Every year there are surprises in recruiting, both good and bad. Last year ND hit a streak of bad ones with the last minute defections of a handful of recruits.
The pendulum is swinging back with one of the bigger recruiting surprises in recent years. Georgia defensive tackle Omar Hunter capped off a weekend of visits to both South Bend and Ann Arbor with a surprise public commitment to Notre Dame. Hunter was presumed to be a heavy Wolverine lean and likely to commit during his trip to Michigan, but the visit to South Bend convinced him that Notre Dame was the place for him.
“They were always on my list, I just never thought I would go to Notre Dame,” Hunter said. “Notre Dame was always in my top five, but when I went up there they just wowed me. It just seemed like the place to be.I think it's worth noting that Hunter was impressed by the fact the players were studying. Some recruits look at college visits as a chance to party and some really do have a genuine interest in the academic and non-football side of things on campus. That Hunter was impressed and not indifferent, or even turned off, by seeing guys hit the books in the summer is a good sign to me that he's going to fit in just fine at ND.
“Just being around all the players and coaches, it was just unbelievable. I was just impressed with how good of guys they were and how down to earth they were. The players were such good guys. The impression left on me was when I went up there and they took me out, they went back and started studying before they even took me out.”
Hunter's commitment as the 14th member of the class of 2008 is fantastic news; he's a highly sought-after defensive tackle with an offer list that includes many of the top defensive teams in the country. In addition to Michigan, the 6'1", 295 pound 1st Team All-State junior had offers from Florida, LSU, Florida State, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, and many more.
His rankings on the recruit sites include being a 4-star on Rivals, a 3-star on Scout (with the caveat from a Scout.com admin that he will likely be a 4-star guy once they release their revised rankings in a few weeks) and #87 on ESPN's Top 150 list. His rankings are pretty good, but considering his impressive offer list, and I'd be very surprised if he didn't wind up in another Top 100 list or two when all is said and done.
One thing that likely has kept his ranking down on the recruit ranking sites is a broken leg that forced to sit out and miss spring practice in order to recuperate. He's expected to be fully healed by the fall and get back to the kind of football that makes for one of the more impressive highlight clips I've seen this year. And for those worried about the level of competition he faces in the video, it's good to read that Hunter has impressed against schools in bigger divisions (and this was written about him as a sophomore in high school):
Hunter was the best player on the field as the Wolves dominated a bigger Central Gwinnett team. That’s bigger as in classification (AAAAA to AA), and not in heart, or size. And no Buford player exhibited more spirit or heft than Hunter.You might recognize Buford High School as the same one that produced Darius Walker. And although Walker has moved on to the NFL, the Peach State presence on the team is still strong, with junior Paul Duncan and sophomores Toryan Smith and Mo Richardson. Other defensive recruits from SEC and ACC recruiting hotbed states pop up in recent recruiting class too (Harrison Smith, Gary Gray, Kerry Neal, Brandon Newman, etc.) which is a great indicator of ND's burgeoning Southern recruiting moxie.
I know I'm being repetitive here, but the commitment of Hunter really is fantastic. It's important not only because he's a great player, but also because it was quite unexpected and serves to make ND's defensive haul all that more impressive, which is something that other top recruits notice.
As for his future position on the line, Hunter has the makings of a future star nose tackle. With a reported bench press around 400 pounds, the fourth-best shot put in the state, and a claim by his head coach that he can dunk a basketball, Hunter already has the physical ability to start right away for ND. At the very least he gives ND another solid 300-pounder in this current recruiting class along with Brandon Newman. That kind of depth will mean that ND can stick with the 3-4 if it proves ideal, but also have enough big bodies along the line to go back to the 4-3 defense and its two defensive tackles. It also means that the trip back to the offensive line is getting more and more likely for Andrew Nuss, Emeka Nwankwo, and/or Chris Stewart.
With the current 14-man recruiting class split down the middle between offensive and defensive players, the Irish are in a great position to fill up the remaining 7-9 spots with even more great talent. A strong season, defined more by perception than straight wins and losses, will be a must in order to keep the very best players interested. But for now, ND, and especially Coach Corwin Brown, have done a fantastic job of already securing the public commitment of some very talented players.
UPDATE: Mike: I am in complete agreement with Pat's post, but I'd like to add the following excerpt from Mike Frank's Irish Eyes Power Hour. This conversation took place on May 8th, when Hunter was widely believed to be headed to Michigan:
Mike Frank: It's too bad, because I'd really like to see the Irish get a shot at Omar Hunter, because I love him on film, too. Now that guy...I bring this exchange up for two reasons. First, this transcript speaks to how good Hunter is. Both Mike Frank and the caller were effusive in their praise of Hunter. I'm not sure if the printed word captures their enthusiasm, but when you listen to the show their tone makes their opinion of Omar obvious. Second, it's an example of one of the many reasons we are such big fans of Mike Frank & Co. at BGS. Mike's evaluations of recruits are not tied to Notre Dame's chances of landing a prospect. He doesn't hype up recruits because they appear to be leaning to Notre Dame or downgrade recruits if they select another school. Even though Hunter appeared headed to Michigan, Mike gave him his due. This kind of straight talk is the reason why we give credence to the words of Mike and his writers in the notoriously unreliable and political world of recruiting coverage.
Caller: He's a monster.
MF: Oh, wow. What a football player he is, too. I mean, he is...man! Whoever's gonna get that guy is gonna get a hell of a player. Let's just hope and pray it ain't Michigan.
Caller: He looks mean.
MF: Yeah, yeah and he's quick and he's tough and he's just...he's a good football player.
Caller [jokingly]: Well, hopefully we can pull a Lane Clelland with him, too.
MF: Yeah, yeah, exactly [laughs].