Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moving In, Moving On

Charlie Weis' raid on the Jersey shore has continued during the early days of the 2008 recruiting campaign. In the last month the Irish secured commitments from a trio of Garden State prospects, joining Duval Kamara, Mike Ragone, & Hafis Williams as recent coups in the Jersey sweepstakes. First was defensive tackle Tyler Stockton; shortly after the Irish landed a commitment from top running back Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick snatched up what figures to have been the only other spot in this class for a running back.

Standing 5-10 and 185 pounds, Riddick's cut from the same mold as rising sophomore Armando Allen, with the quick-burst to match if you believe his highlight videos. He also plays defensive back and didn't indicate much of a preference for where he plays in college ("Whatever gets me on the field the fastest", he told the South Bend Tribune), although the timing of his announcement right on the heels of Wood's suggest he at least didn't want to miss out on a chance to come to Notre Dame due to their being full at the running back spot. Addressing the potential for a Wood-Riddick backfield recently, Theo was both in awe of his future teammate and ready for some competition:
“I have a lot of confidence in myself,” he said. “I think everyone else will be playing, but I think I’ll be playing as well.

“And with Cierre and I in the backfield I think we’ll be very dangerous, so that’s one of the reasons why I committed to Notre Dame with Cierre Wood.”
Joining the parade from Jersey was linebacker Carlo Calabrese of Verona. A family friend of Anthony Fasano's, Calabrese attends the same high school and favored the Irish throughout the recruiting process, though he had a special reason for waiting to go public:
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker chose his mother's birthday, May 21, to commit to Notre Dame over offers from Rutgers, Boston College, Maryland, N.C. State, Pitt, Florida and others.

"I wanted to make it a special day for her and for me," the linebacker said. "I know she'll remember this forever and so will I. I'm hoping it's her best birthday ever."

His father and mother, Carlo Sr. and Annie Calabrese, were surprised by the timing.

"We didn't know he was going to do that," said his father. "I think it's great because it shows what kind of kid he is. He wanted this memorable day to go hand-in-hand with his mom's day. We were surprised but thrilled."
While Calabrese has a soft spot for his kin, he doesn't extend the same charity to his on-field opponents (or, apparently, barbells at the local gym). If there's a single write-up about his commitment that hasn't led with the words "hard-nosed", "bone-crunching", "high-energy", or "hard-hitting", I've yet to see it. Carlo definitely seems in the mold of that nasty attitude Weis and the Irish remain in search of.

Putting Calabrese into the fold helped take a little bit of sting off the news that came out yesterday concerning the future of Irish linebacker Aaron Nagel. The sophomore-to-be from Lemont, IL has elected to transfer, emphatically citing playing time (or lack thereof and diminishing chances of getting it in the future) as the reason for his departure:
Aaron Nagel is convinced the Notre Dame football team will make a run at a national title sometime in 2009 or 2010.

He just won’t be around to be a part of it.

“You don’t know how hard this was,” said Aaron’s father, Ron, after the freshman linebacker met with Irish head coach Charlie Weis on Wednesday afternoon and ultimately decided to transfer.

“Our family has always been Notre Dame fans and always will be Notre Dame fans. We’ve got nothing but good things to say about coach Weis. It came down to the fact that Aaron wanted a chance to get on the field. It didn’t happen in the spring and it didn’t look like it was ever going to happen.”
Nagel, rated a three-star prospect out of high school two years ago, was essentially an "instant verbal" in that campaign after getting a personal scholarship offer from Coach Weis on one of two 2006 Junior Days. He never saw the field during the fall even as fellow freshman Kerry Neal and Brian Smith started to take over the outside linebacker positions, though that wasn't necessarily anybody's fault - Nagel had the fortune to be in the group backing up team captain and defensive iron horse Maurice Crum inside. As Nagel's father went on to say, it was a lack of chances to prove himself in spring ball, when Corwin Brown and new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta ran almost exclusively the first two units (Nagel remained on third-string) which sealed the decision.

While this might ratchet up another round of rumors about what really goes on inside the Gug and ponderings about "How can the program be so healthy when it seems like everybody wants to leave?", Nagel is hardly the poster-child for a disgruntled player convinced that the coaching staff is out to get him, burning his bridges as he leaves town. An exceptional student who posted a 3.75 GPA during football season and a 4.0 during the spring semester, he departs on solid academic terms and with nothing but good things to say about the school and his coaches. He just didn't like the odds of trying to fight for playing time at one of the few truly stocked positions on the Notre Dame depth chart for this and upcoming seasons:
"Notre Dame is still a great school," Nagel said. "We told coach Weis that we wish him the best of luck this year. Next year and down the road they're going to be back contending for national championships year in and year out. There are no hard feelings about it."
Best of luck to him on all fronts in the future.

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