When safety Prentice McKinney
named Notre Dame
his leader in early March, the three-star safety from Dallas, Texas told Irisheyes.com his "mentor" Joe Thomas played a big role in why he held the Irish in such high esteem.
Thomas, who now works as a police officer at McKinney's high school, played linebacker for Notre Dame under legendary head coach Lou Holtz in the mid-90's.
"He did not really know much about Notre Dame before they offered," Thomas said. "I told him about the tradition, brotherhood and my personal experience playing there. I explained to him that once you're in, you're family."
When McKinney committed to Notre Dame on March 27, it caught most by surprise, including Irish assistant Kerry Cooks, who recruited McKinney for the Irish. The hard-hitting defensive back had committed to the Irish before laying eyes on campus, somewhat of a novelty in today's maze of recruiting.
"Prentice has his goals that are kind of cut and dry," Thomas said. "Notre Dame is a school that has exactly what's he's trying to do in order to succeed, and having someone with first-hand experience tell him about it, it kind of became a no-brainer for him."
"We talked about (academics) a lot," Thomas said. "It caught his attention when I said Notre Dame is respected worldwide. It's not just a state-wide or regional thing."
McKinney would likely not yet be Irish at this point in the recruiting cycle had it not been for Thomas.
"He played a big role in my decision, but I know that he was going to be there for me no matter what, regardless of where I chose to go to school," McKinney told Irisheyes.com the evening he committed. "But, he's really happy I chose Notre Dame."
Thomas attests much of how he approaches life to the teachings of his former coach, Holtz.
"I played under the last two years of Lou Holtz," Thomas said. "When he was recruiting me, he came to my house and met my parents who really liked him. He taught me life lessons through football that have carried me throughout my life."
"'Win the day" was his theme," Thomas said. "I remember that like it was yesterday. He had a book about it. He would always talk about not putting so many goals ahead of you that you can't accomplish the next step."
McKinney, who chose Notre Dame over offers from the likes of Boise State, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, received a recruiting visit from Texas head coach Charlie Strong this spring.
"Coach Strong was my position coach at Notre Dame," Thomas said. "When he came into Prentice's school to talk to him, he still raved about Notre Dame. Coach Holtz instilled that in us to love Notre Dame. It shows what kind of tradition that school has."
"Wherever you want to go after Notre Dame, you'll be productive," Thomas said. "Bob Davie, Urban Meyer, Charlie Strong, that's an all-star cast right there. All under the instruction of Lou Holtz."
Notre Dame and Kerry Cooks are unquestionably hitting the state of Texas hard on the recruiting trail, and they're cultivating the type of momentum there that could allow the Irish to consistently tap into Lone Star State for elite talent for years to come.
But, South Oak Cliff is not Bishop Dunne. It's not a breeding ground for future Irish players. But with McKinney and Thomas paving the way, a new leaf could be turned.
"He'll add another dimension to the secondary at Notre Dame," Thomas said. "He has the mindset that when the ball is in the air, it belongs to him. He's a ball hawk. Prentice has a character that's so well-respected. He's exactly what Notre Dame wants. He's a 'yes sir' and 'no ma'am' type of guy who always listens. He takes in what you tell him and applies it."
Notre Dame safety commit Prentice McKinney called former Irish linebacker Joe Thomas a mentor throughout the recruiting process. Thomas weighs in on how his experience at Notre Dame helped shape his own personal life as well as his influence on McKinney.
Notre Dame commit Prentice McKinney calls former Irish linebacker Joe Thomas a mentor