Monday, April 24, 2006

Jimmy Football | by Pat

As you may have heard, prep quarterback Jimmy Clausen has committed to play at the University of Notre Dame. There might be a small mention of it in your daily sports reading; if not, here's the scoop: he's pretty good.

Perhaps the most-hyped high school football recruit coming to ND since Ron Powlus, Clausen has been pegged as one of the top recruits in this class, regardless of position, since his sophomore year in high school. That was the year he completed 227 of 330 passes for 3,665 yards, 57 touchdowns, and just six interceptions, leading his team to the Southern Section Division XI championship. His junior year saw him featured in Sports Illustrated as "The Kid with the Golden Arm" and named 2006 Junior of the Year. And that's the likely reason that the Irish decided to pass on last year's #1 quarterback, Mitch Mustain.

But what's truly noteworthy about his decision to play for Notre Dame (over Southern Cal, near his hometown of Westlake Village) is the nearly solitary, calculated criterion he used in choosing a school. While we love to eat up stories about kids that grow up Irish, with dreams of putting on the gold helmet and slapping a 'Play Like a Champion Today' sign over their bedroom door, Clausen's decision had none of that. It was strictly a business choice.

"Yeah, this is a business decision," Clausen said. "My two older brothers did this, and their dreams were to get to the NFL, and their dreams pretty much got shattered. And I think that's what's making me work so hard is to get there, because they didn't get the chance, or opportunity to. I think that's what drives me the most. The NFL is what I want to do, that's how I want to make a living, and after seeing my brothers not get to the NFL, every time I want to stop lifting a weight, it just makes me keep lifting. It drives me a lot.

"If you want to go to the NFL, you've got to want to work. You want to be the best you can be. And that's what I'm striving for. I guess I'm the No. 1 player in the nation this year, and I hope to stay that way, and I'm going to keep working as hard as I can to keep that stature. And once I get into college, I want to be the No. 1 player in college. And hopefully I can get to the next level and become the No. 1 player there.

"And part of getting there is choosing coach Weis. Honestly, I think it pretty much just just came down to coach Weis for me.
Normally, when a recruit commits we like to see him mention academics, family, faith, the beautiful campus, the lakes, the squirrels, the wonderful dining hall food: we want to hear about bucolic charm and mystique and all that stuff. But if you think about it, the fact that Clausen made a "business decision" is really refreshing. To me, at least, just about any coach can recruit kids to Notre Dame who already love the school. But for many of the best players in the nation -- the ones who didn't grow up watching Rudy -- the decision usually comes down to which college will best get them ready for the NFL. And lately Notre Dame has been coming up short in that category.

Over the past few weeks, Rivals has been running a series of stories on Position U, a look at which colleges recently have been producing the most and best NFL players at a particular position; that is to say, the best pipelines from college to the pros. The series isn't finished yet, but the only mention the Irish have had so far is as a runner-up for Punters. Yikes.

The fact that Clausen picked Notre Dame strictly because of Charlie Weis and his professional bona fides is extremely telling: the program is returning to the elite level of college football. Not because it's a given that JC will lead ND to multiple national championships; no one knows what Clausen will eventually accomplish in college football. But by selecting the Irish, especially in such a public manner, Clausen has put elite recruits across the country on notice that Notre Dame is once again a desirable destination.
"That's one thing that I was worried about, 'Can they recruit guys in?' '' Clausen said. "And coach Weis just said, 'I can get guys in.' And, again, I'm trusting him that he's going to stick to his word. He stuck to his word with me the whole time, so I think he'll do the same for that. I want to play with the best athletes, and that's just what I want to do. SC has the best athletes right now in college football, and I want that to change, and I think I'm starting to change that by committing to Notre Dame."
Clausen as Pied Piper is certainly music to the ears of Irish fans, and brings me to yet another reason why I'm happy that Charlie is running things for us. As recruits start to make more football-based decisions to attend ND, I think it's key that a graduate of the University is in charge to make sure that these kids are a good fit for the school (that they can "read and write", as Charlie likes to say); I don't think we're looking at a replay of Barry Switzer's Sooners in the making here. Even with guys like Clausen (or perhaps Sam Young), who took a calculated measure of potential colleges, there will always be players like Aaron Nagel in the mix who drip with enthusiasm about all the Irish "intangibles".

Anyway, it's still a long way until next January, which is when Clausen plans on enrolling. As it stands right now, the commitment of Jimmy Clausen was the next big step in Charlie's Notre Dame Football Reclamation Project. Over the coming months we'll see if the commitment of Clausen really does pays off in the form of even more blue-chip recruits.