Notre Dame adds speed with Class of 2005 recruits
By ANDREW SOUKUP
After glancing over the 19 players who signed national letters of intent to play football for Notre Dame next year, one thing is clear.
The Irish just got a lot faster.
Last year, the Irish landed four quarterbacks and numerous physical wide receivers. They recruited 10 position players on offense and exactly zero offensive linemen. Defensively, Notre Dame was very big and very physical, but nobody in the Class of 2004 was particularly fast.
Davie was looking to recruit a core group of offensive linemen and several speedy defensive backs and wide receivers, and that's exactly what he ended up doing.
"I don't think you look at just one recruiting class. It kind of goes in pairs," Davie said. "The exciting thing is that you look at the combination of the recruiting class this year with the class last year and I think we have some good balance. When you look at the totality of the last two years, I think it meshes well together."
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Davie formally announced the 19 players who signed national letters of intent. The Irish landed a combination of speed in the secondary and a talent-loaded group of offensive linemen.
After not signing a single offensive lineman last year, the Irish pulled in five linemen, three of whom are ranked among the top 25 in the nation according to ESPN.com's Tom Lemming.
"All our offensive linemen are very athletic," Davie said.
Mark LeVoir heads the list of the talented lineman.
"He is a giant," Davie said of the 310-pound Minnesota native. "But he has some unique skills as well."
LeVoir is a first team USA Today All-American selection and is ranked No. 46 on the CNNSI.com list of national prospects. The Irish coaching staff is looking at playing LeVoir at either tight end on the offensive line.
Massachusetts native Zachary Giles is just as good as LeVoir. Giles was named to the USA Today All-American second team and joined LeVoir on the Parade All-American team. The offensive lineman was also named the player of the year in Massachusetts.
In addition to LeVoir and Giles, Notre Dame also signed highly recruited linemen Darin Mitchell, Matt Root and Dan Stevenson.
Aldo De La Garza, who had verbally committed to the Irish in August, did not sign with the Irish on Wednesday as expected.
"He is still going to sign with Notre Dame, but he did not sign Wednesday," De La Garza's high school head coach Dick Rhoades told Rivals.com. "There are some academic things he still needs to get before he can sign. Getting into Notre Dame isn't easy, but when he meets the criteria, he will sign."
Despite pulling in talented offensive line recruits, the Irish coaching staff's focus was clearly on getting faster, and this is reflected in the quick players Notre Dame landed.
"I think the thing that jumps out at you is the speed," Davie said. "After the Fiesta Bowl, the big question was `Do we have enough speed?' It's clear that the strength of this class is the linebackers."
Brandon Hoyte, Corey Mays, Rashon Powers-Neal and Justin Tuck all committed to Notre Dame on Wednesday.
"I doubt that we've had a better group of linebackers than we got in this class," Davie said.
In particular, Davie spoke highly of linebacker Corey Mays. The Chicago native, who has a 4.3 grade point average, clearly drew the attention of the Irish coaches early.
"He has great explosiveness and great quickness," Davie said. "I really like him."
Mays was a USA Today second team All-American and was ranked No. 54 among all prep players by the Chicago Sun Times.
The biggest addition to the Irish roster are the three defensive backs, headed by Lionel Bolen. Recruiting analysts across the nation expected Bolen to commit to Virginia Tech, but the cornerback chose Notre Dame in a last-minute decision. Bolen is from the same New Jersey high school as current tailback Terrance Howard.
Cornerback Dwight Ellick, who is predicted to win the 100-meter title in Florida this spring, ran a 4.3 40-yard dash. Ellick is not one of the highest rated cornerbacks in the nation partly because he moved from New York to Florida the summer of his senior year and slipped under the noses of many football programs.
Safety Quentin Burrell, ranked No. 19 nationally by Rivals.com, rounds out the Irish defensive backfield. Burrell committed verbally to the Irish only a week ago, but said he chose the school because of its strong academic reputation.
The Georgia native had nine interceptions his senior year of high school and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
Although Davie wanted to sign many defensive linemen, he was satisfied with Jeff Thompson and Brian Beidatsch. Thompson, a Granger, Ind. native, was the second player to verbally commit to Notre Dame in June. Beidatsch actually committed to Illinois, but the Irish coaches were so impressed by his performance at the summer camp that they managed to woo him to South Bend.
Offensively, Notre Dame gained a pair of exceptionally talented skill players. Wide receiver Matt Shelton attended Notre Dame's summer camp, where he wowed coaches with his blazing speed.
As a wide receiver, Shelton rushed for 258 yards his senior year, despite a knee injury that cut his season in half. Shelton ran a 4.2 40-yard dash, the fastest of all the Irish recruits.
Running back Ryan Grant fills a hole in the Irish backfield. Normally, coaches take talented offensive players and shift them over to the defensive side of the field, but Davie is so excited by Grant's potential that he insists that the New Jersey player of the year will remain at tailback.
"He has a chance to be a big-time player," Davie said.
The other players who signed letters of intent are wide receiver Carlos Campbell and running backs Cory Jones and Marcus Wilson.
Although the possibility exists that a few more players could sign letters of intent, Davie isn't optimistic that more players will commit to the Irish. Instead, he said, it is time to turn the focus to getting the Class of 2005 ready for the future.
"Today is an important day, but not nearly as important as in a year when we see how productive these players are," he said. "Only time will tell how good this class is."
All Sports Stories for Thursday, February 8, 2001