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Notre Dame lands highly rated linebacker

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND -- Notre Dame's football recruiting went much like this past season: mediocre, until a big win in Hawaii at the end.

The Fighting Irish, who had seen their share of highly rated recruits slip away at the last minute in recent years, landed Manti Te'o (MAN-tie TAY-ow) of Honolulu, ranked as one of the nation's top high school linebackers.

"I can't remember the last time they got a great player at the very end," Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports said Wednesday.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said he had a good feeling about Te'o choosing the Irish because his father, Brian, had called special teams coordinator Brian Polian late Tuesday to ask him a question about the scholarship papers.

"When somebody calls you in the middle of the night to ask you a question like that, you know you have a chance," he said.

Sitting with his assistant coaches at a conference table shortly after noon, Weis threw his arms up in the air and Polian jumped out of his seat and began slapping hands with everyone around him when Te'o announced his decision on television.

"It was a very raucous crowd, needless to say," Weis said.

Weis predicted Te'o will have "an instant impact" and not just on the field. While quarterback Jimmy Clausen helped Weis bring in a highly rated 2007 recruiting class by announcing nearly 10 months before signing day, Weis expects Te'o to have the same effect attracting defensive players next year. He said within 15 minutes after Te'o made his announcement, the Irish already received a verbal commitment for next year.

Te'o won the inaugural Butkus Award, given to the nation's best high school linebacker. As a senior at Punahou, the same school that President Barack Obama attended, he had 129 tackles, 11 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a blocked punt.

"He's their best linebacker recruit since Bob Crable 30 years ago," Lemming said of the Irish.

When asked whether the recruitment of Te'o was a factor in Notre Dame's decision to play in the Hawaii Bowl in December, Weis said athletic director Jack Swarbrick made the decision after asking players what their preference was.

"I don't think they were thinking about Manti," he said. "Now, I was thinking about Manti, but I don't think that they were."

The Irish beat Hawaii 49-21, ending its NCAA-record bowl losing steak at nine.

Among the other highly rated players who signed with the Irish on Wednesday were tailback Cierre Wood of Oxnard, Calif., who rushed for 1,632 yards last season; receiver Shaquelle Evans of Inglewood, Calif., who caught 51 passes for 810 yards; and defensive tackle Tyler Stockton of Linwood, N.J.

Recruiting analysts didn't give the class of 17 players high marks, especially after Weis brought in one of the highest rated classes last year.

"Not great, not bad," Lemming said. "It's a decent follow-up class to last year's great class."

Weis, though, defended the class, saying recruiting analysts look more at quantity than quality.

"We are very happy with the people we got because we think they are good players that fill positions of need," he said.

Lemming, though, said the biggest failure was the lack of more defensive linemen, especially when there were so many available. Weis said he believes some younger players already on the Irish roster are ready to contribute.

The class also includes punter Ben Turk of Davie, Fla., kicker Nick Tausch of Plano, Texas; and center Jordan Cowart of Plantation, Fla., who was brought in to be the team's long snapper. Weis said after seeing the team struggle with long snaps at times last year, he thought that was an important position to recruit.

"He made 370 long snaps during his four years at St. Thomas without an error," he said.

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