Recruiting rankings are fun for recruitniks and a business for recruiting services. Yet, the fact is that no recruit is really a commitment until he signs a national letter of intent and his ranking is meaningless the minute he steps on campus. That’s not to say, though, that the process of tracking verbal recruits and assigning star values to players is an exercise in futility.
The reality is that most verbally committed recruits end up signing with that school and star values do matter when it comes to judging recruits. The Notre Dame coaching staff has shown an excellent ability to judge players, even those that fly below the radar and, though there have been defections, generally sign their verbal commitments.
Last week, Irish Sports Daily spoke to a verbal commitment in the Class of 2014 and, despite his having flown under the recruiting radar, is highly coveted by the Irish coaching staff. They also checked in with a 2015 offensive line recruit that already has attracted a long list of suitors from among some of the most prestigious programs in college football. What have you been missing by not being a member of Irish Sports Daily?
Jonathan Bonner, DE/LB 6-3, 250, Parkway Central High School, St. Louis, MO made a verbal commitment to Notre Dame at a time when he was a relative unknown in recruiting circles. That may actually be a bit of an overstatement since he did possess scholarship offers from Missouri, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Toledo and a few others. Still, only two of the major recruiting services have even bothered to rate him. However, to Notre Dame and his head coach, Mark Goldenberg, Bonner is blue-chipper, so much so that Goldenberg can barely find a way to get him off the field during games.
“He doesn’t leave the field much,” Goldenberg said. “We give him about four plays. When we kick extra points my coach wanted him as the edge blocker and I said, ‘I think we can find somebody else to do that.’ We can’t take him off punt because we run all our fakes to him. We can’t take him off punt return because he blocks punts and is a great blocker.”
Notre Dame has recruited Bonner on defense but his offensive skills as a tight end are so good that most opposing coaches assumed that’s where he had been recruited to the Irish. Still, both his coach and the Notre Dame coaches believe that defense is where his greatest impact lies.
“We use him as a defensive end as a pass rusher and I think that’s probably his strength,” Goldenberg stated. “I’m not that familiar with Notre Dame’s defensive schemes, but I’m under the impression that he will rush about eighty percent and drop about twenty percent. His athletic ability will enable him to do that very, very well.”
The Colts’ head coach first called on Bonner to play as a sophomore when he was needed to fill in for a suspended player. Since then Bonner hasn’t left the field. And it’s not only on the field that that talented Missourian shows his ability. According to Goldenberg, he’s also an excellent student and a great young man.
“He’s the kind of kid that you’re proud to have in your program; the kind of kid you’re proud to represent you,” stated Goldenberg.
“He is very, very well qualified academically. I think he has a 3.8 GPA, a 23 on the ACT. He just gets it. He understands that football is very important, but the academics are a key component as well.”
The Colts will miss Bonner next year but are excited about their prospects for this one.
“We return some good skill guys, so we’re very hopeful that we’ll be pretty good, but we’re thin, so any given moment it could change in a hurry,” Goldenberg explained. “We’re excited about the possibilities.”
For Bonner the recruiting process is winding down but for 2015 prospect Matt Burrell, OL, 6-5, 285, C.D. Hylton High School, Fredericksburg, VA it is just beginning. Burrell recently returned to the place where he grew up and is excited about reconnecting with old friends and helping his new team to success.
“It’s great being back home and being around kids I went to elementary school with and stuff and the fan base out here,” Burrell explained.
His team recently had their first scrimmage and the talented Virginia lineman admitted he was really excited about it.
“It was great,” he enthused. “I’m with a new team this year so being brought in as a leader and being accepted, I love it. I love the new atmosphere.”
Burrell found it easy to fit in with his new teammates.
“I knew most of them,” he said. “I knew some of the key guys and I came in and showed that I could bring it to a different level. I think we’ll be able to compete pretty high into the tournament. I think we’ll be a high contender for the state championship.”
Burrell hit the camp circuit this summer, not just to get his name out there in recruiting circles but to become a better football player. He has been applying the lessons he learned.
“I want to keep my hands inside a lot more,” he said. “I’ve worked on my technique all summer long. I’ve tried to refine everything. I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve gotten faster. When I went to camps I would absorb what they said and then go and practice it, whether it was using a weight vest, going up hills or playing against people bigger than me.”
Burrell has played on both sides of the ball during his career but has been more noted as an offensive player. He hopes to change that this year.
“I want to be dominant on defense,” he said. “I want to compete on both sides of the ball just like I did last year, but I want to bring it for both sides of the ball. Last year I produced on offense, so I want to produce the same amount on defense this year.”
Burrell knows that the notoriety that he’s gained in recruiting circles could well make him a marked man this year but he relishes the challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to get better.
Burrell’s offer list looks like a who’s who of college football’s elite. He currently holds offers from Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin among several others. He has enjoyed the recruiting process thus far but hasn’t really gotten too involved with it so far, preferring to let his head coach handle most of it for him.
“I haven’t really been in touch with anybody,” he explained. “If anybody gets in touch with me, it’s through my coach.”
Burrell has recently visited Virginia and hopes to make it to the South Carolina-North Carolina game. He’s also definite about wanting to visit Alabama, hopes to make it to Ohio State and plans to attend the Oregon-Virginia game. He also hopes to make it to South Bend.
“I want to get up to Notre Dame,” he stated. “I definitely want to get out there and see Coach (Scott) Booker again; he’s a great guy.”
These two summaries represent just a sample of the Notre Dame football recruiting information available each week on Irish Sports Daily.