Texas showcase for Irish recruits
U.S. Army All-American Bowl features six players key to ND’s future
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Tyler Stockton radiates a sort of “aw shucks” quality about him when talking about everything from his 10-handicap golf game to his ability to terrorize quarterbacks.
But put a video game controller in his hands, and the charm school façade melts away in a heartbeat.
“I’m the best there is, best there was, best there ever will be,” the soon-to-be Notre Dame defensive tackle said. “It doesn’t matter what game. NCAA Football 09? I’m one of the top five in the nation. Give me any team, and I can make them good. I can make Notre Dame the national champion in that game.”
In the weeks and months ahead, Stockton will be trying to make Notre Dame football better in the real world. He is one of three early enrollees in the so-far 18-man recruiting class, with classes and lifting set to start Jan. 13.
For now, he is in San Antonio, Texas, showcasing both his real-life and electronic football prowess. Saturday he will be one of six Notre Dame recruits taking part in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl (1 p.m. EST, NBC) at the Alamodome.
Stockton’s future ND teammates on the East squad are tight end Jake Golic and linebacker/safety hybrid Zeke Motta. The West squad features future Irish players in running back Cierre Wood, wide receiver Shaquelle Evans and offensive lineman Chris Watt.
Safety Byron Moore of Harbor City, Calif., is committed to USC but remains open to overtures from Notre Dame, Florida and LSU. He will be playing for the West team Saturday.
“I’ve got to see Jake Golic and Zeke the most, because they’re on my team and we’ve been practicing together this week,” said Stockton, a 6-foot-1, 295-pounder from Linwood, N.J., who graduated from The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., in December. “I think they’ve been performing real well. I’m impressed with everybody.”
Last year, Notre Dame had 14 players among the 84 in the 2008 All-American Bowl. A 15th, defensive lineman Ethan Johnson, was named to the team but wasn’t able to play due to an injury.
It was a game that confirmed the enormous promise of the likes of wide receiver Michael Floyd and unveiled it for players like Brandon Newman and John Goodman.
There are bigger names than Stockton among the half dozen Notre Dame representatives this year, in terms of stars and rankings affixed by recruiting analysts and angst and excitement felt by the Irish fan lunatic fringe. But Stockton is the most intriguing among the six in Saturday’s game.
Much of it has to do with his position. The most glaring need for Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis going into this recruiting cycle was defensive lineman. Stockton is the only one to date -- and likely will still be the only one by the Feb. 4 signing date -- that the Irish coaching staff didn’t whiff on.
The Irish lose starting defensive tackle Pat Kuntz and part-time starting end Justin Brown to graduation. Stockton, especially with his early enrollment, has an opportunity to jump into the mix with current freshman contributors Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming, and four who redshirted -- Kapron Lewis-Moore, Brandon Newman, Hafis Williams and Sean Cwynar.
“The coaches tell me, I’ll have the opportunity to come in and contribute if I get everything down,” Stockton said, “so hopefully it will work out.”
At least leaving home won’t be part of the culture shock. Stockton hasn’t lived at home during the school year since he was a seventh-grader. He enrolled at the Hun School the following year. His younger sister, Blake, a standout soccer player, also attends the Hun School.
“It was a touch adjustment at first, being away from home, but now I am so used to it,” he said. “I’m also used to high academic standards. But I know I need to prove myself all over again at Notre Dame.”
Here is a thumbnail view of the five other Notre Dame recruits in Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl:Jake Golic
West Hartford. Conn. (Northwest Catholic H.S.)
6-4, 220, Tight End
Golic is the son of former Irish football standout and current ESPN radio personality Mike Golic. His uncle, Bob, also starred for Notre Dame, and his older brother, Mike Jr., is a freshman backup center on the Irish team and played in 2008 All-American Bowl.
Even with the imminent transfer of Will Yeatman likely to Maryland, tight end will be a position loaded with young talent at ND in 2009. Freshman All-American Kyle Rudolph, another All-American Bowl alum, returns as does sophomore Mike Ragone. Ragone missed the 2008 season due to a knee injury. Freshman Joseph Fauria, pressed into duty late in the year, will also be in the mix.
Golic physically may benefit from a redshirt year, but the Irish coaches are excited about his long-term potential.Zeke Motta
Vero Beach. Fla. (Vero Beach H.S.)
6-2, 207, Outside Linebacker/Safety
Motta is a Harrison Smith act-alike and that bodes well for the Irish. Unlike Smith, he will likely stick as an outside linebacker. And since Smith is moving to his natural free safety position for 2009, that opens up a spot for Motta to compete with the likes of current freshman Steve Filer, another All-American Bowl participant from last January.
Motta, another early enrollee, could benefit from a year of maturing without playing, but he will likely be too advanced to keep off the field in the fall.
Brian Kelly hasn’t been comfortable naming a starting quarterback after the unexpected exit of Everett Golson, but Keith Arnold writes that Kelly has made a final decision and Tommy Rees will be the Irish starting quarterback, at least heading into fall camp.