Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hat Trick | by Pat

This past Saturday was the reddest of recruitnik red letter days: the annual Army All-American Bowl. As you may or may not recall, I commented on this game last year and the in-game events that ranged from the merely silly to outright assualts on hyperbole. Of course, despite my disdain, I was again front-and-center for kickoff this year.

In my defense, Notre Dame fans certainly did have plenty of reason to be interested in the game this year. Last year, D.J. Hord was the only Irish representative, whereas this year eight players suited up as ND verbals. And that doesn't include invited-but-injured ND commits Demetrius Jones and Darrin Walls, and notable one-time and current ND recruits Sam Young, Terrance Austin, Gerald McCoy, Butch Lewis, and Mitch Mustain.

Surprisingly, the game itself wasn't nearly the cheese-fest it was last year. There were no embarrassing commercials for, no up-to-the-second recruiting team rankings updates, and the announcers managed to rein in the comparisons to various NFL pro-bowlers. However, in their place were penalties, punts, fumbles, and more penalties. After reading recruiting reports all year long detailing the recruits' amazing physical abilities and football prowess, it does take a few minutes to register that they are still high school kids trying to pull off a game only one week after meeting their teammates. And that's one of the reasons I'm not going to put too much faith into the performance of each recruit. Sure, I'm encouraged by the fact that Raeshon McNeil looked like the cover corner ND fans write Santa for every year; I just won't expect him to waltz into camp in the fall and win a starting job. Likewise, I won't afix the "project" label on Bartley Webb even though he nearly got his high school buddy Mitch Mustain killed a few times after whiffing on blocks from his left tackle spot. (Nope, extolling that legendary Irish fan patience, I'll be content to wait until they've had at least 5 practices in an Irish uniform before I write them off for good.)

As for the other Irish recruits, I don't think a full scouting report from me would be terribly helpful. Some looked better than others, but as I said earlier, it's an all-star game between high schoolers. If you're still curious, here are some good free game reviews from the folks at Scout and Rivals.

One thing I do know: the primary downside of all-star games reared its ugly head when Dan Wenger went to the turf grabbing his ankle after hearing it go "pop". I'm assuming he'll be fine by fall camp (knocking on wood), but that sure took the shine off the rest of the game. (It's also one of the reasons I didn't mind East Coach Ted Ginn, Sr. playing favorites and putting Chris Wells in for repeated carries at the expense of James Aldridge and the other running backs during the game.)

Of course, the game is really just window dressing for the Main Event of the broadcast: the official college declarations. Spread throughout the game, various players got to stand in front of their family and friends, mumble something about their future, and pick up a hat meant to signify their collegiate choice. Thankfully, they did away with the goofy duffel bag from last year and used a more classy "table", where the hats representing the college choices were laid out like cuts of meat in a butcher's window. And while I've rolled my eyes at the whole "picking a hat press conference" phenomenon in the past, after repeatedly being subjected to the spectacle I've come to understand that picking hats is truly an awesome way to let people know your direction in life.

In fact, I hope this trend spreads to all aspects of college football. Hear me out here. Just a few days ago when Anthony Fasano held a press conference to announce his decision to enter the NFL draft, I couldn't help thinking it would have made for much better suspense if he had a table with both an ND hat and an NFL hat on it. That way while he's being introduced and the usual pre-announcement platitudes are being voiced, everyone will be just focused on those hats. Which one will he choose? Will he do the hat pump-fake move? And where did they get that ugly Notre Dame hat?

And just think of the possibilities in your everyday life. Your kids come into the kitchen in the evening to see you standing in front of a table with three hats that read "Red Lobster", "Pizza", and "Reheated Casserole". You'll have their instant attention. You walk into a performance review and see a "Promotion!" cap sitting next to a "Polish up Your Resume..." visor. At the next wedding you attend, instead of uttering the vows, the bride and groom will don "I Do" lids (hers with a stapled-on veil, of course). The possibilities are endless.

In the end, the hat karma went both ways for the Irish at the All-American game. It smiled on ND when offensive lineman Matt Carufel picked one up, and frowned when defensive tackle Butch Lewis decided to put on a Southern Cal cap. (Not landing Butch Lewis certainly was a blow, as we're very much in need of defensive tackles and things aren't looking so great for the nation's best defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy. Of course there are still a few weeks left of recruiting, but it's getting down to crunch time. Hopefully before the start of February, Coach Weis will find some top notch defensive tackle who wants to pick up the ND hat and put it on.)