Monday, January 14, 2008

In Through the Out Door

Another week, another series of comings and goings in the Irish program.

In the upperclassmen ranks, the Irish football office released the names of the seniors who are eligible and will ask for a fifth-year of studies in which to play football: to the surprise of almost no one, the three were linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr., defensive end Justin Brown, and cornerback Terrail Lambert. Each brings starting experience back into the fold, putting the number of returning starters on defense at 8 (18 starters return in all, as the Irish lose the Johns on offense, Sullivan and Carlson, plus Trevor Laws, Tom Zbikowski, and Joe Brockington.

Lining up in the departures category was sophomore cornerback Munir Prince, he of the (I guess we'll now have to describe it as infamous) 'whoosh' comments by Charlie Weis during the opening week of fall camp 2006. Although, as somebody who attended that batch of open workouts on McGlinn Fields, I have to say Weis' praise was not totally without merit. In any case, the blazing speed never materialized into great in-game opportunities for Prince, who spent freshman year stuck behind Darius Walker before a position switch. That left him stuck behind Darrin Walls, Lambert, Raeshon McNeil and Ambrose Wooden, and while he did start to see the field, ultimately collecting 21 minutes of playing time and 45 special teams appearances, his three tackles and one pass deflection wouldn't leave him a prime candidate to move up the depth chart considering the top three corners return to go along with Gary Gray being at full health, not to mention incoming recruits Robert Blanton and Jamoris Slaughter. Instead, Prince will return home and play for Missouri, leaving the number of early departures from that 2006 recruiting haul at five. Rumor has it there were others contemplating a transfer, but for the moment all is quiet along the roster front.

Oh, and not that we would condone stealing premium content or anything like that, but there was a very cordial and appreciative note passed on to the subscribers at the Rivals Notre Dame site, Irish Illustrated, from Prince's parents. They expressed their gratitude for Notre Dame's fan support in the midst of a trying season, enthusiastically declared that they will always be ND fans, noting, "when its NDs turn other universities need to remember payback is a b****". They also wanted to emphasize that their son's departure wasn't motivated by being in "the dog house" of Weis or any other coach. It was just the simple fact that there are more great athletes than there are starting spots in South Bend right now.

Elsewhere, at least one news outlet reported that linebacker Anthony Vernaglia was offered the option to return for a fifth year but declined, choosing to take his Notre Dame degree in May and enroll at a Division I-AA school for his final year of football - other recent Domers who've chosen this path include Ronnie Rodamer and Nate Schiccatano. Vernagila leaves as a classic example of an athlete without a position - he was recruited as a safety with an eye towards maybe becoming a factor at tight end (during his recruiting visit he said of a then-freshmen quarterback named Brady Quinn, "I can't wait to catch passes from that guy") but drifted between safety and linebacker throughout his career. When Weis was hired and Rick Minter brought in his "Apache" position, Vernaglia and Chinedum Ndukwe figured to be the prime contenders for the spot before being usurped by Crum, and 'AV' was never able to lock down a spot on the field. He was a starter at outside linebacker in Corwin Brown's new scheme, but steadily ceded ground to first Kerry Neal and then Brian Smith as the year went on. Best of luck, Anthony.

Wrapping things up, today's Recruiting Moment of Zen, courtesy of Steve Filer, who's fast rising up in the rankings of "Most Likely to Be a Quote Machine" for this year's recruiting class. Here's Steve on why his faith in Notre Dame (& Charlie Weis) isn't shaken:
I know he's a good coach. I've been around him. I see how he interacts with the players. I just know he's going to be there for the players. That's why a lot of us stay with him - because we know that. And on the defense, we know Corwin Brown is a good coach.


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