The 2009 Irish Recruiting Class: Charlie's Last Stand

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Taking a look back at the graduating senior class and Charlie Weis' last full cycle of Irish recruits.

Burnt Orange Nation (Texas SB Nation blog) recently posted an article taking a look at Mack Brown's 2009 recruiting class, and how it wasn't pretty for the Longhorns.

That gave us an idea to look back at the 2009 Notre Dame class of graduating seniors and see how their careers panned out over the past 4 seasons.

Luckily, our story is much more happier than that of Texas, but like any recruiting class there was some misfortune.

This was the last full class of athletes recruited by former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. They signed in February of 2009 just six weeks after a (somewhat) uplifting Hawaii Bowl win and a 7-6 season following the disastrous 3-9 campaign of 2007.

These outgoing seniors finished their time at Notre Dame with a 34-17 (.666%) record and all things considered that's a pretty good mark in the post-Holtz era---plus this class deserves a lot of credit for their leadership and talent which culminated in this past season's 12-1 record.

Hopefully this will be the last class for a while that didn't quite reach a .700 winning percentage. The 2010 class is sitting at .717 and could improve that a little bit after next year.

Now, let's take a look back at Charlie's Last Stand.

*This article uses Rivals ranking system.*

E.J. Banks, Pittsburgh athlete

Size: 5'11" 181 pounds

Ranking: 3* (No. 45 athlete)

Notable Offers: Florida State, Ohio State, Pitt, Tennessee, Virginia Tech

Banks was a terrific two-way star at Montour High School in Pittsburgh starting at quarterback and safety right from his freshman season. Due to his size and inexperience as a passer (Montour ran the ball a ton), Banks was a great fit at corner for the Irish.

One of the three early enrollee's from this class, Banks never made an impact on the field over his two years in South Bend. Going in to his sophomore season he wasn't battling for serious playing time when Brian Kelly announced he was no longer on the team. The university stated the old "privacy laws" which is usually code for grade issues and Banks left the school without finishing up the winter semester.

He landed on his feet at Pitt as a walk-on defensive back in 2011 and made one assisted tackle while playing in one game. This past year (after getting a look at quarterback) Banks stayed at corner and played in 5 games making just 1 tackle.

Verdict:

Banks was a big miss in this class for a couple reasons. First, he was one of the more highly touted guys in the class (he sneaked inside the ESPNU 150 rankings) and had one of the best offer lists of this '09 class. His departure in 2010 (along with Spencer Boyd) left a gaping hole at corner that was felt for 2 years.

Alex Bullard, Tennessee offensive guard

Size: 6'3" 275 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 16 offensive guard)

Notable Offers: Auburn, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M

Bullard would be one of three members of this class that ended up transferring. As a smaller lineman he sat out as a freshman but did see action in 3 games as a sophomore in 2010. However, his father passed away and in early January 2011 he left Notre Dame to be closer to his family.

His hardship waiver was accepted and Bullard enrolled at Tennessee where he would start all 12 games for the Vols in 2011. This past season he only made 2 starts but played a lot as an interior backup lineman and tight end in Tennessee's power run formations.

Verdict:

I seem to recall Bullard's exit from South Bend being pretty quiet as everyone respected his wishes to move closer to home after his family tragedy. I'm sure there are some reading this today and remembering that he was once part of the program too.

His loss was pretty significant because he could have added another body and given the Irish more potential at right guard than what Mike Golic was able to offer. Bullard's body-type wasn't great (short, not that heavy...making it very odd that he was moved to tackle by Brian Kelly in the spring of 2010) and losing a starting spot at Tennessee may speak to his ultimate ceiling, but he could have been a valuable player for Notre Dame had he stayed.

Carlo Calabrese, New Jersey linebacker

Size: 6'2" 225 pounds

Ranking: 3* (No. 25 inside linebacker)

Notable Offers: Boston College, Florida, NC State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers

Calabrese didn't play as a freshman but made an immediate impact once Brian Kelly took over. A co-starter/starter for the past 3 seasons he's certainly lived up to his recruiting ranking and had a positive impact on the program.

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Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports

If Carlo is asked to come back for a 5th year he'll solidify himself as a major part of this class.

Verdict:

It's tough to argue with his production given his playing time: 146 tackles, 9 for loss, 3.5 sacks. I think it's fair to say he deserves a 5th year but this game isn't always fair.

Jordan Cowart, Florida center

Size: 6'2" 225 pounds

Ranking: 2* (Unranked)

Notable Offers: None

Rivals listed Cowart as a center but he was one of a growing trend among high school athletes who focused on long snapping exclusively, so that's all he did at Aquinas down in Florida.

He started for four years and did very well at his job.

Verdict:

Was Cowart the first long-snapper only to be offered a scholarship by Notre Dame...I can't remember? Brian Kelly has done the same with Scott Daly who will take over Cowart next year. Most don't like the "wasted" scholarship and I'd probably agree but if these players do their jobs at a high level they are quite valuable.

Tyler Eifert, Indiana tight end

Size: 6'6" 220 pounds

Ranking: 3* (No. 24 tight end)

Notable Offers: Cincinnati, Northwestern, Purdue, Wake Forest

A 3-star prospect who might be drafted in the 1st round after just 3 years of action at Notre Dame. Nothing more needs to be said about how much of a gem Tyler Eifert was except that he was an All-American too.

Verdict:

It's tough to research recruiting rankings before 2000, but it looks like Eifert could be the first Notre Dame 3-star to be drafted in the first round, or top 50 overall, in 15 years or longer.

Shaq Evans, California receiver

Size: 6'1" 203 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 24 receiver)

Notable Offers: California, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, USC

Evans was a huge recruiting coup for Charlie Weis who snatched him out of Inglewood, California. Rated as the 5th best prospect in this 2009 class by Rivals, and one of the top receivers in the country (Evans was No. 41 on the ESPNU 150) he didn't seem to fit in with the new coaching staff after his freshman season.

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

He caught 7 passes for 61 yards as a true freshman but never seemed happy that he wasn't seeing the field a lot. After spring practice and a back-up role staring him in the face, Evans became this class' 3rd transfer. His transfer (plus getting nothing out of Deion Walker) really stagnated the Irish receiving corps in the post-Michael Floyd world.

Verdict:

Evans wasn't a bust but his loss was a tough pill to swallow. He was supposed to be next in the line of succession following Samardzija, Tate, and Floyd but instead he was gone before we knew how good he could be.

After sitting out the 2010 season, Evans has blossomed in to a great playmaker. He's caught 79 passes over the past two years and just led the Bruins with 60 catches this past season.

Dan Fox, Ohio linebacker

Size: 6'4" 219 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 13 outside linebacker)

Notable Offers: Iowa, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Stanford

Fox came from St. Ignatius high school where he won a state title his senior year while playing safety. After sitting out his freshman season and putting on a ton of weight, he saw the field a little bit in 2010 before being the mainstay next to Manti Te'o for the bulk of 2011 and 2012.

While sharing minutes with Calabrese, he's produced 131 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 2.0 sacks over his career.

Verdict:

A good recruit who has had a good career. Notre Dame would have been a lot better in years prior had guys panned out the way Fox has. He's earned a 5th year.

Jake Golic, Connecticut tight end

Size: 6'4" 220 pounds

Ranking: 2* (Unranked)

Notable Offers: Connecticut

Sometimes you get what you ask for in recruiting. In this case, a 2-star legacy stayed all four years and didn't crack the 3-deep at his position.

Verdict:

Golic was often injured and just didn't have the talent to see the field at a school known for some of the most athletic and productive tight ends in the country.

Zack Martin, Indianapolis offensive tackle

Size: 6'5" 270 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 22 offensive tackle)

Notable Offers: Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA

The Irish only signed 3 offensive linemen in this class, but 2 out of those 3 were huge pickups that have worked out wonderfully for the program. Martin was one of those recruits---his Rivals ranking wasn't great but he was the No. 10 OT and inside the ESPNU 150---who Notre Dame hit the jackpot with.

Although he's only officially listed as 6'4" and a little short for a tackle, Martin has owned the left tackle spot since sitting out his freshman season.

Verdict:

He's started 39 straight games. Team captain. There haven't been any All-American honors yet but he's been close over the past two seasons. Starting 4 straight years at left tackle and playing at a very high level makes Martin perhaps the most valuable member of this class.

Zeke Motta, Florida linebacker

Size: 6'2" 207 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 5 outside linebacker)

Notable Offers: Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, North Carolina, Stanford, UCLA, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Motta was a highly rated recruit out of Vero Beach, Florida and one of the 3 early enrollee's for this class. He was ranked highly by Scout and was an elite recruit in the eyes of Rivals (8th best player out of Florida, 54th overall in the nation). ESPN was a little more pessimistic and had Motta as a pretty average No. 28 safety in the nation.

Looking at his Rivals ranking his career was obviously a disappointment. Looking at his ESPN ranking and he played about where you'd expect---if not overachieving a little.

Verdict:

Motta might have been better off not coming in early and being forced on to the field as a freshman. Like everyone that year, he ran around with his head cut-off and only amassed 12 tackles while playing sparingly from scrimmage. In short, it'd be great if he was able to come back for a 5th year and put in another full season as a starter.

Motta definitely showed some signs of his potential this season, but the national title game will always linger as a reminder that he largely struggled as a tackler for most of his career. 179 tackles, 4 for loss, and 2 interceptions in his career is pretty solid production for someone with only 1 full year of starting.

Theo Riddick, New Jersey running back

Size: 5'10" 185 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 10 all-purpose back)

Notable Offers: Boston College, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, West Virginia

Riddick was an all-state performer out of Immaculata in New Jersey who came to Notre Dame as the less heralded of the two running backs in the class, but nevertheless saw the field as a freshman. He picked up 29 carries in 2009 (mostly in garbage time) but also set the single-season school record for kickoff yardage at 849.

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Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

Switched to slot receiver upon Brian Kelly's hiring, he was productive when healthy amassing 78 receptions and 850 yards in 20 games as a sophomore and junior. Switched back to running back as a senior this past season, Riddick endeared himself to Irish fans everywhere with tough and smart play.

Verdict:

Riddick was never a truly explosive player and his stats back that up. However, he was a successful running back, receiver, and return man during his career and not many players can say they did all those jobs well at Notre Dame.

He finished his career with 1,169 rushing yards, 1,263 receiving yards, 1,051 kick return yards, and 13 career touchdowns. That's outstanding versatility and he was a big part of this class turning the program around.

Tyler Stockton, New Jersey defensive tackle

Size: 6'1" 290 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 16 defensive tackle)

Notable Offers: California, North Carolina, Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee, UCLA, USC

Stockton was another 1st-team all-state prospect out of New Jersey who enrolled early at Notre Dame after a fine prep career at The Hun School.

He was a good recruit according to Rivals but it's the Scout (121st nationally) and especially ESPN (No. 3 defensive tackle, No. 31 on ESPNU 150) rankings that really make his career a huge disappointment.

Verdict:

One of 2 members from this class to stay all 4 years and basically never see the field. Finished his career playing in 6 games with 1 tackle---ironically (or is it?) a sack against Boston College in 2010.

Stockton was the only defensive lineman of this class and he was as big of a whiff as we've seen over the past 10 years. There are lessons to be learned here.

Nick Tausch, Texas kicker

Size: 6'1" 180 pounds

Ranking: 2* (No. 9 kicker)

Notable Offers: None

Tausch was one of the rare Weis recruits to come out of Texas and won the field goal job as a freshman in 2009---allowing the fan base to move on from the shankapalooza era of Brandon Walker.

Tausch began his freshman year with vengeance nailing a then school-record 14 consecutive field goals and finishing the season connecting 14 for 17---he missed his first and last two of the season with the streak sandwiched in between.

Verdict:

The sky was the limit for Tausch in 2009, but the Navy game that season changed everything. He missed both field goal attempts in a crushing 2-point loss and missed the final 3 games of the season with a foot injury.

David Ruffer then took over the place-kicking duties and broke Tausch's school record by opening his career with 23 straight field goals. Ruffer would attempt a long field goal in the Sun Bowl against Miami (his 4th attempt of the day) with the streak still going, missed, and injured himself. Tausch connected on one more attempt after that and it would be his last for the Irish.

Pretty strange career for Tausch who finishes his career with a 83.3% success rate on field goals, yet lost his starting job.

Manti Te'o, Hawaii linebacker

Size: 6'2" 225 pounds

Ranking: 5* (No. 2 inside linebacker)

Notable Offers: BYU, California, Oregon, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA, USC

You know him by now. We'll see how his game against Alabama and this hoax business alters his legacy, but it will be difficult to change the way we view his production on the field.

Verdict:

All the awards are belong to him...except the Heisman.

It might be a while before we see an Irish defender put up these numbers: 437 tackles, 34 for loss, 8.5 sacks, 7 interceptions, and 17 passes defended.

Robby Toma, Hawaii receiver

Size: 5'9" 160 pounds

Ranking: 3* (Unranked)

Notable Offers: UCLA, Army

Considered by many to be a throw-in with teammate Manti Te'o, he nevertheless earned his keep during 4 years in South Bend. Toma played as a true freshman and developed in to a dependable slot receiver by his junior year.

Verdict:

Most expected no production, and Toma proved a lot of people wrong. He improved his output every season and finished with a modest 60 receptions, 667 yards, and 1 touchdown for his career.

He'll also be notable for having the best sound bite in American football player introduction history.

Ben Turk, Florida kicker

Size: 6'0" 190 pounds

Ranking: 3* (No. 6 kicker)

Notable Offers: Cincinnati

Turk came out of Florida's Thomas Aquinas with teammate Jordan Cowart and ended up splitting punting duties with senior Ben Maust in 2009 before holding down the position until 2012.

He was offered by Brian Kelly while the coach was at Cincinnati---his only other D-1 offer.

Verdict:

The consensus seems to be that Turk was just okay. He struggled early in his career and could never find consistency between beautiful booming punts and 25-yard shanks. As a senior, he did settle down and find some consistency with a solid 40.8 yard per punt average.

Chris Watt, Illinois offensive guard

Size: 6'3" 280 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 2 offensive guard)

Notable Offers: Boston College, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State

All things considered Watt was the second best recruit in this class. He was a Parade All-American, 31st nationally according to Scout, 77th nationally according to Rivals, and 68th on the ESPNU 150.

He sat out as a freshman, played decent minutes as a backup in 2010, and has started at left guard over the past two seasons.

Verdict:

Watt hasn't been quite as dominant as his classmate Zack Martin, but another year starting as a 5th-year senior will ultimately prove whether Watt was worth all the hype coming out of high school.

Most would say he's come pretty close to that hype already anyway. With a strong 2013 season he might be a decent draft pick and go a little higher than Martin when the NFL comes calling.

Cierre Wood, California running back

Size: 6'0" 192 pounds

Ranking: 4* (No. 8 running back)

Notable Offers: Auburn, California, Florida, Nebraska, North Carolina, UCLA, USC

Prior to this year's class of Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston it was Cierre Wood who was Notre Dame's top ranked running back recruit of the last half decade or so. He was 76th overall according to Rivals, 25th overall by ESPN, and 54th overall by Scout.

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Wood sat out his freshman year but then went on a 3-year tear with great production from the running back position. His 2,447 rushing yards is 7th all-time in school history and he is the first Irish running back in God knows how long to string together 3 straight seasons of 5.0 YPC or higher.

Verdict:

Wood's legacy will be tarnished a little bit for his suspension to start the 2012 season and the rumors of him being in the dog-house thereafter, but it's tough to argue with his accomplishments in the blue and gold.

We'll be left wondering how great he could have been with more carries, coming back for a 5th season, and playing in a system that suited his needs a little better---especially if he finds some success in the NFL.

SUMMARY

For modern Notre Dame standards this class did really well. It featured 2 All-Americans (with Watt and Martin potentially adding more honors), 10 starters, and (eventually by April 2014) around 6 or 7 NFL draft picks.

They'll also be the senior class with a 12-1 season in their back pocket as well.

Yet, when put against some of the 2009 classes at Alabama or LSU this Irish group isn't quite up to snuff. Perhaps that's an unfair comparison but it just goes to show how productive a class should be if it wants to be considered great.

This was a smaller class (18 players) and 44% of the group either played special teams exclusively, transferred, or contributed next to nothing for the Irish. I'm not sure how many recruiting classes there have ever been that contained a kicker, punter, and long-snapper in one cycle.

With the transfer of Banks and the bust of Stockton the 2009 class whiffed entirely at corner and defensive line. This just cannot happen and it put Brian Kelly in a huge hole when he took over in January of 2010.

One thing that is interesting to note in comparison to recent Notre Dame recruiting classes versus this 2009 crop are the offers.

More than half of this class had either good offers (North Carolina, Pitt, UCLA, etc.) to poor or few offers. The truly elite teams weren't really after the vast majority of these 2009 players.

Notre Dame can get some credit for getting about a dozen productive players out of this group, but it just goes to show how much more potential and talent the program is recruiting right now.

For example, incoming offensive lineman John Montelus is similar to Chris Watt in terms of recruiting rankings except the former is carrying offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State.

Sometimes these offers can be token and in name only but it's clear Notre Dame is recruiting a higher caliber athlete now as opposed to 2009.

Will it pay off for the Irish?

Another point to be made was that Charlie Weis was improving in his recruiting as time went on. Weis is criticized for neglecting the defensive side of the ball (and justifiably in many ways) but he was crippled by poor recruiting in his first two classes, especially in the front 7.

Derrell Hand, Patrick Kuntz, Steve Quinn, Scott Smith, Kevin Washington, John Ryan, Morrice Richardson, Toryan Smith, and Kallen Wade.

Those are the front 7 defenders recruited for the 2005 & '06 classes. All 3-stars. Add those players to Willingham's non-existent recruiting and it's not hard to see why Notre Dame fell on its face in 2007 and 2008.

Weis improved in 2007's class with Aaron Nagel (3*), Kerry Neal (4*), Brian Smith (4*), and Ian Williams (3*) but that's still pretty poor for Notre Dame.

It wasn't until Weis' last two cycles that he brought in legitimate depth and talent across the front 7. In 2008 he signed Sean Cwynar (4*), Steve Filer (4*), Darius Fleming (4*), Ethan Johnson (4*), Kapron Lewis-Moore (4*), Anthony McDonald (4*), Brandon Newman (4*), David Posluszny (3*), and Hafis Williams (3*). Lots of depth and a handful of really good starters in that group.

With the 2009 group above Weis finally began getting those defenders he needed so desperately but could never get early in his career in South Bend. By then, the on-field product had suffered so much that he wouldn't stick around to see these players grow up.

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