A long snapper, named Jordan Cowart.
Then Hawaii prep All-America linebacker Manti Te‘o Wednesday dropped the biggest Signing Day surprise in Charlie Weis’ lap that the Notre Dame head football coach has experienced in his five recruiting cycles.
The five-hour time difference from Hawaii and a line at the fax machine at Punahou School in Honolulu caused Weis to have to delay his Signing Day press conference by 55 minutes. But the signing Te‘o, the highest-profile defensive player of the post-Lou Holtz Era at Notre Dame (1997-present), was worth the wait.
And even though Weis tried and failed at convincing the media that Te‘o wasn’t already penciled into the starting lineup for Sept. 5 opener with Nevada, there is little doubt he will be.
As will Cowart. In fact, Weis said as much during his press conference.
"When (Irish assistant coach) Bernie Parmalee told me I probably would be starting as a freshman, I was pretty fired up about it," Cowart said.
Not to mention fired up about the scholarship, something many long-snapping specialists rarely receive, especially as freshmen.
Cowart is from the same high school (St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale) as returning starting offensive linemen Sam Young and Dan Wenger as well as that punter recruit -- Ben Turk -- whose 375-pound max bench press could mean the 15-yard penalty might be the least of the opponents’ problems if they decide to rough him.
The Irish, whose class ranking jumped several spots into the top 20 by most recruiting services when Te‘o signed, did miss out Wednesday on California safety Byron Moore and Florida safety Jawanza Starling. Both of them signed with USC.
Including the recruits whose commitments have been incubating since at least early December, here are the six most likely to step into more than cameo roles in the fall of 2009:
1. Manti Te‘o
6-2, 225, Outside Linebacker
Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Punahou School)
The USA Today Defensive Player of the Year could play inside or out, but most likely will step into since-graduated team MVP Maurice Crum’s old weakside spot and actually upgrade the position.
His speed, his intensity, his instincts, his coverage ability are so advanced, and the current Irish players know it. In fact, Weis’ cell phone was deluged with congratulatory texts from his own players about Te‘o’s signing.
Weis has given permission to Te‘o to take as long as a two-year Mormon Mission, but the linebacker isn’t sure if he’ll take two years, one year or not go at all. If he does, he’ll take it after his freshman season.
"He (is) the best linebacker prospect to show up at Notre Dame since Bob Crable 30 years ago," CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "There’s no one at Notre Dame with his talent. And if he’s not starting next year, then Notre Dame has some hidden All-Americans. We didn’t know about."
2. Zeke Motta
6-2, 207, Outside Linebacker
Vero Beach, Fla. (Vero Beach H.S.)
Motta is a Harrison Smith act-a-like — an outside linebacker strong enough to stand up to a physical running game and skilled enough to rush off the edge or drop into coverage. And since Smith is moving from outside linebacker to free safety this offseason, there’s vacancy there.
Motta will have to battle sophomore-to-be Steve Filer, a breathtakingly athletic 6-foot-3, 236-pounder who played mostly special teams last season.
“When I visited Zeke down in Vero Beach a year ago, he looked small,” CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “You look at him now, and he’s a different player. He’s very aggressive, very quick to the ball. He really could surprise some people.”
And he is getting an early start. He is one of three early enrollees at Notre Dame who will be around for spring practice.
3. Cierre Wood
6-0, 192, Running Back
Oxnard, Calif. (Santa Clara H.S.)
Wood comes in behind four veterans — all of whom were top 100 prospects coming out of high school: Senior-to-be James Aldridge, juniors Armando Allen and Robert Hughes and sophomore Jonas Gray. He’ll also have classmate Theo Riddick from New Jersey to contend with. But when you’re running game ranks 100th nationally, you aren’t so fast to close the door on your less-obvious options.
Wood’s High School stepped up in competition this year, playing bigger schools with better players, and he did not produce the Playstation-esque numbers of his junior season (2,612 rushing yards with a 14.7-yard average and 34 TDs). But he did average better than 11 yards a carry while rushing for more than 1,600 yards and 20 TDs.
Still, he took big drops in his national rating from Rivals.com and SuperPrep Magazine, but Lemming still counts him as an elite back — his No. 17 overall prospect overall in 2009.
“He could be the game-breaking back Notre Dame is looking for,” Lemming said. “None of the backs ahead of him have stood out. This is probably the best position to just open up in the spring. Competition will make everyone better, but I believe Wood will prove to be the most explosive.”
To keep Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis from exploding, Wood will have to learn the intricate pass-protection schemes quickly.
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.
Recap of biggest day of year for recruiting
Building a bond
Jan. 22: Zeke Motta and Tyler Stockton spill the dirt as future roommates.
Jan. 22: Jake Golic talks to John Walters about being another Golic attending Notre Dame.
Beefing up the offensive line
Jan. 22: Notre Dame commit Chris Watt talks to John Walters about preparing for Irish football.
Next record breaker?
Jan. 22: Shaquelle Evans heads to Notre Dame and aims to break the freshman wide receiver record.