The much-maligned Notre Dame football recruiting class of 2007 will be remembered for many things, few of them good. This class set a record for futility, losing a school record 26 games over their four-year career. This talent-laden class was thrust into service before most were ready back in the forgettable fall of ’07.
Yet, despite all the negative connotations that may follow this class in the annals of Irish football lore, there are many positives that should not be so quickly forgotten. This class was resilient above all else. They persevered through rumblings and rumors of a head coaching change, one that ultimately came to fruition prior to their senior year. But above all, they should be remembered as a class that left Notre Dame football in a better place than they found it and helped propel the program towards the bright future all fans are dreaming of.
Here are a few members of that class and some highlights:
Jimmy Clausen, QB, Oaks Christian HS—Westlake Village, CA
Arguably the highest profile quarterback recruit to ever sign on for the Irish, Clausen committed to play for Charlie Weis in a style–stretch Hummer, gelled hair, press conference at the College Football Hall of Fame mere minutes from campus. Announcing he wanted to lead the Irish to four national titles, he set expectations that no player could ever hope to live up to. He fought through injuries (and way too many sacks) as a freshman, had an up-and-down sophomore campaign and then finally hit his stride in his junior (and final) season.
One final thought—Clausen has enrolled in classes for the spring semester to finish his degree. Kudos to him for coming back to school in order to graduate.
Author’s pick for most memorable play: Playing most of the ’09 season with an injured foot, Clausen was never a real threat to run with the football. However, in the showdown with USC (from which the Irish never really recovered), Clausen runs a read-option QB keeper inside the 10 for a touchdown.
Forward to the 2:30 mark of the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGHzJo8Bc5k
Golden Tate, ATH, John Paul II HS—Hendersonville, TN
What else can you say about a kid named Golden—he was bound to play for the Irish. He was the most exciting player since Rocket, and made more plays than I can remember. He burst on the scene vs. Purdue as a freshman, with three catches for 104 yds and a TD. At the time, he could run little more than a go-route but would develop into a clutch performer. Tate posted the greatest statistical season ever by an Irish receiver in 2009, scoring as a receiver, rusher and punt returner on his way to the Biletnikoff Award. One has to wonder how the offense would have performed in 2010 if he didn’t leave early for the NFL.
Author’s pick for most memorable play: Way too many to name, but I would have to say the play came against Washington State in the Alamo Dome. As time expired in the first half, Tate out-jumps not one, not two, but three WSU defenders to score a TD going into the half and effectively put the game out of reach.
Armando Allen, RB, Haileah-Miami Lakes HS—Miami, FL
You have to wonder what might have been with the sub-4.3 speed that Allen possessed. Fighting injuries his entire Irish career, he finished in the top 10 of all time in all-purpose yardage. The guy always seemed to be a shoelace away from breaking that big run. After season-ending surgery this fall, fans found out that he had been playing with two bad hips for quite some time. Allen has been invited to the NFL combine in February and could have a Ryan Grant-like explosion in the NFL.
Author’s pick for most memorable play: In a back-and-forth game vs. Michigan in 2009, the Irish march down the field to take the lead with a few minutes left in the game. Notre Dame decides to go for two, and they run the old Statue of Liberty play with Allen taking it in for two. Probably the best single play call of Weis’s five-year tenure in South Bend.
Forward to the 4:55 mark of the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtFeb5VUs3A&playnext=1&list=PLF81B04A7D5710888&index=35
Robert Hughes, RB, Hubbard HS—Chicago, IL
As a Notre Dame fan, I would take an entire team of guys like Robert Hughes. That is about the highest praise I think any fan can give any particular player. Playing through the tragic loss of his brother during his freshman year, it looked like he was primed to be the starter for years to come by the end of the season. He often struggled to get touches through his remaining three seasons but didn’t complain. The Irish finished a ridiculous 10-1 when Hughes got 10 or more carries in a game. I have no doubt that he gets at least a chance to play on Sundays as an undrafted free agent.
If nothing else, all you need to know about Hughes is that he was awarded the Nick Pietrosante Award at last week’s football awards ceremony. The Pietrosante Award is given to the student-athlete who best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride, and the recipient is chosen by a vote if his teammates.
Author’s pick for most memorable play: Two come to mind, the first was the two-point conversion vs. Washington in 2009, moving an entire pile into the end zone. The second, and probably more important, was the final drive vs. USC in 2010. Between Hughes and Floyd, they basically had every touch on the game winning drive, capped by a five-yard run right up the gut by none other than Robert Hughes.
Forward to the 2:48 mark of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI4ofgmRCHg
Duval Kamara, WR, Hoboken HS—Hoboken, NJ
Kamara would never find the grove he was in as a freshman, rewriting the rookie receiving records. By his senior year, Kamara had all but disappeared from the rotation. Kamara only caught 11 passes during his senior year, but finished with three huge TDs in his final three games (on only four catches).
Ian Williams, DL, Lyman HS—Longwood, FL
Williams finished his first year as a Freshman All-American and helped anchor the Irish defensive line for his four-year career. Playing both the NG in the 3-4 and DT in the 4-3, he helped eat up blockers and move the middle of the line of scrimmage.
Brian Smith, LB, St. Thomas Aquinas HS—Overland Park, KS
Perhaps the most vocal out of this class, Smith emerged as a freshman as a player to watch as he developed. More often than not he didn’t live up to the early expectations, often missing tackles and taking bad angles on the ball carrier. Lost in the rotation at the beginning of his senior year, he moved from the outside back inside after Carlo Calabrese went down with a hamstring injury and played outstanding football down the stretch to help lead the resurgent Irish defense.
Kerry Neal, LB, Bunn HS—Bunn, NC
Kerry Neal played OLB and DE. While never flashy as a defender, he was one of the more dependable players over the last four years. In 2010, he finished with 42 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 Sacks, a pass broken up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Not bad for the drop linebacker whose responsibility is coverage first.
There are other members of this class worth mentioning: Brandon Walker, Matt Romine, Emeka Nwankwo, Andrew Nuss, Steve Paskorz and Mike Ragone.
Also, there are few members of the 2007 class who are destined to play one more year, so the book isn’t quite closed on them yet: Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Taylor Dever.
All in all this class will be remembered for many things, but their ultimate impact on the program has yet to be determined.