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Recruiting — The final countdown

Jan 13, 2011, 4:36 PM EDT

Gary Gray Robert Blanton

Rarely can Irish fans almost sigh in relief when an elite, four-star recruit at a position of need leaves Notre Dame a bridesmaid in a recruiting battle. But when Portland defensive end Brennan Scarlett picked Cal this afternoon instead of the Irish, he helped clear up a complicated scholarship picture for the Notre Dame coaching staff.

For the first time in a long time, Notre Dame has a numbers crunch on their roster, and they’ll be forced to make some difficult decisions at both the front and back-end of the roster. With scholarships limited to 85, Notre Dame has themselves in a situation that’s actually enviable — more roster options than they can actually accommodate.

With Scarlett off the board, Notre Dame is still in the running for four defensive prospects: Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams, Troy Niklas, and (two-way player) Chase Hounshell. Offensively, the Irish are looking at running backs Amir Carlisle and Savon Huggins, along with holding out hope for offensive lineman Antonio Richardson, even less likely to come to Notre Dame after the Irish scooped up Nick Martin this week.

Lynch is set to visit Notre Dame this weekend, and if all goes according to plan, he could be enrolled in classes on Monday. The same could be said for Williams, who has gone into a holding pattern with his three finalists Penn State, ND, and Syracuse. Both guys are assured a scholarship if they want one, and you’ve got to think that the coaching staff is going to say yes to either Carlisle or Huggins, and probably only one of them.

The venerable Lou Somogyi of Blue & Gold succinctly broke down the scholarship options for 2011:

Here is a review of the current scholarship breakdown, with each class referring to the 2011 football season. There are 85 scholarships allowed, per NCAA rules:

• 22 seniors — This includes quarterback Nate Montana, who originally enrolled as a walk-on, and the return of Michael Floyd, who was contemplating turning pro.
• 15 juniors — Three players from the original group are no longer with the program: E.J. Banks, Bullard and Shaquelle Evans (UCLA).
• 19 sophomores — There were originally 23 signed last February, but offensive tackle Matt James died in a spring break accident, cornerback Spencer Boyd transferred to South Florida, safety Derek Roback transferred to Ohio U. and safety Chris Badger, who is on a Mormon mission in Ecuador, has a scholarship awaiting him in 2012.

That’s 56 scholarship players from those three classes, which leaves Notre Dame 29 for the 85 maximum

As mentioned, Kelly and Company would be ecstatic if they added two new early-enrollees to the class on Monday. But after the 20 committed recruits, every additional recruit Notre Dame welcomes in means that a fifth-year candidate isn’t likely to return.

Those candidates include:

Andrew Nuss, OL
Taylor Dever, OL
Matt Romine, OL
Mike Ragone, TE
Gary Gray, CB
Harrison Smith, FS
Emeka Nwankwo, DE
Steve Paskorz, LB
David Ruffer, K
Dan Wenger, OL* (Sixth-year candidate)

Let’s just assume we welcome back all the starters — Dever, Smith, Gray, and Ruffer. (Some aren’t assuming Ruffer is for sure back, but I’d be absolutely shocked if ND *didn’t* give him a scholarship.) Then you start weighing your options with guys like Nuss and Romine — solid offensive line depth and Ragone, a key back-up at tight end. With Chris Watt on the inside track at filling the guard spot Chris Stewart is vacating, maybe ND can afford not to bring back any fifth-year linemen, but the choice certainly isn’t clear cut.

Fifth-year candidates won’t be announced until likely after signing day, and the assumption that just because Nate Montana was on scholarship last season (likely a necessity, as he was the primary back-up quarterback for much of the year) means he’ll be back on scholarship this year shouldn’t be taken as fact.

But as recruiting comes down the home stretch, Notre Dame will finally be utilizing all 85 scholarships allotted to them. While it makes for some difficult decisions, it’s the first sign that the football program is almost back to full strength.

  1. tedlinko - Jan 13, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    Were you saying you’d be shocked if ND DID give Ruffer a scholarship or shocked if they DIDN’T? a word or two seems to be missing there.

  2. jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 13, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Keith, do you mean you’d be shocked it ND didn’t give a scholarship to Ruffer? If not, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want him back. In any event, we are finally in an enviable position re: scholarships in the greater scheme of things. Another promising sign of what’s to come.

    • beanspeaks - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:03 PM

      Not giving him a scholarship does not mean he can’t come back. He was a walk-on before and he can be a walk-on again. He has already said both that he would like to come back for MBA school and that he understands that a scholarship might not be forthcoming with a shortage of them available. So don’t freak out if he doesn’t get a scholarship.

      • tedlinko - Jan 15, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        My take is that , in the case of Ruffer, if he’s willing to forego a scholarship and come back anyway in the interest of the team being able to bring in another blue-chip prospect, that’s admirable. But the right thing for ND to do would be to offer him one. The guy set a Notre Dame school record for kicking consistency the last two years and, lets face it, when a guy is as important to the team that he’s likely to be the difference between winning and losing at least once next year, he deserves a scholarship.

        Montana is another matter. He didn’t come to ND with a scholarship offer, so ND wouldn’t be renegging on anything. Last year they gave him a scholarship because they had one available and he was going to be in a position to make a significant contribution. But hopefully there wasn’t a multi-year promise given then. This year the situation is totally different. With Crist, Rees, Hendrix and Golston, he’ll likely be at least the 5th option at QB. There is no justificaiton to give him a scholarship that could be the difference in bringing in a blue chipper like Huggins, Calisle and/or Niklas or even in bringing back a guy like Nuss, Romine or Ragone, any of whom are likely to make a greater contribution next year than Nate. When scholarships are this tight, those are the kind of decisions that have to be made.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 15, 2011 at 7:51 PM

        I’ll try and contain myself.

    • Keith Arnold - Jan 14, 2011 at 3:02 PM

      Wouldn’t be a column if I didn’t make a small mess up now, would it?

  3. jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 13, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    Hey tedlinko…….great minds think alike!

  4. whisk3yjack - Jan 13, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    I’m not surprised that Scarlett committed to Cal, and somewhat relieved. He suffered serious season-ending injuries in his last three seasons.

    We’re likely to land Lynch and Carlisle, while Williams seems to be a coin-flip at the moment. I don’t see Niklas, Hounshell, Huggins or Richardson happening. Let’s be optimistic and assume we get Williams.

    Of the potential 5th years, I agree that Smith, Gray, Dever, and Ruffer are all coming back. That leaves two more scholarships: Do we offer both Nuss and Romine for extra depth on the line? Ragone for two-TE sets? Some combination of the 3?

    Assuming Wenger is granted a 6th year of eligibility, I think he has to have priority; Cave is our only other Center on scholarship, no?

    • borromini - Jan 13, 2011 at 6:34 PM

      Golic is our other scholarship center.

    • tedlinko - Jan 14, 2011 at 12:21 PM

      @whisk3yjack. The coin flip just went our way, as Ishaq just committed. Starts class on Monday.

  5. frustratedirishfootballfan - Jan 13, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Seeing the breakdown of scholarships, I think it stinks we have to waste one on Nate Montana just for his legacy at Notre Dame.

    • beanspeaks - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:00 PM

      We don’t, and Keith said as much when he said, “the assumption that just because Nate Montana was on scholarship last season…means he’ll be back on scholarship this year shouldn’t be taken as fact.”

      • chiefagc5675 - Jan 18, 2011 at 7:48 PM

        I hope you’re not a ND grad. I hope their grads have a better command of the language than you do.

  6. cameronemclaughlin - Jan 13, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    Is the Nate Montana scholarship necessary? We’ll have Rees and Crist (hopefully healed), and if Hendrix isn’t better than Montana by now he might never be. Dual threat Golson will make it interesting as well.
    Montana is probably a fine individual, but from outside the program I can be objective and say that it’s a wasted scholarship.
    I’m still suffering from Kelly’s decision to remove Rees from the Michigan game after throwing that pick. If Kelly lets Rees work through that, we have a better chance to win that game.

    • whisk3yjack - Jan 13, 2011 at 7:27 PM

      It’s easy to say that in retrospect, now that we know what Rees is capable of; at the time, he looked like a baby-faced 17-year-old that was in over his head, and there was no reason to put a still winnable game on his shoulders.

      • cameronemclaughlin - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:16 PM

        And less reason to put it on Montana’s, was my opinion at time time.

      • bradwins - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:47 PM

        Its not like his father can’t afford tuition, either.

  7. papadec - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    Keith, thank you for clarifying the scholarship numbers. I hope that ND honors scholarships already given, & not play the SEC game of dumping scholarship players in favor of more highly regarded recruits.

    • whisk3yjack - Jan 14, 2011 at 10:59 AM

      What’s the practice for walk-ons who receive a scholarship? Once offered, is it assumed to be until graduation? Or is it a yearly thing?

      Anyone who’s in the two-deep deserves a scholarship. Montana provided badly needed depth at QB for us this year as a walk-on, and his scholarship was well-deserved. However, I wouldn’t be scandalized if ND didn’t give him a scholarship next year.

      Walk-ons aren’t like recruits; an ND commit decides to entrust his athletic future to our coaches, and that trust is violated when a coaching staff withdraws that scholarship before graduation. Conversely, a walk-on is a ND student first and foremost who also wants to play football. Walk-ons sometimes make a significant contribution to the team (see: David Ruffer) and it’s appropriate to reward such players a scholarship in recognition of their service; but walk-ons don’t turn down offers to play for other schools to come to ND, and they generally don’t have prospects for the NFL.

      Therefore, ND could fairly decide not to award Nate Montana a scholarship next year.

  8. bradwins - Jan 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    Ishaq William is IRISH! Verballed this morning, according to people who know these types of things.


    • whisk3yjack - Jan 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

      Yes! Where’d you read this?

      • bradwins - Jan 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM

        It is pretty much everywhere, now. But here is one place (not sure if it will link, may have to copy and paste):

      • whisk3yjack - Jan 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM

        Nevermind. Should have guessed irishsportsdaily.

      • bradwins - Jan 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM

        Yeah, ISD has a bit more on it, and more to come. Hopefully it will be part of their free stuff. I feel creepy enough caring so much about recruiting. I’m not going to start paying.

  9. whisk3yjack - Jan 14, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Ha! I’m exactly the same way.

  10. bostonjan - Jan 16, 2011 at 6:29 PM


    What’s your thoughts on essentially the remaining 2 schollies?

    I tend to think that the Montanas would even decline a scholarship for the good of the team (filling other needs), building upon the high esteem for the Montana name and contribution to ND “fame”. In essence this schollie would go to Ruffer.

    If recruits Huggins (RB), Niklas (OL or DL), and/or Houncell (OL or DL) would you be inclined to bring them onboard for these areas of need or bring back 5th year candidates?

    Also, we have some very smart athletes that could qualify for an academic scholarship. Can any football schollies be switched to academic scholarships or is this against NCAA regs? Seems like it would be viewed as a fairly transparent move to get around the spirit of NCAA guidelines.

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