Ragone and McDonald set to join Weis in Kansas

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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.