Tag: Mike Ragone

Mike Ragone

Ragone and McDonald set to join Weis in Kansas


The westbound caravan heading from South Bend to Lawrence, Kansas has added two more passengers, with linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone ready to play out their eligibility for former head coach Charlie Weis. McDonald’s addition to the Jayhawk roster was finalized late last week, while Ragone’s — long anticipated after he was cleared for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA — was announced by Kansas this afternoon. They’ll join former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist in Lawrence, with all three likely expecting to immediately contribute to a Kansas program that fell off a cliff after Turner Gil took over for Mark Mangino.

We’ve discussed Crist’s departure from the program multiple times, but closing the book on Ragone and McDonald’s careers in South Bend deserves a little consideration. McDonald in many ways typified the career path of the 2008 recruiting class. Highly ranked out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks (where he was teammates with Crist), McDonald’s star-ranking was much better than his recruiting cohort, with neither UCLA or USC offering the Los Angeles prospect. Choosing the Irish over Boston College and Oregon, McDonald redshirted his freshman season then contributed mostly on special teams during three injury plagued seasons. Stuck behind and passed by guys like Manti Te’o, Dan Fox, and Carlo Calabrese, both McDonald and fellow inside linebacker commitment David Posluszny failed to make any impact on the field, with the ’08 class essentially whiffing on inside linebackers.

Ragone’s career, also discussed many times here, is one more difficult to profile. Between terrible luck with injuries, Ragone also battled an up-and-down attitude and some off-the-field issues before turning his career around. Expected to be one of the best tight ends in the country with multiple national offers, an ACL injury suffered in high school kept Ragone off the field for his senior season and All-American game exhibitions. Still, he saw the field through most of the dreadful 2007 season. Ready to contribute during 2008, Ragone suffered a torn ACL, the second in just over two years, during fall camp. By the time he rebounded for the 2009 season, Ragone was delegated to second tight-end duty, with Kyle Rudolph the featured pass catcher. Ragone’s senior season was put in jeopardy when he was pulled over on the Indiana Toll Road driving home after classes ended in May. While it was less publicized than Michael Floyd’s lenient sentence, Student Affairs, and head coach Brian Kelly, allowed Ragone to play his senior season without sitting out a game.

That Ragone went from the doghouse to a fifth-year player for the Irish was as good of proof as any that he had turned the corner and matured as a player and leader. Suffering another season-ending knee injury early in the season — after he was counted on to fill a void at the tight end position — was especially disheartening, but Ragone continued with the team, delaying surgery for a brief spell to keep young tight ends Ben Koyack and Alex Welch up to speed. With the Irish needing to identify an in-line blocking tight end for 2012, the Irish coaching staff had to consider bringing Ragone back for a sixth season, but ultimately decided against it.

McDonald and Ragone will join Crist in Lawrence this summer for unofficial workouts before both being immediately eligible next season.


Ragone granted sixth year, headed to Kansas

Mike Ragone

Lost in the shuffle of a pretty eventful offseason Thursday, tight end Mike Ragone won his sixth year appeal with the NCAA and will play one more season of college football. While it won’t be for the Fighting Irish, Ragone will be reunited with the head coach that brought him to South Bend, joining Charlie Weis — and Dayne Crist — in Lawrence, Kansas.

Catching up with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, Ragone was ecstatic about the opportunity.

“I’m pretty excited right now,” Ragone told Hansen. “I want to do big things, now that I have this chance.”

That chance didn’t seem possible at Notre Dame, especially with the return of Tyler Eifert and a depth chart featuring promising youngsters like Ben Koyack and Alex Welch, who were forced into duty after Ragone’s knee injury.

Ragone was one of the most highly touted tight end recruits in the country when he came to Notre Dame, recruited by Weis out of New Jersey after a promising high school career as both a football player and wrestler. But a knee injury ended his senior season of high school before it ever started, and then did the same in 2008. Last season’s knee surgery was the third for Ragone in his last seven seasons of football.

The injuries were hardly the only speed bumps in his career at Notre Dame. He suffered severe heat illness during preseason camp and also was arrested for possessing marijuana in his car. He returned to the team without missing a game and earned back the trust of the coaching staff who hailed Ragone’s maturity and leadership after his knee injury last year.

Reunited with Crist, Hansen also hinted that the Notre Dame to Kansas migration isn’t complete, with linebacker Anthony McDonald — not invited back for a fifth year at Notre Dame after an injury filled career as a reserve linebacker — potentially joining them in Lawrence.

Ragone still contributing, sixth year possible

Mike Ragone

The Irish have done a good job of staying healthy these first four games. Unfortunately, one big exception is fifth-year tight end Mike Ragone, who tore his ACL against Michigan and was lost for the year.

Ragone’s had three major knee injuries dating back to his senior year in high school, a snake-bit career that likely robbed some big stats and offensive production from his time at Notre Dame.

Brought back by head coach Brian Kelly for a fifth year to work as a second tight end and to provide some might in the running game, Ragone’s injury weakens the Irish at the point-of-attack. What it doesn’t do is rob the Irish of his veteran presence, a real testament to Ragone’s character. Ragone made the travel squad against Pitt, and even put off major knee surgery to stay with the team.

“Mike has really been a great mentor to those young tight ends,” Kelly said after practice. “You got three really inexperienced tight ends. He’s been great. He rooms with them, he spends a lot of extra time with those guys. “He’s been a coach for us. He’s at every single practice, he’s put off surgery just to be with the guys. He’s going to get it done, but he’s put it off because he’s so much wanting to be part of what we’re doing.”

When people were speculating who Kelly and his staff would bring back for a fifth year last offseason, Ragone was one of those guys on the bubble, a supporting cast member who didn’t profile to start over Tyler Eifert. But Kelly brought him back, and he worked almost exclusively as a traditional tight end, adding a physical blocker to the run game while allowing Eifert to create mismatches out in space.

With Ragone out, the Irish will rely on Eifert, a “work in progress” blocker, according to tight ends coach Mike Denbrock, and sophomore Alex Welch and freshman Ben Koyack. Junior Jake Golic will also work into the mix, recently back from a broken arm. But Kelly values Ragone’s contributions to the offense so much, that he’ll consider bringing him back for a sixth year — something the NCAA should approve with Ragone’s two seasons missed due to major injuries.

A sixth year will likely come down to Irish recruiting class numbers and who Kelly and company decide to bring back for fifth years. (Some very interesting decisions are on the horizon.) But just the fact that Kelly is considering Ragone’s return shows a lot about a player that’s career highlights might have been sparse.

While there’s a chance that Ragone has played his final snap for the Irish, Kelly and Denbrock still plan to get major contributions out of the veteran as the season rolls on.

Spartan notes: Diaco, Cousins, Narduzzi, and more

Capital One Bowl - Alabama v Michigan State

Sometimes you just need to get a column out there, and purge some of the fun facts you’ve been storing up for the week. After spending a lot of time watching and re-watching last Saturday’s debacle, getting up to speed on the Spartans, and reassessing where this team is, you tend to forget that just because the Irish started 0-2 doesn’t mean they have the luxury of packing it in and not paying attention.

Here are a few assorted thoughts:

Last year, Bob Diaco took a ton of heat for the candidness he showed after the Irish’s loss to Navy. With a fourth quarter collapse that have a lot of people grumbling about the defensive coordinator, Diaco took his lumps appropriately, without giving the kind of insight that got him skewered last year after the Navy loss.

“If we talk specifics than we hinder ourselves going forward, but I will say that we’ve identified and addressed the fourth quarter as a team, from Coach Kelly right on down to the assistants and the players,” Diaco said. “Everyone in the organization takes accountability for that time frame and we’re going to move forward.”

The question was asked to Brian Kelly who essentially said the same thing, but Diaco was asked why the Irish didn’t roll to dime coverage in those last 30 seconds.

“At that particular point we’ve repped in practice that particular call and it was poorly executed,” Diaco said. “And at the end of the day, I’m responsible for execution so I take full accountability.”

Diaco has a slight pause after “poorly executed,” and a reporter used that as a window to get in another question. But Diaco was sure to finish his sentence making it clear that any breakdowns by players ultimately fall on him.

That includes senior cornerback Gary Gray. Diaco joined Kelly in defending Gray and picking him up from an obviously disappointing game.

“Gary is one of the best players we have on our defense. We love Gary. I’ve got a massive amount of respect for him,” Diaco said. “Like I said, I take responsibility for that play, I take responsibility for all those plays. No one in this organization is interested in placing blame on any of the players, that’s for sure.”

It’s up to Diaco, Chuck Martin and Kerry Cooks to get Gray ready to answer the bell. If you’re Michigan State, you’re clearly going to take aim at the senior. If Gray has his head in the right place and irons out some of the technical mistakes he’s making, he could have a big day.


Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins likely knows how Gray feels. It was Cousins that had the Spartans deep in Irish territory back in 2009 when he threw an ill-advised interception to Kyle McCarthy that sealed a 33-30 victory for Notre Dame.

Cousins comes back to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since that game and he’s assuming the Irish defense that played well against USF and for three quarters against Michigan will be the one showing up, not the group from the final 15 minutes of last Saturday.

Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal has more:

“I view them as the first three quarters,” Kirk Cousins said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to the fourth quarter. I think a couple of those balls, if No. 4 turns his back around it’s an interception. So it’s great for Michigan to win the game but I don’t view it a whole lot as their defense is terrible and Michigan’s offense is amazing. I view it as, if that guy turns around, the game’s over long ago. So I expect them to be a very, very tough defense.”

No. 4, by the way, is senior cornerback Gary Gray. He’s getting the Jaren Hayes treatment, circa 2004, in South Bend. Reporters are coming up just short of asking Brian Kelly if he plans to sit Gray in the corner for a two-week timeout. Here’s what Kelly said Tuesday about Gray:

“It’s unfortunate that people look at that one position because it’s not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of situations. If we don’t turn the ball over, Gary Gray’s name is not even brought up.
“Gary is going to be fine. He’s a senior. He’ll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he’s been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State.”

Cousins obviously saw the Gray mistakes and is aware of the criticism, but he’s not looking at Gray like a weak link. Really, he isn’t.

“It’s unfortunate for him, I think he’s a very, very good corner,” Cousins said of Gray. “He’s played a lot of football for them. So when you’ve played that long, I feel like he’s gonna be ready. And obviously he had an off night last week, but he’s right in position. It’s not like he’s getting beat deep.

“I mean he’s right there to make the play, so that shows he’s in position and has the athleticism to cover people, and I think it’s probably a little undeserved criticism on his end. And I expect him to come back this week and play at a much higher level. So I don’t think it’s something where we’re saying, ‘Let’s pick on him, we think he’s weak.’ I think that across the board they’re a much better defense than maybe that last quarter showed against Michigan.”

Cousins is an impressive guy, a good quarterback and a much better leader, but you’d be foolish to think the Spartans won’t try and take their shots at Gray, either with B.J. Cunningham, the Spartans’ all-time leading receiver or with other guys that could be match-up problems for the Irish.


If you’re looking for a fun personality, check out defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who likened keeping an eye on Irish receiver Michael Floyd to finding Waldo.

“Obviously, you do something special against him but nothing extravagant,” Narduzzi said yesterday to the assembled Spartan media. “The big thing is to know where he is all the time.”

“You ever read the books, Where’s Waldo? He’s Waldo,” Narduzzi said. “We have to know where he, because he’s everywhere. You can’t find Waldo in the book sometimes, you look forever and the kids can find him but you can’t? Well we have to make sure our kids can find him when we can’t.”

It took a few weeks for the Irish to move Floyd around last year, keeping him mostly on the boundary side of the field opposite Kyle Rudolph. Kelly and Charley Molnar have moved No. 3 around more this year, and with 25 catches in the first two weeks, you can tell the results have been good.

Narduzzi also had a nice assessment of the difference between Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist.

“I think what you see on tape is Rees is a gamer. Maybe doesn’t get rattled,” Narduzzi said. “He just seems like a smooth guy out there, nothing gets him rattled. When he makes checks, he’s smooth. Crist the same but you see Crist get maybe a little more nervous when he’s making checks. Do I have enough time? But I think Crist has got a stronger arm, so he scares you, he’s got a stronger arm I think. And I walked off that field last year going, ‘That Crist will be an NFL quarterback,’ and I think he will be. I think that guy will be a first-round quarterback. So they’ve got two very good quarterbacks that are both dangerous.”

It’s always been clear that Crist has the tools. It’s just a matter of if he can get the toolbox up to speed.


Cleaning up some personnel matters:

Danny Spond is out with a hamstring injury. Freshman Troy Niklas now moves into the No. 2 slot at the dog linebacker position, playing behind sophomore Prince Shembo. That’s two freshman in the two-deep at outside linebacker, with Ishaq Williams backing up Darius Fleming.

With Mike Ragone out for the season with a torn ACL, freshman Ben Koyack moves to the No. 2 tight end. Sophomore Alex Welch is on his way back from a foot injury, but is questionable. Jake Golic is back and available.

It looks like John Goodman is back returning punts again this week.





South Bend Tribune looks at ResLife and admissions

Kyle McAlarney, Preston Knowles

Any discussion between Irish fans about Notre Dame’s office of Residence Life or the school’s admissions policy usually ends up resembling a fireside fishing story — buried amidst the embellishment is some kernel of truth.

For every tale of draconian punishment decried there’s usually a high-profile disciplinary case where even the strictest of Irish fans have shaken their head over the school’s logic. Likewise, for every story about five-star recruit X getting slid through admissions when in the past he’d have never gotten a chance, there are more than likely examples of Notre Dame admitting students with lesser academic profiles than the norm.

While some high-profile stories this preseason have wondered aloud whether the handling of Michael Floyd‘s disciplinary case or the admission of some elite recruits signifies a lowering of standards in both discipline and academics, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

With unprecedented access, the South Bend Tribune‘s Eric Hansen looks at the two hot-button issues, penning comprehensive stories on the two issues that have drawn the microscopes of football fans everywhere. The Sunday morning print exclusives are now available on the internet and there is quite a bit to digest for those interested in a story that’s only tangentially about football.

In Hansen’s first piece on the evolution of ResLife, the university’s disciplinary arm for students, he cites the change in the discipline of other athletes — namely former Irish tight end Will Yeatman, former point guard Kyle McAlarney, and former fullback Rashon Powers-Neal — from that punishment levied recently on Floyd.

There was a PR whiplash of sorts for Notre Dame, though, for being responsive to the voices that pushed for change and taking what it considered a more fair, more progressive approach with not only Floyd but the dozens of other cases last fall and spring that involved lower-profile students.

Cynics connected the dots to the Yeatman/McAlarney/Powers-Neal cases and concluded there was some kind of legal gerrymandering going on because of Floyd’s importance to the team. And that, they argued – coupled with facility upgrades and alleged relaxing of admissions standards – meant Notre Dame was somehow compromising what it had long purported to stand for.

Pierce, and many alumni like him – including Yeatman – look at it instead as evolution. A very necessary evolution.

Those who adjudicated the verdicts in Res Life for Yeatman, McAlarney and Powers-Neal didn’t have the power to do anything short of suspending them. Du Lac didn’t allow for any other outcome in cases involving student probation.

And that was perhaps the most significant change in the 2010-11 handbook from its earlier iterations, that initial probation no longer came with an automatic suspension from extracurricular activities – student government, student media, retreat leaders and, yes, football.

“Probation is actually probation now,” said Brian Coughlin, associate vice president for student affairs/student development. “That means if you do something else, there will be further consequences.”

There were other significant changes, notably in how DUI and other alcohol-related offenses were defined and how incidents off-campus were treated as opposed to those that occurred on-campus. All of which could have changed the trajectory of Yeatman’s experience at ND and all of which were in print and online for the world to peruse seven months before Floyd’s future went temporarily gray on March 20.

That Notre Dame’s official handbook was not only enacted, but in print and available to the public more than seven months before Floyd ran afoul from the law seems to be the biggest revelation coming from the story.

The fact that many who have called the decision to let Floyd remain in school, therefore allowing him the chance to stay with the football team, special treatment are forgetting that this new policy first came into the headlines last May, when tight end Mike Ragone was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, an arrest that didn’t cost him any playing time with the Irish either.

Hansen’s other story takes a deeper look at the admissions policy of the university as it relates to student-athletes, starting with a look at former Irish linebacker John Foley‘s unlikely journey to Notre Dame.

“I was a kid from inner city Chicago, who came from a family with five kids who lived in a three-bedroom apartment,” said Foley, now a big name in the financial world with Barrington Research, “During my recruitment, I was offered $100,000 from one school. My parents were offered a new house, new jobs from another. My girlfriend and I were offered gifts to go to another.

“Then I talked to (then-Notre Dame coach) Lou Holtz when I was on an official recruiting visit to ND and he said, ‘Hey if you want to come here and get an education, we’d love to have you. If you don’t, we don’t want you. Go home.’ ”

Holtz then told Foley, the nation’s premier linebacker prospect, that he needed to have a backup plan for his life in case he got hurt. And Foley did, early and often. His ND football career consisted of 27 minutes and eight seconds of cameos, all during his sophomore season (1987).

First, though, Foley had to get past then-director of undergraduate admissions Kevin Rooney, who made it a point to meet face-to-face with the football prospects.

“Lou Holtz told me, ‘Kid, this is going to be the interview of your life,’ ” Foley said. “ ‘If he says no, there’s nothing I can do to change that.’ Rooney was tough. He asked me why my test scores were so low. As it turns out, I was dyslexic, but didn’t know it at that time.

“He looked me in the eye, though, and saw how hard I was willing to work. I told him I wanted to be a student first. And every day, literally, I thank God Mr. Rooney let me in.”

Foley, quarterback Tony Rice and basketball player Keith Robinson were all admitted during the first year of the NCAA’s controversial Proposition 48 implementation. Each was forced by the NCAA to sit out all athletic activities their freshman year.

Two very interested reads, and two articles you should read in their entirety (ResLife and admissions). Great scoops by Hansen, who was given very good access by the university.