The Notre Dame Fighting Irish Are ‘Stating’ Their Case In Football Recruiting In Louisiana
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Notre Dame ‘Stating’ Its Recruiting Case In Louisiana

Earlier this week with the commitment of Georgia tight end Jack Nickel, we had pointed out how that state and Louisiana have become targeted by the Notre Dame staff as one where more inroads are needed in the recruiting efforts. They have, indeed, occurred since the turn of the century.

Lo and behold, a couple of days after the Milton, Ga., native Nickel committed to the Fighting Irish, Metairie, La., running back Logan Diggs did the same.

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Louisiana native Jerry Tillery in 2019 became the first Notre Dame defensive lineman in 22 years to be selected in the first round of  the NFL Draft.
Louisiana native Jerry Tillery in 2019 became the first Notre Dame defensive lineman in 22 years to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. (Associated Press)

Both Georgia and Louisiana had only around 30 players who had suited up for Notre Dame until the last decade, but the pace has picked up.

Until defensive linemen Jerry Tillery and Bo Wallace (who never did enroll) signed in 2015, since the turn into the 21st century, the only Louisiana player prior to Tillery to enroll and then see action for the Irish was 2004-05 walk-on receiver Brandon Harris (New Orleans).

After Tillery, though, wideouts Michael Young (2017) and Lawrence Keys III (2018) both came aboard from the Pelican State, although Young abruptly left the program last October to become a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining at the University of Cincinnati.

Louisiana was quite productive for the Irish in the 1990s for at least two reasons. One, the LSU Tigers were struggling on the field, unbelievably finishing with a losing record in seven of the 10 seasons from 1990-99. It goes to show how poor direction and leadership can occur anywhere, no matter what the climate or recruiting base.

Second, Notre Dame 1994-96 offensive coordinator Dave Roberts knew the area well after having been the head coach at Northeast Louisiana from 1989-93, where he was 37-20-2.

Until Tillery’s arrival, cornerback Albert Poree (New Orleans) had been the most recent native of Louisiana to ink with Notre Dame as a scholarship player in 1999, but he transferred after his freshman year to Georgia Tech. The year prior, the Irish signed quarterback Arnaz Battle (Shreveport), who would move to wideout and have a long pro career, and defensive back Donald Dykes (Hammond), and in 1997 another top DB in Brock Williams.

Here are BlueandGold.com’s top 10 Notre Dame players from Louisiana:

T10. Norb Roy (Baton Rouge, 1959-61) and Benny Guilbeaux (Opelousas, 1995-98)

Roy was co-captain his senior year with Nick Buoniconti. He started at right guard on offense and also started on defense in those days.

Guilbeaux, a safety, led the Fighting Irish in interceptions in both 1996 and 1997 with four each year, and recorded 173 career tackles.

9. Brock Williams (Hammond, 1997-98, 2000)

Williams was the starting cornerback on 9-3 teams in both 1998 and 2000. He developed into a fourth-round draft pick and won a Super Bowl ring with New England in 2002 during his five-year pro career.

8. Paul Limont (New Orleans, 1942-43, 1946)

A starting end both ways on the 1943 national champs that defeated the teams that finished Nos. 2, 3, 4, 9, 11 and 13, Limont couldn’t break the two-deep on the supremely talented Notre Dame teams after he returned from World War II service.

7. Cedric Figaro (Lafayette, 1984-87)

Figaro recorded 204 career tackles while starting 29 times as an outside linebacker. Football News recognized him as a third-team All-American each of his last two seasons, and he played nine years in the NFL.

6. Arnaz Battle (Shreveport, 1998-2002)

The starting quarterback before getting injured in 2000, Battle’s 58 receptions for the 10-3 team in 2002 were the most in one season at Notre Dame in 32 years. His nine-year NFL career is tied with Figaro for the longest by any Irish player from Louisiana.

5. Jerry Petitbon (New Orleans, 1949-51)

A rare sophomore starter (at safety) for head coach Frank Leahy’s 1949 national champions, Petitbon excelled on offense and defense each of his last two seasons while totaling 1,432 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns. After serving in the Korean War, he played several years in the pros, highlighted by the 1955 NFL championship while at Cleveland.

4. Al Ecuyer (New Orleans, 1956-58

Ecuyer excelled as a three-year starting guard on offense and defense. He tied for the team lead in tackles (88) for the 1957 team that finished No. 10 in the Associated Press poll, and paced that category again the next season (78). He earned consensus All-America notice as a junior, and received first-team recognition from the United Press International and Sporting News as a co-captain in 1958.

3. Jerry Tillery (Shreveport, 2015-18)

Tillery was a four-year regular (40 games started, including all 26 the past two years) after being the first to commit in the 2015 class. While some opined he would flip to LSU, he remained firm and became the first Notre Dame defensive lineman in 22 years to be a first-round selection.

The second-team Associated Press All-American was an anchor as a senior defensive tackle while helping the 2018 Irish earn a College Football Playoff berth.

2. Michael Stonebreaker (River Ridge, 1986, 1988, 1990)

Stonebreaker was a two-time consensus All-American linebacker, and was second in tackles (104) for the 1988 national champs and first in 1990 (95). He recorded 220 career tackles, five sacks and five interceptions (one for a score), plus broke up eight passes and caused four fumbles.

Although not selected until the ninth round in the NFL Draft — whereas our No. 3 and No. 1 choices were both taken in the first round — Stonebreaker’s impact can’t be overlooked.

1. Joe Heap (Abita Springs, 1952-54)

Heap, a game-breaking speedster, joined 1990 Heisman runner-up Raghib “Rocket” Ismail as the only two Fighting Irish players to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards (1,447 with 14 touchdowns) and 1,000 receiving yards (1,137 with two scores) during a three-year varsity career. Theo Riddick also did it in 2012, but that came in four seasons. Heap also had two punt returns for scores and intercepted four passes.

The lone three-time first-team Academic All-American at Notre Dame, Heap saw all three of his Irish teams finish no lower than No. 4 in the final AP poll before he was the No. 8 overall pick in the 1955 NFL Draft.

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