Notre Dame Football: The Top Recruits That Got Away from the Irish

Keith Arnold@@KeithArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterFebruary 3, 2014

Notre Dame Football: The Top Recruits That Got Away from the Irish

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    Wednesday morning, college football programs all across the country will celebrate their respective recruiting classes with joy and optimism. But for all the happiness, most fans still can't help but think about the ones that got away. 

    As recruiting continues to evolve, so too does the game inside the game. With a multimillion dollar industry built around tracking the decision-making skills of 17-year-old blue-chippers, it's no wonder that the drama has ramped up as fans across the country wait for that all important fax to arrive. 

    When it comes to recruiting wars, the Irish have won some and lost some. But it's the old memories of losing out on Lorenzo Booker or CJ Leak, or near misses on program-changing players like Reggie Bush that still hang with Irish fans. 

    Of course, nobody wants to remember the pledges that flip your way. (Max Redfield, Greg Bryant, Will Fuller, Doug Randolph and Durham Smythe, just from last year's recruiting class.) They'd rather cry about the ones that went elsewhere.

    So let's do some of that here. 

    For the purposes of this exercise, here are a handful of high-profile recruits that were once committed to Notre Dame, only to end up signing with somebody else. (Before anybody complains, Eddie Vanderdoes isn't included. He actually signed with Notre Dame.) 

    Let's take a walk down (Bad) Memory Lane.  

Alex Anzalone

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    Recruiting Ranking: 4-Star OLB, No. 52 player in the country. 

    Where'd He End Up: Florida, after participating in the Under Armour All-America Game as an Irish commitment. Anzalone was set to early enroll at Notre Dame but decommitted from the Irish and enrolled at Florida literally the next day.

    (To make matter worse for Irish fans, all this happened while Brian Kelly was spending a few days in the Caribbean, weighing his NFL job options.) 

    How Bad Did it Hurt? Not too badly (yet). 

    Anzalone played in 10 games for the Gators, making two tackles during an injury-plagued freshman season. 

Ronald Darby

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    Recruiting Ranking: 2012 5-Star CB, No. 25 player in the country. 

    Where'd He End Up: Florida State, after decommitting from Notre Dame less than a month before signing day. 

    How Bad Did it Hurt? It didn't feel good. 

    Darby could've likely started from the day he arrived in South Bend, Ind., but instead went to Florida State as a two-sport athlete (Darby has elite track speed).

    As a freshman for the Seminoles, Darby tied for the team lead with eight pass breakups while appearing in all 14 games. He started nine games and intercepted two passes for the national champions in 2013. 

Deontay Greenberry

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    Recruiting Ranking: 2012 4-Star WR, No. 42 player in the country. 

    Where'd He End Up: Houston, pulling a signing-day shocker after telling the Irish coaching staff the night before that he'd be faxing in his letter of intent to South Bend. 

    How Bad Did it Hurt? Ouch. 

    Greenberry was another recruit that could've been an immediate starter for the Irish. Instead he went to Houston, where the Cougars won just five games in 2012. Greenberry was a 2012 Conference USA All-Freshman team member, catching 47 passes for 569 yards and three touchdowns. 

    Those numbers jumped impressively in 2013, with Greenberry a first-team All-AAC wide receiver. The team's offensive MVP caught 82 balls for 1,202 and 11 touchdowns during a breakout sophomore season. 

Giovani Bernard

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    Recruiting Ranking: 2010 4-Star RB, No. 186 player in the country. 

    Where'd He End Up: North Carolina, after opening up his recruitment when Charlie Weis was fired. 

    How Bad Did it Hurt? Definitely stung. 

    Brian Kelly gave chase, but Butch Davis beat Kelly for the talented recruit from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Kelly would get revenge in the next recruiting cycle, stealing Everett Golson away from Davis and the Tar Heels.)

    Even though the Irish had Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick to run the football, Bernard was an early second-round pick for the Bengals, immediately showing his playmaking abilities in Cincinnati. He would've been the most talented back on the Irish roster from the moment he stepped on campus.  

Omar Hunter

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    Recruiting Ranking: 2008 5-Star DT, No. 17 player in the country. 

    Where'd He End Up: Florida, after breaking the hearts of Irish fans everywhere in mid-January when he backed out of a commitment he made to Notre Dame in June to eventually end up with nemesis Urban Meyer in Gainesville. 

    How Bad Did it Hurt? Not as bad as it could have. 

    Would Hunter have played immediately for the Irish? Without a doubt. Notre Dame didn't have a defensive tackle on campus that looked anything like Hunter until Louis Nix picked the Irish in 2010. But Hunter wasn't the elite defensive player many expected. 

    After redshirting in 2008, Hunter started 31 games over the next four years, collecting 111 tackles, 11 TFLs and one sack. He spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers but didn't accumulate any stats. 

Greg Little

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    Recruiting Ranking: 2007 4-Star Athlete 

    Where'd He End Up: North Carolina, staying home after picking the Irish in November. But Little decided to send his fax to Chapel Hill instead of South Bend, a signing day surprise that hit the Irish hard. 

    Both Little and Arrelious Benn were considered Notre Dame locks, but neither played for the Irish. 

    How Bad Did it Hurt? Pretty badly. 

    Little didn't necessarily set the world on fire at North Carolina, and has been pretty disappointing in Cleveland after being taken with a second-round pick. But after signing Barry Gallup, Richard Jackson and Robby Parris in the 2006 class, Little would've seen the field pretty quickly, considering Duval Kamara set freshman records in 2007. 

    It's scary to think that Little, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate could've all played together for Notre Dame. 

    All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.