previous week was actually a playoff game, so that ends their season.
  • And finally, Mike Golic Jr.’s Northwest Catholic (Conn.) team earned themselves a a Class S playoff berth, with a 36-12 victory over Plainville that moved them to 8-2 on the year.

Best of luck to Golic, Fauria, Slaughter, and Hunter, and to McCarthy’s Mooney squad, in their remaining games!

Friday Night Lights roundup for the weekend of 11/16

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Sorry to be so slow once again in getting this up. Here’s your weekly rundown of how Notre Dame’s currently committed players fared in their high school football games last week:

  • With quarterback Dan McCarthy sitting on the sidelines after suffering a neck injury the previous week, Cardinal Mooney (Ohio) still managed to end two-time defending state D-III champion Steubenville’s 42-game win streak, as they built a 28-0 halftime lead and held on to win, 35-20. Mooney is now 13-0 on the year heading into this week’s semi-state game.
  • John Goodman had a tough day but did throw a 23-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter for a 7-0 lead, but Lowell came back with ten points in the last seven minutes to beat his Bishop Dwenger (Ind.) team 10-7, ending the Saints’ playoff run in the state semifinals. Dwenger finishes the season at 13-1.
  • Michael Floyd had five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown - including four receptions on the opening drive - as his Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) team moved to 13-0 with a 56-14 romp over Brainerd that moved them into the class 5A final for only the sixth time in their history.
  • Despite being bothered by a leg injury, Jonas Gray had 29 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns - including fourth-quarter TD runs of 30 and 61 yards - as his Detroit Country Day (Mich.) team defeated top-ranked Zeeland West, 37-30, in a wild game that came down to a 52-yard hook-and-ladder play that went for a touchdown with 45 seconds remaining. Gray and the 11-2 Yellowjackets will face Marine City in the state finals.
  • Omar Hunter’s Buford (Ga.) team moved their record to a spotless 11-0 with a 56-7 blowout of Washington-Wilkes in the first round of the AA state playoffs.
  • Jamoris Slaughter’s Tucker (Ga.) team is also 11-0, after a 24-0 shutout of Clarke Central in their first-round AAAA game.
  • Robert Blanton had his fourth blocked kick and his sixth interception of the season, but it wasn’t enough, as his Butler (N.C.) team saw their season come to a disappointing end, falling to Charlotte Independence, 20-7, in the second round of the state playoffs. Butler finishes the season at 10-3.
  • Steve Filer’s Mount Carmel (Ill.) team also saw its dreams of a state title fade away, as they were upset by Glenbard North, 28-21. The Caravan’s final record is 12-1.
  • Sean Cwynar had a third-quarter extra point attempt - yes, you read that right - blocked, and his Marian Central (Ill.) team fell to Morris, 10-9, in the state semifinals. The Hurricanes finish the year at 10-3.
  • Joseph Fauria’s Crespi (Calif.) team defeated Millikan, 26-14, in the first round of the Pac-5 playoffs. Next up for the 9-2 Celts is Mater Dei.
  • Dayne Crist ended up being unable to play because of a concussion suffered in the previous week’s game against Crespi, and his and Anthony McDonald’s Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (Calif.) team couldn’t overcome his absence, as they fell to Newport Harbor, 7-3, in the first round of the Pac-5 playoffs. The Knights finish the season at 8-3.
  • Ethan Johnson’s Lincoln (Ore.) team moved to 6-5 on the year with a 19-7 playoff win over David Douglas. Next up for Lincoln is West Salem.
  • Darius Fleming and the 9-4 St. Rita’s (Ill.) defense shut down Loyola in a 28-0 win that moved the Mustangs to the Prep Bowl finals.

Hafis Williams and Mike Golic were off this week, and Braxston Cave, Brandon Newman, Lane Clelland, David Posluszny, and Kyle Rudolph are all done with their respective seasons.

Friday Night Lights roundup for the weekend of 11/9

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Here’s your weekly rundown of how Notre Dame’s currently committed players fared in their high school football games this past weekend:

  • Dan McCarthy, who earlier this week was named his district’s Offensive Player of the Year, led his Cardinal Mooney (Ohio) to their twelfth straight win to start the year, a 21-17 victory over St. Vincent-St. Mary. Mooney will face Steubenville in the regional final on Saturday.
  • John Goodman had touchdown runs of 43 and 19 yards and threw for three more scores - including a 75-yard bomb - as his Bishop Dwenger (Ind.) team extended their undefeated season with a 42-14 blowout of Jay County in a regional semifinal game. Next up for the 13-0 Saints is a trip to Lowell for the semistate.
  • Dayne Crist left the game with a concussion after being hit hard and fumbling the ball on a quarterback keeper, and Joseph Fauria caught an 18-yard touchdown pass just one play later, as Fauria’s Crespi (Calif.) team cruised to a 23-3 victory over Crist and Anthony McDonald’s Notre Dame squad.
  • Braxston Cave and his Penn (Ind.) squad saw their undefeated season and dreams of a state title come to an end with a 21-20 loss to Merrillville in the regional final.
  • Michael Floyd had a relatively quiet day with four catches for 44 yards, but he did score a touchdown as his Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) team survived a scare and defeated Lakeville North, 26-18, in the class 5A quarterfinals. Up next for Cretin-Derham is 13-1 Brainerd.
  • Jonas Gray rushed 26 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, and his Detroit Country Day (Mich.) squad moved to 10-2 with a 24-6 victory over Milan in a regional playoff game. Next up for the Yellowjackets is undefeated and top-ranked Zeeland West in the state semifinals.
  • Omar Hunter’s Buford (Ga.) defense (recently profiled here) pitched their third straight shutout, ending their regular season at 10-0 with a 21-0 victory over Lovett. Buford QB Twoey Hosch left the game with an injured foot, and while x-rays revealed no fracture, he remains questionable for next Friday’s game against Washington-Wilkes.
  • Jamoris Slaughter’s Tucker (Ga.) team finished up a 10-0 regular season in which they allowed more than eight points only once with a 38-8 victory over Cedar Grove. The Tigers will face Clarke Central in their first-round playoff game.
  • Robert Blanton’s Butler (N.C.) team moved to 10-2 with a 49-6 spanking of Lumberton in the first round of the playoffs. Next up for the Bulldogs is archrival Charlotte Independence, whom they upset in dramatic fashion the week before.
  • Steve Filer’s Mt. Carmel (Ill.) team moved to 12-0 with a 21-14 victory over Maine South in a class 8A quarterfinal game. Up next for the Caravan is 8-4 Glenbard North.
  • Darius Fleming’s St. Rita’s (Ill.) squad rebounded from a tough loss last week with a 35-18 victory over Fenwick in the first round of the Prep Bowl playoffs.
  • Sean Cwynar’s Marian Central (Ill.) team had a dramatic, come-from-behind 34-27 victory over Nazareth in their class 5A quarterfinal matchup. Next up for the seventh-seeded Hurricanes is fifth-seeded Morris.
  • Brandon Newman’s Pleasure Ridge Park (Ky.) team nearly upset 10-1 Manual, but they were stopped on a two-point conversion attempt in overtime and lost, 21-20, in the first round of the class 6A playoffs. PRP finishes the year at 4-7.
  • Hafis Williams’s Elizabeth (N.J.) team fell to 5-4 with a 20-0 loss to Hunterdon Central.
  • Ethan Johnson’s Lincoln (Ore.) team cruised to a 55-28 playoff victory over Roseburg that was propelled by a 42-point explosion in the second half. The Cardinals are now 5-5, and will meet David Douglas in their second-round game.
  • Lane Clelland’s McDonogh (Md.) team finished their regular season with a 21-14 loss to Gilman that dropped their record to 6-4.
  • Mike Golic Jr.’s Northwest Catholic (Conn.) team moved to 7-2 on the year with a 28-0 shutout win over East Catholic.

That’s it for this week, as David Posluszny’s and Kyle Rudolph’s teams are finished with their seasons.

Friday Night Lights roundup for the weekend of 11/2

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

(Sorry to be a bit slow getting this up; Saturday’s loss made for a lot to process.)

Here’s the Roundup’s weekly rundown of how ND’s committed recruits for the 2008 season fared in their high school games this past week:

  • Dayne Crist completed 10 of 15 passes for 185 yards in the first half but was only 1-of-6 after halftime, but he finished with 230 total yards and also ran a score in from 70 yards away on the third play of the game as his and Anthony McDonald’s Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (Calif.) team moved to 8-1 with a 51-30 defeat of Bishop Amat.
  • Dan McCarthy attempted only one pass on the night but ran for 105 yards and two scores - and had three other touchdown runs called back on penalties - as his Cardinal Mooney (Ohio) team moved to 11-0 with a 30-6 blowout of Coshocton. Mooney faces St. Vincent-St. Mary, against whom they rallied from a 17-0 deficit for a win a few weeks ago, in their next playoff game, as they seek to defend the Division IV state title they won in 2006. (McCarthy’s stats from his first ten games are available here.)
  • Braxston Cave’s Penn (Ind.) team defeated Goshen by a score of 13-3 to recapture the Class 5A sectional trophy and move their record to 12-0. The no. 2-ranked Kingsmen face no. 4 Merriville, former home of ND tailback James Aldridge, in next week’s regional game.
  • Steve Filer’s Mount Carmel (Ill.) team blew out Palatine by a score of 34-0, moving their season record to 11-0 and advancing them to the third round of the Class 8A playoffs.
  • John Goodman threw two second-half touchdown passes and ran in a 54-yard score before halftime as his Bishop Dwenger (Ind.) team moved to 12-0 with a 52-20 blowout of DeKalb that brought them a Class 4A sectional championship. The Saints will face Jay County in their next playoff game.
  • Kyle Rudolph’s Elder (Ohio) team had their season come to a disappointing end, with a 45-14 loss to top-ranked St. Xavier that dropped their season record to 7-4. Rudolph had seven catches for 79 yards in the game.
  • Robert Blanton made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch (video here) with six minutes remaining in the game, and his Butler (N.C.) team moved their season record to 8-2 became the first in-state team since 2000 to defeat national power Charlotte Independence (a span of 109 games), winning a nail-biter by the score of 21-20 (more here). (Kyle Rudolph’s Elder squad had, of course, beaten Independence earlier in the year, in an interstate matchup at the Herbstreit Classic.) Independence was playing without head coach Tom Knotts, who was suspended after being involved in an altercation with a parent after a JV game the night before, but is reportedly not going to face assault charges.
  • Darius Fleming’s St. Rita’s (Ill.) team ended their season at 7-4 as they blew a 22-7 third-quarter lead by giving up 19 straight points to undefeated Wheaton Warrenville South as they lost their a Class 7A playoff game by a score of 26-22 (more here). Fleming had three sacks on the night.
  • Mike Golic Jr.’s Northwest Catholic (Conn.) team moved to 6-2 with a 22-0 shutout of Farmington.
  • Michael Floyd scored four touchdowns - one rushing, three receiving - as his Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) team cruised to a 53-32 victory over Tartan in the third round of the playoffs. The Raiders are now 11-0 on the year.
  • Lane Clelland’s McDonogh (Md.) team moved to 6-3 on the year with a 25-7 victory over Georgetown Prep.
  • Hafis Williams’s Elizabeth (N.J.) team improved to 5-3 with a 41-7 blowout of Newark East Side.
  • Jaromis Slaughter’s Tucker (Ga.) team wrapped up a no. 1 seed in the playoffs as they moved to 9-0 on the year with a 63-0 win over North Springs, their sixth shutout of the season.
  • Ethan Johnson’s Lincoln (Ore.) team fell to 4-5 with a 37-27 loss to Tualatin. I don’t think Ethan played in the game, since as I noted last week he was expected to sit out the rest of the season due to his ACL injury.
  • Jonas Gray’s Detroit Country Day (Mich.) team moved to 9-2 with a 7-0 victory over Crockett Tech in a second-round playoff game. The Yellowjackets will face Milan next week.
  • Joseph Fauria had five catches for 65 yards as his Crespi (Calif.) team defeated Loyola by a score of 38-7, to move to 7-2 on the year. The Celts’ next game is against Crist and McDonald’s Sherman Oaks team.
  • Sean Cwynar’s Marian Central (Ill.) team pulled off a stunning playoff upset, as the 7th-seeded Hurricanes defeated no. 2 Montini by a score of 29-15 (more here and here). Marian Central moves on to face 14th-ranked Nazareth County (8-3) in their next playoff game, but they will be without star running back/linebacker T.J. Pappas, who suffered a broken bone in his left foot.

That’s all for this week: Omar Hunter’s Buford team had a bye, and the seasons are over for David Posluszny’s Hopewell squad and Brandon Newman’s Pleasure Ridge Park team.

Taking Stock, Part III: Dig deep

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

(This is the third in a series of three posts analyzing the season so far and looking ahead to its remainder. Part I, “19 reasons why Notre Dame’s offense has sucked so badly in 2007,” is available here, and Part II, “Identity crisis,” is here.)

If it’s true, as I argued it is in the first two posts of this series, that the primary reason Notre Dame’s offense has been so bad this year is because of Charlie Weis himself, and that putting this season together with the last two gives us reason to think that the same characteristics that seem to make Weis a very good or even great coach for a bunch of hard-working, self-motivating, experienced veterans like the ones he had in 2005 and 2006, make him a downright awful coach for a bunch of unpolished youngsters like these ones, then an obvious question we need to ask ourselves is whether he’s going to be able to help this current group make the necessary transition. There’s no reason to think that the raw talent isn’t there; the issue is that of developing it in the right ways.

One aspect of this, which many people picked up on in commenting on the earlier posts (see OCDomer’s helpful response here, for example), concerns the purely “physical” aspect of their development. Can Weis and the rest of his staff help these players build the strength and stamina they need to perform at a high level? Can they teach them the “fundamentals”? Can they help players like Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen put on enough weight - of the right kind, mind you - to absorb the physical pounding that comes with playing D-I football? And so on.

But while I think these kinds of questions are really very important, they actually weren’t the focus of what I was trying to bring out in my earlier posts. At the heart of my argument on Tuesday was the idea that many of this team’s biggest problems so far have been mental rather than purely physical: they’ve been tentative, distracted, easily discouraged, and so on. Similarly, my argument on Wednesday centered on the proposal that there was something about the psychological make-up of the 2005 and 2006 teams that made them respond well to Weis’s coaching style in a way that this one hasn’t. To be honest, I have little doubt that these guys will get there physically; the real question for me is whether they can keep their heads in the game.

Here’s what Aaron Taylor had to say about this in a (somewhat over-the-top) post he wrote after standing on the Notre Dame sidelines for the USC game:

These players are done. They don’t seem to play with passion or even be bothered when things are going wrong. In fact, it almost seemed like they were used to it. Laughing and joking on the sideline by a select few players while receiving the worst beat down in the 70+ game history with USC. What’s worse than them laughing was that no one seemed to do anything about it. No one yelling at the players. No one holding each other accountable on their respective sides of the ball. No one finally saying, “enough is enough” and doing something about it. Blank stares and apathy by starters and veterans. Guys seemingly relieved when something goes wrong and it wasn’t their fault. Embarrassing … and they just seem to take it. Except for the defense, however, as Corwin [Brown] and his boys come to play.

In my mind, it’s this sort of thing that’s far and away the biggest threat to the development of the current freshmen and sophomores. If they get discouraged and hang their heads when things go wrong, then the way Charlie Weis coaches will consistently be received as overwhelming and overbearing. And if this kind of behavior really is characteristic of their mindset right now, then that gives us reason to think that they many never become the kinds of players they need to be if they’re going to become winners down the line.

While I obviously wasn’t able to be on the sidelines for the SC game, a worrying moment for me came right at the midpoint of the third quarter. The Irish trailed 31-0 following Vidal Hazelton’s touchdown reception, and faced a third-and-three after Armando Allen had churned out a seven-yard run. Evan Sharpley broke the huddle, and you could see Sam Young and Mike Turkovich give a half-hearted clap, sigh, hang their heads, and shuffle over to the line of scrimmage. It was the look of a group that had been whipped: a team that HAD said “enough is enough,” albeit not in the way one would hope for.

If Taylor’s diagnosis is right - and it should be said that similar rumors have swirled around this team for much of the season - then there’s a LOT to be worried about. One scenario this recalls is the end of the 2004 season, which started off with an embarrassing 2-6 record that included a 38-0 blowout loss on the road to Michigan, a 45-14 smoking at home against Southern Cal, and a 37-0 home defeat to Florida State. After squeaking past Navy and BYU at home and easily beating Rutgers (you know, back when they were awful) on the road, Tyrone Willingham’s Irish were left a chance to finish the season at 6-6 and put themselves in contention for a bowl invitation they’d almost certainly receive. We all remember how that ended: Notre Dame lost, 38-12, to a Syracuse team that one week earlier had been simply spanked by Rutgers. And in the eyes of many of the Irish faithful, the sorry performance on that day was an example of a team that had quit on their coach.

Unlike Willingham’s team, which headed into that last game with a shot at a .500 regular season record, the current group of players has no hope for a postseason bowl. But that doesn’t make the end of their season any less important. It’s not just that the Irish need to win out these last four games and end the year at a somewhat respectable 5-7, or even that they need to generate some positive momentum heading into the offseason, but that they need to show that they aren’t going to go the route that the Irish of 2003 went against the Orangemen. This team needs to show some heart, some spirit, some drive: they need to push around their undersized and under-talented opponents, to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, to hit - hard - and wrap up, to give evidence of what Weis’s offense and Brown’s defense can do when the balance of the talent is on their side. In a word: they need to show that they’re not going to quit.

Let me reiterate: the primary reason I say this is not because of the remainder of the 2007 season itself. This year is lost, no doubt about that. The key issues have to do with the development - in particular, the psychological maturation - of the young players: are they going to allow themselves to be mired into a cycle of losing, with everything that attends it? Or are they going to break out, push harder, and continue to improve themselves? Are they going to develop the tough, dedicated, non-defeatist mindset that allowed Brady Quinn and his colleagues to play so well under Weis in 2005 and 2006? Or are they going to go a different route?

After the sorry performance against USC two weeks ago, and Taylor’s description of the mood on the sidelines, it’s natural to think that this team has already made its choice. But I want to suggest briefly that such a judgment would be unfounded.

In the first place, it’s worth pointing out that the practice reports we’ve seen following the SC game have generally painted the picture of a pretty fired-up team. Here, for example, is Ben Ford’s account of what things were like just three days after the loss:

The energy level was extremely high, starting with the defensive linemen, where Justin Brown and Kallen Wade raced to the blocking sled. Wade — who’s got a much longer stride — won by a length. (Sorry, that’s a little Breeders’ Cup excitement working its way into a football blog.)

But the receivers were by far the most energetic group today. Coach Rob Ianello had them running the running backs’ gauntlet — that’s a first, as far as I know — and the players let loose with some great Captain Caveman-style yells, especially [Robby] Parris and walk-on Nick Possley.

But in my mind, the far more important sign is another thing that happened right after the USC game: Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray, two highly-regard recruits who had been watching the game from the same vantage point as Aaron Taylor had, made verbal commitments to the Irish, turning down offers from numerous teams having considerably more on-the-field success. They had been with the Irish players before, during, and after the loss; they had gotten an in-depth look at what the attitude of the team was like. And yet - or and so, we might think - they decided that this was a group that they wanted to be a part of.

It might be easy to chalk this up to a couple of kids looking for early playing time, but that would be a mistake. Floyd, for example, had an offer from his homestate school, the woeful Minnesota Gophers, where he could likely have started from day one. Gray’s case is even more instructive in this regard: in giving his pledge to the Irish, he reneged on an earlier commitment to Nebraska, a move that suggests that in his mind anyway, the two programs are headed in quite different directions. Notre Dame, he seemed to be saying, is genuinely rebuilding, while the Huskers are simply falling apart.

It’s hard to imagine how Floyd and Gray - as well as other recruits, like Trevor Robinson and Kenneth Page, who were also high on the Irish after visiting for the USC game - could have gotten such a positive impression if the attitude on the team had been as thoroughly defeatist as the picture Taylor paints. Notre Dame’s recruiting successes this year suggest, not just that Weis, Brown, and the others are terrific at that aspect of their jobs (though they surely are), but also that there is a sizeable contingent of players who are happy to be at Notre Dame, genuinely excited about the direction the team is headed, and devoted to turning this ship around.

All that really matters, of course, is what happens on the playing field: and that’s why these next four games are so important. In the first place, if the Irish continue to be embarrassed and fail to show tangible signs of improvement, it’s easy to imagine that a good number of their committed players might decide that they’ve been mistaken about the overall direction of the team, and jump ship. Secondly, though, there’s the psyche of the current players - the ones who will make up the core of this team in 2008 and beyond - to consider: any positive momentum they can build over the remainder of 2007 will do wonders for their confidence, and go a long way to making them the kind of “Weis guys” that I’ve been arguing they need to become, while continuing to struggle in the ways they have so far will seriously undermine this possibility.

It’s time for this team to show us what they’ve got, and to decide for themselves what kind of team they’re going to become.

Friday Night Lights roundup: weekend of 10/26

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Here’s the Roundup’s weekly summary of how Notre Dame’s current group of committed players for the 2008 class, which now stands at 21 total, fared in their high school football games this past weekend:

Big Red Mess: Former Nebraska verbal Jonas Gray commits to Notre Dame

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Rivals.com is reporting that Detroit tailback Jonas Gray, who up until this past weekend was verbally committed to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, gave a verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Monday night. The 5′10″, 213-lb. Gray is a four-star recruit on both Rivals and Scout, and has been clocked under 4.4 seconds in a 40-yard sprint. He is the 21st player overall to commit to Notre Dame’s 2008 recruiting class, and the first running back.

Gray was recruited by several top programs, including Nebraska and Michigan, early in the year, and he made a verbal commitment to Nebraska in early August. There were reports that Notre Dame had planned to extend him an official offer earlier in the year, but it never came to fruition. Then, after Nebraska followed up a strong start to their season with a five-game slide that included blowout losses to USC, Missouri, and Oklahoma State, as well as startlingly narrow wins over Ball State and Iowa State, and rumors began to surface that Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan might be on the hot seat, Gray - together with decommitted offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and linebacker Will Compton, who I believe is still officially committed to Nebraska - was one of three Nebraska recruits to attend Notre Dame’s game last Saturday against USC. The Irish lost that game, of course, but something must have been going well on the sidelines, as superstar wide receiver Michael Floyd committed shortly thereafter, and Gray’s commitment followed quickly upon his. (South Carolina offensive lineman Kenneth Page was reported to have been so excited about his official visit that same weekend that he nearly committed on the spot, but he is currently holding off on his final decision.)

As trouble continues to brew in Lincoln, the Irish appear ready and willing to capitalize on the Huskers’ misfortunes, as they are seem to be strongly in the running for Robinson’s services as well as those of Compton, should he in fact decide to reopen his recruitment. In any case, Gray’s decision is clearly great news, and counts as further evidence that the mood among Irish players is not nearly as negative as some have thought it might be.

Welcome to the ND family, Jonas!

[UPDATE: I should have included this quote from Jonas's IrishEnvy profile, left by his uncle back in September of 2006:

Thanks for the love...Jonas sure appreciates it.....Notre Dame is his first choice, and thats a fact....he's loved that school since the Jerome Bettis days.

But he didn't receive a formal offer yet from the Irish...he did receive an invite to come to some of their home games this season.....hopefully Coach Weis will send a formal offer soon.....he'll be getting a great football player, but a better person in Jonas

Awesome stuff! It's great to have another kid on board who bleeds blue and gold. And let me just add that for this reason, I think CW at Rakes of Mallow is wrong to say that "before we get too excited, please remember signing day is still many a day off. If a player is kind enough to renege on one verbal, he just might pull out on a second." By all appearances, Gray decommitted from Nebraska only because of the turmoil within their program, and - as this quote indicates - Notre Dame looks to have been his first choice all along. His situation, in other words, is much more like Brian Smith's than Chris Little's.]