Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stocked With Wood

For the third straight year, Notre Dame got the recruiting equivalent of The Big Bang during Blue-Gold weekend. 2006 brought us Jimmy Clausen and the Incredible Stretching Hummer, while last season brought the immediate windfall of Joseph Fauria, Dayne Crist, & Darius Fleming for what was already shaping up to be an impressive recruiting class.

The Irish weren't off to quite such a blazing start this season, having just gotten their first public commitment two weeks ago from legacy Jake Golic (the extended Golic clan was also in South Bend this weekend as Mike Sr. was led the ceremony for the unveiling of The Shirt.) The Notre Dame fan is by nature a worrysome creature, and faced with the possibility of going one whole spring without a real headline-grabbing recruit had been some cause of consternation. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello preached calm, saying that the staff was hard at work on the same plan they'd been using to convince some of the nation's best athletes over the past three years to join the Fighting Irish.

If Saturday is any indication, the plan is indeed working once again.

The Irish received verbal commitments #2 and 3 before Saturday's offense-vs-defense tilt, both of them continuing a great trend in ND recruiting since Charlie Weis became coach. The first pledge came from Cierre Wood, running back, out of Oxnard, CA. Ranked as the third-best player in the nation by Rivals.com & 19th by Scout, Wood is a consensus five-star prospect with room to grow in his 6-foot, 192-pound frame. Recruiting at running back has been exceptional for the Irish in the past three seasons, as a deep stable of James Aldridge, Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and the incoming Jonas Gray prove. But getting Wood (no way of avoiding the pun, might as well get used to it) represents another big leap for the Irish as they again picked up the type of player everybody was convinced they'd never be able to have five years ago (and, having missed out on guys like Reggie Bush and Lorenzo Booker, that feeling wasn't without merit).

In some cases the weather and the distance from home has worked against the Irish in recruiting top talent from the Sun Belt states like California, Florida, & Texas, but Wood seemed quite eager to expand his horizons once he had it narrowed down to Notre Dame and UCLA:
While UCLA was attractive and close to home, Wood felt it was time to leave California.

Going to a university in Los Angeles "would be like staying at home," said Wood. "When the time comes, it is time to break away and explore the world."

There was something else that stood out when reading the coverage on Wood's decision, something that reinforces the seismic shift in the Irish recruiting efforts but also reflects very well on Coach Weis and the staff.
There was one important question Wood had for the Notre Dame coaching staff.

"I wanted an honest answer," he said. "I asked, Should I redshirt?' "

He was given an assurance that there would be an opportunity for Wood to compete for a starting position in the fall of 2009.

"They aren't afraid to play young guys," said Wood. "I will get my chance."

Cynically, one might say that of course Weis is going to play young guys because he had no choice, especially last season. On the whole though, Weis' main tenet in recruiting has been signing excellent players with the intention of giving them a full-fledged, four-year development that ends with them graduating on time. That obviously appealed to Wood, who said his number one priority was academics and came away impressed by the 98% graduation rate of Notre Dame students.

Academics were also a key factor for Notre Dame's defensive commitment, nose tackle Tyler Stockton out of Princeton, NJ. Rated with four stars by Rivals, Stockton doesn't figure to be one of those lineman who fear getting "caught" in the 3-4 defense, since he's already very familiar with it:
I also talked with my recruiting coach John Latina and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown about how I'd fit and they want me on the nose which is perfect," he said. "We play a 3-4 at Hun so I'm comfortable with that role and with my first step and use of my hands I think I can get to the passer and runner in the backfield."

There were other reasons for his choice of Notre Dame.

"Obviously academics played a role and the great football tradition," he said. "I wanted a place where I could get a degree that meant something so if the NFL didn't work out, which is every player's dream, I'd have something to fall back on where I could get a job anyplace in the country."
Stockton, at 6-1 and 290 pounds, isn't quite the mammoth species people think of in the 34 defensive scheme, but Mike Frank paid him the ultimate compliment when assessing his game for The Observer:
"He's a guy that plays so hard all the time," Frank said. "He'll remind people of Trevor Laws, very physical and quick player, even though he'll play a different position than Trevor did. You have your pluggers and then you have your guys that make negative plays in the backfield and he's more of a negative play kind of guy."
You could do worse than be compared to Laws (Clifford Jefferson, for example). While Stockton's commitment helps soothe concerns about where the Irish defensive line will be depth wise in a year or so, I'm sure it is the ESPN Scouting Report on him which most pleases Pat Girouard and his roommate, Greg Stewart:
If you are on the links in New Jersey and see a large young man on the fairways with a vicious drive reminiscent of John Daly getting home on a long par 5 in two at Baltusrol, chances are it is Tyler Stockton.
Yes, Stockon plays golf in addition to football - quite well, actually. Here's hoping he finds time to squeeze in a round or two at Warren in the springtime once football practice ends.

All in all, another reason to feel good about the Irish future. We now resume our grappling and fretting over the Irish present.

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