Recruits still attracted to Irish for prestige, academics, athletics
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Associate Sports Editor
Notre Dame may have missed out on top recruit Shaun Cody, but for many high school seniors, nothing could be better than the chance to come to Notre Dame.
Cody, considered the nation's top defensive player, chose to stay near home by picking Southern California over Notre Dame yesterday. But a slew of solid commitments by other highly touted recruits has Irish eyes smiling with their decisions to wear the blue and gold.
Offensive lineman Mark LeVoir, a 6-foot-7, 305-pounder from Eden Prairie, Minn., never really considered going anywhere else. The first-team USA Today All-American considered playing for the blue and gold a dream, one that he committed to last year following the annual Blue-Gold scrimmage.
"It wasn't really [a tough decision] at all," at said LeVoir, the first verbal commitment of the Class of 2005. "Basically everything about it, from the academics to the football tradition. It was a Catholic school and a smaller school. I always knew I wanted to go there."
LeVoir ignored the swarms of recruiters knocking on his door from powerhouses like Florida, Florida State, Miami, Nebraska, Penn State and Texas. He wanted to play for his favorite team.
Considered the top signee in this year's class, LeVoir will have that chance come August.
Defensive lineman Brian Beidatsch backed out of a verbal commitment to Illinois when Notre Dame dangled a scholarship offer in front of him.
"I thought the mix of education and the football program was a better fit for myself," Beidatsch said. "The scholarship presented itself a little bit later."
The Milwaukee native didn't even make his official visit to Notre Dame until a week ago, but he was already bleeding blue and gold.
Tradition, family and academics. Common choruses for why recruits were sold on Notre Dame.
Offensive lineman Dan Stevenson said, "The education I'm going to get is going to be outstanding. É I like how the coaches make you graduate in four years."
Stevenson, who weighs in at 275 pounds and measures 6-5, had originally committed to Nebraska but the visit to Notre Dame for the Barrington, Ill., native quickly changed his mind.
"I took my visit there, and knew it was the place for me," said Stevenson, a Parade All-American whose father played for the Detroit Lions.
Nothing could deter running back/linebacker Rashon Powers-Neal from inking with the Irish Ñ not even visiting during the Notre Dame-Nebraska game. Although Nebraska was one of the five schools Powers-Neal made an official visit to, seeing the `Huskers defeat the Irish in overtime wasn't enough to get him wearing red.
"The coaches [at Notre Dame] were great. The players were great," Powers-Neal said, who also visited in early December for the football banquet. "It was probably my top school."
The 6-1, 210-pounder may follow in the footsteps of current players Tony Driver and David Givens by moving around the field. Playing for St. Paul, Minnesota's Cretin-Derham Hall, Powers-Neal spent time at running back, linebacker, cornerback and safety, even playing a bit of wide receiver.
"Whatever gets me on the field the fastest," said Powers-Neal, who also advanced to the state finals in track in the 400-meter dash a year ago.
The academics-minded player hopes to major in chemical engineering. On the field, Powers-Neal's high school team won the Class 5A state championship as a junior before losing to future Irish teammate Mark LeVoir's school in the state title game as a senior.
For other players, the choice wasn't quite so glow-in-the-dark.
Corey Mays, a linebacker at Chicago's Morgan Park High School, followed Notre Dame as a youngster. But as he grew up, he turned away from the Irish. Now, the USA Today second-team All-American has come full circle.
"I liked Notre Dame when I was a kid, but I kind of got away from them," Mays said. "In the recruiting process, I got back with them. It was just a gut feeling."
While some critics say tough admissions standards shred Notre Dame's prospects, the commitment to academics helped bring Mays into the fold.
"First and foremost, I want to graduate with a degree," Mays said. "I want to make a name for myself on the field and off."
With a 4.4 high school GPA on a 4.0 scale thanks to advanced courses in the classroom, and on the gridiron, Mays has the tools to get it done. The sprint star, who ran a 23 second flat 200-meter dash as a junior, also has the work ethic.
"I'm basically killing myself every day," Mays said of his offseason workouts. "I can't list any great accomplishments because I'm not to a point where I'm satisfied. Each time I do better, I just want to get something more and something more and something more."
Florida cornerback Dwight Ellick, was a late pick-me-up for Notre Dame.
A speed demon who won the New York state championship in the 100-meter dash in 10.6 seconds before moving to Tampa last summer, Ellick's interest in Notre Dame was piqued this fall.
"I became interested in Notre Dame about the middle of the season," Ellick said. "It has great academics, a family atmosphere and I liked my visit a lot."
He didn't settle on Notre Dame until last week, but he set his heart on playing football long before that. Ellick, at 5-11 and 170 pounds, began playing football when he was eight or nine years old.
"It took me so long to play because my mom thought I was going to get hurt," Ellick said.
Ever since that "late" start, Ellick has ranked football his favorite sport, though he's already discussed doubling up by running track with Irish football coaches.
"All my life, that's my goal to go to the pros and be the best," Ellick said. "I want to be the best corner to ever play at Notre Dame. I felt I had a good chance of contributing at Notre Dame. Now that Brock Williams is gone, I think I'm going to come in right away and compete for a starting spot."
The last ace-in-the-bag for Notre Dame is likely to be Texas' Aldo De La Garza. The 6-4, 295-pound offensive lineman failed to sign a letter of commitment Wednesday, but said he hasn't backed off of Notre Dame at all.
"I'm still committed to Notre Dame," De La Garza said. "There are some things I have to take care of, but I will sign with Notre Dame.
A first-team all-state player in the state where football is king, De La Garza said he has wanted to play for Notre Dame since eighth grade. Although all the major schools in his native Texas were after him (Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M), as well as Nebraska, he already had made up his mind to play for the Irish.
"I want to get a degree at Notre Dame and be an All-American," De La Garza said.
National championship contenders or not, the name "Notre Dame" has more pull than gravity.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, February 8, 2001