Notre Dame’s recruitment of the Class of 2009 went down to the final minute and even past that as head coach Charlie Weis had to delay his press conference in order to be sure all of the faxed National Letters of Intent were in.
The Irish failed to get two of the three targets they were involved in on the last day, but they did manage to hang on to the 16 verbal commits that had going into the day and inked the most important prospect in the class on the final day in Hawaii linebacker Manti Te’o.
“There was a lot of ruckus over there in Hawaii, so we had to just wait until everything came through, and then get a rubber stamp from compliance,” Weis said.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to come in here and say, 'We are waiting for a fax.' Because then the story would have been, 'Oh, they didn't send the fax in yet; he's going somewhere else.' So trust me, I was not walking in here until we had that fax in hand.”
The Notre Dame staff had a good feeling as Te’o’s noontime announcement approached, but Weis and his coaches did not know for sure where the 6-2, 225-pounder was headed until he made his selection public on ESPNU.
Te’o’s father Brian called Notre Dame coach Brian Polian late last night to go over the specifics of the scholarship offer, but the Irish did not have a definitive answer as to which school Te’o would choose.
“There was a couple more things that happened today that gave us a strong indication that the arrow was pointing up, but not until he stepped up to that microphone and made the wise decision that he did, showed how intelligent of a young man he truly was, to say Notre Dame,” Weis said. “Not until he actually does it do you feel good about it.”
Weis did not offer any illusions about Te’o being just another recruit.
“[There was no recruit] that we wanted more or more high profile than Manti Te'o,” Weis said. “This is a linebacker that's going to make an instant impact for us.”
But Weis did not minimize the importance of the other 16 players that he signed on Wednesday. Three of them – defensive back E.J. Banks, defensive tackle Tyler Stockton and linebacker Zeke Motta - are already on campus as early enrollees.
Weis talked about Banks’ versatility and said that he is recovering nicely from knee surgery. Banks made an impact on offense, defense and special teams in high school and Weis has not ruled out a similar role in college.
“He's very cognizant of the fact that in this class we are not bringing in a quarterback,” said Weis. “We have a couple of internal candidates both currently on our team and are bringing in that it wouldn't shock me if somewhere along the line he got a couple snaps at quarterback. But we are definitely bringing E.J. in to play DB for us.”
Stockton is the only defensive lineman that Notre Dame signed this year and reminds Weis of a former Irish defensive lineman.
“He reminds me a lot of Trevor Laws and how he plays, his body type and he gets off the ball,” said Weis. “He reminds you a lot of him when you're watching him.”
Weis believes that Motta has a chance to step into the role that will be vacated by Harrison Smith’s move back to the secondary.
“He has size and athleticism to either play outside linebacker or safety for us,” Weis said. “Very similar to Harrison Smith, very similar in a lot of different ways.”
In addition to Te’o and Motta, Notre Dame also signed linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox.
“He's a physical middle linebacker who likes to hit,” Weis said of Calabrese. “He looks the part like he would be ready to go early in his career.”
Fox comes from the same high school as Robby Parris and John Ryan.
“He's more of an outside lithe backer, more of a Sam type,” Weis said. “This kid has got good size, good size for the outside linebacker position and we think that he'll be able to compete for us, another guy that we think can compete at a relatively early age.”
The Irish added three offensive lineman to the team on Wednesday in guards Alex Bullard and Chris Watt and tackle Zach Martin.
Weis said that his relationship with Bullard and his family started quickly.
“We see him as an athletic offensive guard prospect for us,” said Weis. “I really like the kid. He came here on his visit and we really clicked. Clicked with him and clicked with his folks, right off the bat.”
Watt is also a guard prospect.
“He comes from a football family with a brother that plays at Northwestern,” Weis said. “Here is another guy that we have had a good relationship for quite some time and we are really happy to have him on board.”
Martin is the only tackle prospect in this year’s class.
“He's got good height and body frame. We think he's going to be a big muchacho when it's all said and done,” Weis said. “This guy is a guy that you watch games and you see several pancake blocks. I know that during the senior year, their school had them down for 114 pancake blocks, and you don't see too many times where an offensive lineman puts a defensive guy to his back.”
Weis is bringing in a pair of tight ends in Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic.
Eifert impressed experts as a tight end, receiver, linebacker and safety.
“We see him as a skill tight end,” Weis said. “[When he was] working out at camp it was pretty obvious to see that he was the best of the people he was with that day and really stood out, which really got our attention and really pushed this thing along.”
Golic joins his brother Michael in a long line of Golic’s to play at Notre Dame, but Weis stressed that he earned his scholarship.
“He’s not here because he's just a family guy,” said Weis. “He attended our camp for three years in a row, and it was pretty obvious to us each year that he had gotten better and better and better and finally good enough for us to pull the trigger on and offer a scholarship to, and we are glad to have him on board.”
Notre Dame also signed a pair of running backs in Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. Weis put extra pressure on Riddick because he is from the same area of New Jersey where Weis grew up.
“I told him, he has to represent Central Jersey,” said Weis. “All we hear about is North Jersey and South Jersey, we don't hear about Central Jersey. So I put the onus of that responsibility squarely on his shoulders.”
Weis sees Wood as a difference-maker on offense.
“He's an explosive back that runs downhill and his footwork and balance, he's also a dynamic kickoff returner,” said Weis. “He jumped on board early, and he really helped us and was one of the integral parts of the recruiting process as we went through with this class.”
Weis said that the Irish probably didn’t need two running backs in this class, but could not turn down either Wood or Riddick.
“We probably could have gotten by with one running back, but you see the way these guys play, you never turn down that type of athleticism,” he said.
The Irish are only losing one receiver from last year’s squad in David Grimes and they will replace him with Shaquelle Evans.
“He's a complete receiver with a combination of size and speed,” said Weis. “He's just a playmaker. The good thing about Shaq is he's one of those guys who you guys will hate in the media because he doesn't like to talk very much.
“But how he plays and how he talks are two totally different things. He's a very quiet, reserved young man, until you get him on the football field and then all of a sudden something happens and it's really fun to watch, because he's a totally different player than his personality when you're sitting in his living room.”
Notre Dame also decided to address special teams, signing kicker Nicholas Tausch, punter Ben Turk and Turk’s teammate, long-snapper Jordan Cowart.
Weis hopes to see Tausch come in and compete immediately, especially as a kickoff specialist.
“Over half of his kickoffs this year resulted in touchbacks which has been one of our biggest areas of concern for our team when it comes to kickoffs,” said Weis.
Weis sees value in Cowart where others may not.
“I can't see any reason why when we open up on September 5, he shouldn't have a legitimate shot of being our snapper and saying there for the next four years,” Weis said. “I'm hoping that to be the case.”
Weis called Turk ‘one of the best punters in the country’ and likes the fact that he will be able to work with Cowart all summer.
“It's a good situation for us because they can work together this whole off-season on snapping and punting,” Weis said. ”We like to have our punters be in a position where they could be potential holders for field goals.”
Even with Notre Dame pushing back Weis’ press conference almost an hour, there is a chance that the Irish still are not done. Notre Dame has become a player to sign Te’o’s teammate, wide receiver Roby Toma, who was a verbal commit to UCLA, but has not yet signed.
“We could probably take another one. We could probably take another couple if we found them,” Weis said. “There's potential for at least another one.”