Recruits make first official visit
By TIM CASEY
Several inches of snow blanketed the ground. Instead of wearing shorts, students were bundled up in winter coats.
There was no indication that winter would ever end. After growing up in Shreveport, La., it certainly was a unique atmosphere for a young recruited quarterback named Arnaz Battle.
But on that first weekend in December two years ago, after spending the past few days with the Irish football team, Battle had a good idea of where he wanted to spend the next four years of his life.
"Going into the locker room, seeing that sign [Play Like a Champion Today], seeing the gold helmets and the blue jerseys was what stuck out," Battle recalled of his recruiting visit. "It was nice to see first hand what I had heard all about."
As a high school senior in the winter of 1997-98, Battle was highly recruited by the majority of the top football programs in the country. In fact, before spending the weekend at Notre Dame, Battle had scheduled official visits to Tennessee, Nebraska, Georgia and Texas A&M.
But after spending the following weekend at Nebraska, Battle had already made his up his mind. So the current Irish quarterback cancelled his subsequent visits and decided on Notre Dame.
"I was pretty sure I wanted to come here after the banquet but I still wanted to take more visits," Battle said referring to the aptly named banquet weekend because it coincides with the Notre Dame football banquet. "But after visiting Nebraska, I knew this [Notre Dame] was the place for me."
Now, two years later, the scene remains the same on the first weekend in December. Only the names have changed. On this, the first official visiting weekend for recruits, 18 high school seniors are expected to be on campus. This period extends until the end of January, excluding the Christmas vacation.
The first official day that players can sign their letters of intent is Feb. 2.
The recruits come from all over the United States; from large cities like Miami to lesser-known areas like Copperas Cove, Texas. Their personalities may differ, their idea of an ideal school may not be the same and it's a near certainty that they all won't be wearing the Blue and Gold next fall.
But the unanimous goal for the Irish coaching staff will be to try to convince each and every player that Notre Dame is the right fit for them.
"Anyone we bring to campus we would be very interested in," said assistant coach Jerry Rosburg, whose duties also include organizing and administrating the recruiting process. "We wouldn't bring someone to campus just to check them out. We've done most of our leg work in that regard."
Several recruits are expected to visit this weekend, including quarterback Jared Clark (Sarasota, Fla.), wide receiver Ronnie Rodamer (Morgantown, W.V.), linemen Alex Barron (Orangeburg, S.C.), and Greg Pauly (Wauaesha, Wisc.), who all have attended the Notre Dame summer football camp. The coaches are also allowed to contact the recruits once a week by telephone during the months of September, October and November.
With the NCAA rules restricting contact with the high school players, Rosburg believes that, in particular, the summer camp presents a valuable opportunity for the coaches to evaluate potential recruits. Of the 21members of this year's freshman class, 10 attended the camp prior to signing with the Irish.
"It's become an important evaluation tool for all schools because we have less and less opportunity to evaluate and contact players," Rosburg said regarding the camp. "So we, like everyone else in America, try to bring them to our summer camps to get to know them better."
Coming off a 5-7 season and with possible NCAA violations due by the end of the year, this is an important recruiting year for the Irish. The past two classes have ranked in the top 10 in the nation according to recruiting experts, yet the results on the field have not been up to par.
"I can assure you that the response to Notre Dame has been very positive," Rosburg said. "The people out there know what Notre Dame stands for both academically and athletically. The interest level has been very good.
"Notre Dame has enough positive things to sell that when it all comes down to the end, they'll see what Notre Dame is," Rosburg added. "They'll have a good impression of what Notre Dame is all about."
At least one well-respected known recruiting expert, Tom Lemming from Chicago, believes that the on-field performance this season will actually help the Irish in the recruiting wars.
"A lot of times a bad season can even enhance recruiting," Lemming said. "Players feel that they can have a chance to play right away."
There are plenty of concerns for an Irish team coming off its first seven-loss season since 1963. The two biggest areas to fill for the Irish come at quarterback and cornerback.
The only returning quarterbacks are Battle and Gary Godsey, who was recruited as a tight end but spent his freshman year as the third-string signal caller. At cornerback the combination of Clifford Jefferson, who allowed eight touchdowns, and the graduation of Deveron Harper leaves a void in the defensive backfield.
The Irish may get some help this weekend as two quarterbacks, Clark and Carlyle Holiday (San Antonio, Texas) as well as a pair of cornerbacks in Garron Bible (Kingwood, Texas) and Abram Elam (West Palm Beach, Fla.) are expected to visit.
The weekend's festivities begin Friday night with the annual football banquet honoring the team. While awards like most outstanding offensive and defensive players will be presented, the highlight of the banquet may be the guest speaker, Regis Philbin. Philbin, the host of "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee" and the newly popular television game show "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" will try to add some personality to the evening's series of events and lure the prospects to attend his alma mater.
At least one prominent member of the Notre Dame football team understands the importance of having a nationally recognized alum assist in selling his program. "We're putting all the pressure on Regis Philbin," head coach Bob Davie said on Wednesday. "We're going to have a great banquet and a great recruiting weekend if Regis can deliver for us, which I'm sure he will."
Following the banquet, the recruits will be get to experience the social and academic life at Notre Dame. Current players will serve as hosts to the recruits to explore the campus and to experience the social and academic atmosphere at Notre Dame.
Two years after his official visit, it's now Battle's turn to show the recruits the full Notre Dame experience.
"I don't want to mislead anyone and let them come here if they're not happy," Battle said. "We'll let them know how it's going to be and go from there. It's not an easy place and we tell the recruits that when they get here."
All Sports Stories for Friday, December 3, 1999