Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Real Kick

Page Kevin White. Another "instant, euphoric verbal" is on the line.

This time, though, no speculation on the identity of the elated party is necessary. It's Dallas-area kicker Nick Tausch, who accepted the moment Charlie Weis called Tuesday afternoon with a scholarship offer. The top Irish target in the placekicking sweepstakes had been a fellow Texan, Dustin Hopkins out of Houston, who could only offer up a "maybe" when pressed for a decision by the Irish staff. Tausch had no such qualms about immediately hopping on board:
"It was kind of stressful because it was up to [Hopkins] to decide," Tausch said. "I really wanted to go to Notre Dame."

The Dallas Jesuit program's history played a part in that. Rangers' head coach Bob Wunderlik is a Notre Dame fan and produced former Irish wide receiver Omar Jenkins (2000-03). Tausch said he's never met Jenkins, but that the former prep star's reputation is well known.

That familiarity made it easier for Tausch, whose father played on the offensive line at Texas and in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers, to pull the trigger on a program he's never seen. Of course that oversight should be corrected in short order as Tausch plans to visit South Bend in the next two weeks.
While Notre Dame was the first program to extend an offer, they weren't the only one with interest. LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma, Baylor, & Utah were among the schools who'd been in contact with Tausch, who joins Jake Golic & Ben Turk as 2009 Irish commitments with NFL bloodlines - his father was an offensive lineman for San Francisco and Minnesota after playing for the Longhorns. Like several others in the growing class, he hails from a prep program with strong Irish ties of recent and long-past eras. Jesuit is the alma mater not only of Jenkins but also vintage Irish names like Robin Weber and kicker Joe Unis, who put home the extra point which ensured that the other guy named Joe's "Chicken Soup Game" wouldn't end in a tie.

Dipping back into the rankings of Chris Sailer, Tausch is the #2 kicker for the Class of '09 (Hopkins, as you might suspect, is in the top-spot). If the Irish can put themselves in a position to pick and choose among the top two players at every position, this whole recruiting thing should be easy this year! Kidding aside, Tausch ought to formally close the book on special teams recruiting for the year, joining with Turk for a pair of "Top 5" commits at punter and kicker. Rankings in general can't be counted on (yet we worship them anyway), and ranking special teams guys is probably a blinder science than most. But it's better than being forced to raid the soccer team for a position that can decide many a close ball-game.

A final thought, not meant to critique any involved parties but interesting because of how a situation has repeated itself: here's hoping the "deadline" approach on kicking commitments works out for Weis and staff this time; back in '06 they went a similar route in the recruitment of Sherman Oaks, CA product Kai Forbath, who liked the Irish but wasn't quite ready to pull the trigger. Ryan Burkhart was and committed on the spot, but didn't make much of splash as a freshman that season, leading the staff to fortify the kicking weak spot a year later with late commit Brandon Walker. Forbath, meanwhile, redshirted at UCLA and then made the Freshman All-America team in 2007, going 25/30 while booting five field goals of 50 yards or more, although he did miss a 28-yarder that would've won the Bruins' bowl game. Notre Dame, on the other hand, went a combined 6/13 between Walker and Nate Whitaker, with Burkhart an afterthought.

To close on an encouraging note: Tausch notched 16 touchbacks on kickoffs (granted high school kickers get the benefit of not kicking from the 35), which might prove useful for an Irish unit that didn't get one 'TB' all last season and rarely backed up return men inside the five.

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