It’s panic season in recruiting

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For a small, but fanatical subset of college football fans, this is the most stressful time of year. Forget autumn Saturdays — where sixty minutes determine who wins and who loses. This is way more serious. Two years of work — evaluating, wooing, relationship-building — all coming down the stretch, as coaches try and convince 17- and 18-year old kids that their college is the best one for them. Yep, it’s panic season for hard core college football fans. And with the Irish involved in some of the most heavily recruited players in the country, it’s time to buckle up and hold on tight.

Over the weekend, Deontay Greenberry led his Washington Union team to a state championship, adding to his California-record setting receiving numbers while making an interception on defensive and recovering an onside kick to will his Fresno high school to victory. That alone should garner headlines, as the likely California state player of the year all but put on a cape and rescued Lois Lane this weekend. But the internet wasn’t abuzz with his performance, but his decision, along with his cousin blue-chip cornerback Tee Shepard, to visit USC while they were down in Carson for the game.

That Greenberry and Shepard would step foot onto USC’s campus alone isn’t surprising — both have said they planned on visiting all along. That it would happen this late in the game, and just before a recruiting dead period, has Irish fans shaking in their boots. Greenberry told Rivals.com this weekend that no matter what, he and his cousin were going to college together. And with Shepard early enrolling at the college of his choice, we’ll likely know in a matter of days where the talented duo ends up.

Keeping Notre Dame fans (and coaches) sane are the quotes that accompany Greenberry’s acknowledgement of the package deal:

“Tee said he is really interested in them so my boy wants me to go out there and check them out so that’s what I’m going to do,” Greenberry said.

“They want me. I’m going to keep it open. Right now I’m solid to Notre Dame so that’s where I’m at right now. Right now I’m 100 percent solid to Notre Dame.”

Greenberry, who had a touchdown catch, a fumble recovery and an interception in Washington Union’s victory, has said throughout his recruitment that he wanted to leave California for college but the Trojans – and many other teams – have continued to recruit him.

He said he’ll definitely listen to what USC offers on the visit.

“Like I said at the beginning of my recruitment, I wanted to leave the state so that’s where my mind is still,” Greenberry said.

“It’s not just Notre Dame. I just want to get away from home and experience some new things.”

Since the visit, news has been scarce, but that hasn’t stopped fans from worrying. For those with a doomsday attitude, the timing is horrendous for the Irish. Entering a quiet period, Lane Kiffin and the USC staff essentially had the last word with Shepard, who would have the chance to enroll at Southern Cal on Wednesday for the early signing period. For skeptics, they’ll point to Shepard using the official visit for a free flight to watch his cousin (and what should have been his teammates if not for a transfer hiccup) play and get a visit that’s long been on their list of places out of the way.

Greenberry might be the most important recruit on the Irish board, especially with Michael Floyd departing. On paper, there’s no question that the fit at Notre Dame is better for him, with a depth chart wide open compared to Robert Woods and Marquise Lee. The same can be said for Shepard, who will watch Gary Gray and Robert Blanton play their last games at cornerback next week and the depth chart behind them unsettled.

Irish coaches had a chance to speak with Shepard and Greenberry last night and feel in good shape with both. Of course, they’re used to this kind of thing, working in an industry where your performance is directly tied to trusting the word of 18-year-olds. But the rest of us, we’re just along for the ride. If that means having your hair turn grey because Ronald Darby plans on visiting Clemson or Urban Meyer is taking a run at Taylor Decker, get used to it, because this coaching staff has.

Unlike previous regimes, there is no protocol with verbal commitments or looking at other schools. This staff will continue to recruit who they want, whether it’s Nebraska commitment Jordan Westerkamp or all-everything recruits like Nelson Agholor. They’ll win some and they’ll lose some, but it’s been a practice that’s been more than kind to Brian Kelly and his staff. Last year, it landed guys like Everett Golson, who was committed to North Carolina, Aaron Lynch, who was set to enroll at Florida State, and Stephon Tuitt, who had switched his commitment to Georgia Tech just days before Signing Day. A guy like Troy Niklas wasn’t a sure thing until his fax arrived in South Bend that snowy Wednesday morning.

It’s that time of year — panic season for a college football fan. Two years of following recruits, high schoolers many of us have only seen in YouTube highlight reels or with stars attached to their name, all coming to a boil in that first week in February. For the Irish coaching staff, they’ve decided to roll the dice with a ton of high profile players. It’s a strategy that paid off last year, and one that’ll likely determine the fate of this year’s recruiting class.

That’s the price of admission when you’re trying to build a BCS program, and it’s a strategy recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, and the entire coaching staff, have embraced. But for those fans watching nervously in sideline, take note. As they say in the movies, if you’re scared — buy a dog. With high stakes recruiting, if you’re scared — follow Northwestern.