ND has lost touch with Western Pa.

Tom Lemming
Tribune Correspondent

Notre Dame has a great history of players from western Pennsylvania — names such as Leon Hart, Johnny

Lujack, Joe Montana, Terry Hanratty and Tom Clements. I could go on and on.

But in the last few years, ND has not been able to make an impact in the area like it has in the past.

When you recruit nationally like Notre Dame, it’s good to have a coach who is familiar with the area. ND gets its foot in the door, but then it comes down to connections and hard work. Without the connections it’s sometimes tough.

There is always talent in western Pennsylvania.


I thought this year they should have been after Shai McKenzie, the great running back from Washington. He’s got decent grades and I think he’s the best running back in the East, but they didn’t go after him.

They’re looking at junior offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins from Pittsburgh. I would imagine that Notre Dame’s coaches will be out Friday night at high school games in the area.

Charlie Weis had some success in the area, the big name coming out of the area being cornerback Darrin Walls.

Western Pennsylvania is a vital area for Notre Dame because there are many Catholic families in the area.

When I started following recruiting in the late 1970s, a lot of the football players were the sons of steel workers. They were tough, hard-nosed kids who lived and died football, and I’m sure it was that way all the way back to the 1920s.

Now there aren’t a lot of steel mills left there. Pittsburgh has become sort of a renaissance city, but there’s still some good football being played there. It’s not as good as it was 30 years ago, but still good enough where you should be recruiting four or five kids there. You can’t give up on an area famous for tough kids.

Eye on Hendrix

With Dallas Bishop Dunne cornerback Nick Watkins committed to Notre Dame, it’s time to talk about Payton Hendrix, Watkins’ teammate.

He’s having a good year. I think he’s a solid safety, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go to Notre Dame, because he and Watkins are very good friends.

The way ND is looking right now at safety, I think he’s become a priority for them. Unless they can get JuJu Smith, who could play safety or corner, Hendrix becomes a priority at the spot.

At defensive line, Matt Elam has become a necessity. He’s legitimate, a real good tackle.

Pushing for BCS

Making a BCS bowl would really help with the 2015 class, like going to the BCS title game a year ago helped with this group.

It means that you’re relevant. With a ton of bowls now, a lot of kids don’t think you’re relevant if you’re not in a BCS bowl.

That’s real important because perception is huge in recruiting. If the perception is that the program is good and getting better, the kids will want to join. If the perception is that it’s heading south and you go from the national title game to just a regular bowl game, the perception is that the program is not heading in the right direction.

And perception is everything in recruiting.

Former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana