Freshmen Turk, Te'o to see larger roles against Huskies
October 2, 2009, 3:41 PM
By: Eric Hansen
6. Raising the Barr: One game before Notre Dame hosts its biggest in-season recruiting weekend ever (USC, Oct. 16-18), one of its top targets is making an important official visit Saturday.
Anthony Barr will be in attendance for the Notre Dame-Washington game, part of a small but key contingent of Irish prospects.
He is the son of former Notre Dame running back Tony Brooks and nephew of former Irish All-American Reggie Brooks, who works for ND as the manager for monogram/football alumni relations.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound running back at Loyola High School in Los Angeles recently suffered a broken ankle that required surgery and ended his senior season. He projects as a multi-position talent in college. ND likes him as a linebacker. Cal, Michigan, UCLA and USC are also in his top 5.
Also visiting from Los Angeles is Hayes Pullard, another multi-position prospect. The 6-2, 220-pound Crenshaw High senior is also strongly considering ND's Saturday opponent, Washington, as well as Arizona, Arizona State, Florida, UCLA and USC.
St. Rita (Chicago) defensive tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. is taking an unofficial visit to ND this weekend. The 6-2, 290-pound senior is also considering Arizona, Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Not visiting this weekend (but having received a scholarship offer Friday) is an elite prospect with Notre Dame ties -- offensive lineman Conor Hanratty.
The 6-foot-4½, 296-pound junior plays offensive tackle at New Canaan (Conn.) High School. Hanratty has offers from a number of other schools, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Stanford, Cal, Boston College, Connecticut and Duke.
5. Youth movement: Two of ND's freshmen are expected to see significantly larger roles Saturday against the Huskies.
Punter Ben Turk actually will see his first action of the season, replacing struggling senior Eric Maust. And don't be surprised if the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., makes a tackle or two.
His max bench press is 405 pounds. And before the start of the season, he benched 225 pounds 26 times in one session. To put that in perspective, linebacker Aaron Curry, picked third in this year's NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks, benched 225 a total of 25 times at the draft combine in February.
"My brother [Ben Young] and Ben Turk are pretty good friends," said ND senior offensive tackle Sam Young, also a St. Thomas Aquinas graduate. "My brother used to call me up all smug and say, 'What did you guys lift today?' And then he'd say, 'Oh yeah, well, Ben did that, too.'
"I talked to my old high school coach about him. He'd kid with Turk and say, 'Stop lifting. You're a punter, for God's sakes.' Apparently he didn't listen."
Notre Dame freshman Manti Te'o is set to see more action Saturday vs. Washington.
Also expected to make some tackles is freshman linebacker Manti Te'o. He'll see his first extensive action of the season Saturday after making cameos in ND's first four games.
"It's not a question or not of whether Manti is athletic enough," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said of the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder from Hawaii. "Obviously, he has top-line athleticism. I think it's taken him a little time to just get comfortable with the position. All the formation recognition that goes on is totally different from when you're in high school.
"[It's about] just getting settled into a comfort zone of knowing what to do, because the sky's the limit for him. Once he knows what to do, he's going to be able to do it and do it very well."
4. Hart to heart: Former Washington defensive line coach Randy Hart, now in his first season at Notre Dame, played down Saturday's ND-Washington clash as just another game -- in public.
Behind closed doors, Hart delivered an impassioned speech to the Irish team.
"He's all Notre Dame," Weis said, "but after 21 years in one place, it's tough not to feel a passion for Seattle and the University of Washington, which he always will.
"I told him he could talk as long as he wanted to, but when he was done, there wasn't anything else to be said. Thankfully, I talked before he talked, because I wouldn't have known what to say after he was done."
3. Un-Tyed: For the first time in the past four meetings in the series, this ND-Washington game will not involve Tyrone Willingham.
Willingham was the winning coach in 2004, when he led the Irish to a 38-3 victory. In 2005 and 2008, he was on the losing end after moving on to Washington. In the head-to-head meetings with Weis, the Huskies lost 36-17 (2005) and 33-7 (2008).
So who will his rooting interest be Saturday? Good question.
Willingham has been keeping a low profile since being purged after last year's 0-12 run.
He did pop up on a radio show on Detroit station WJR-AM 760 a couple of weeks ago, when the Michigan State graduate and former two-sport walk-on returned to the East Lansing campus.
"Right now I am working very diligently at not working," Willingham said with a laugh. "They say I go after everything 100 percent, and that's what I'm doing. I have no idea what the future holds."
Willingham did suggest that he may not be finished with coaching.
The weekend of the interview, Willingham did deliver a speech to the current Michigan State team. The Spartans lost to Central Michigan, 29-27.
2. Playing with pain I: Freshman Theo Riddick, ND's primary kickoff return man, will play with a small splint on his right arm Saturday.
"He had a little crack in a bone, so we had a soft cast on early in the week," Weis said.
Starting running back Armando Allen is projected to be 100 percent. Starting fullback James Aldridge (shoulder) remains out until at least the USC game.
"We're putting all of our eggs in one basket here to get to that point," Weis said of gutting through some minor injuries to get to next week's bye week. "That's the right perspective for us to be taking, because if you get to the bye 4-1, it's a totally different scenario than getting there 3-2.
"So you can worry about bumps and bruises next week. We've got time to recover next week. We don't have time to worry about them this week."
1. Playing with pain II: Quarterback Jimmy Clausen continues to play with a painful turf toe injury suffered during the second quarter of a Sept. 19 win over Michigan State.
Unlike last week, when his practices were limited and his game snaps were solely from the shotgun formation, Clausen was able to take some snaps from under center and did not take a day off from practice.
"To be honest, last week after the Michigan State game, after I got injured, it was pretty painful," he said. "I could barely walk on it. Just to translate that to this week, I feel a lot better than I did. After the Purdue game, I felt pretty good on Sunday and [Tuesday] when I was out there to practice.
"I don't think I'll be 100 percent healthy until the end of the season or after the season. Next week is going to be big for me just getting my rest and resting my toe as much as I can."
Clausen has retained his sense of humor, if not his mobility, during the ordeal. When asked whether the protective plate in his right shoe inhibited his running ability, Clausen chuckled.
"To be honest, I'm not very mobile as it is, whether I'm healthy or not healthy," he said.
Award-winning journalist Eric Hansen, 48, has been covering college athletics since 1983 and is currently assistant sports editor and the Notre Dame football beat writer for the South Bend Tribune.