July 30, 2006

In the film room: Chris Donald

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Read Tim Prister exclusively on Irish Illustrated:

Chris Donald’s visit to Notre Dame this past week turned the head of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound outside linebacker from Huntingdon, Tenn.

“My interest in Tennessee was really high,” Donald told Irish Illustrated’s Steve Hare. “To tell you the truth, if I didn’t like the trip (to Notre Dame) I was going to go ahead and commit. But now they are dead even.”

Donald met with Charlie Weis, visited with Brady Quinn and a few others, and left the campus with his parents and cousin while giving strong and renewed consideration to the Irish.

A great pursuer of the football, Donald is an explosive presence on the football field from his outside linebacker position. He’s certainly capable of playing inside linebacker. But that would detract a bit from one of his greatest skills—the ability to rush the passer. You can rush the passer from the inside, but most schools would prefer to take advantage of Donald’s skills off the corner.

It’s enjoyable to watch Donald play football. He plays the game with a love and passion for contact. He is an explosive tackler. He accelerates through the ball carrier, which is a tremendous trait for a defensive player. Donald takes short, choppy, quick steps to the football, and then explodes into the ball carrier. Yet he also can sprint across the field and pursue like a heat-seeking missile.

When I watch Donald against the run, I think of former Irish captain Demetrius DuBose, who had that same passion for contact. But DuBose couldn’t rush the passer the way Donald can, which is why most schools project him as an outside linebacker.

Donald is listed with a 315-pound bench and a 440-pound squad, both good numbers for a senior-to-be. But those numbers will rise quickly if he emphasizes it. He has a compact frame with a good lower-body foundation. Quite frankly, I’m surprised his bench press isn’t better than 315. He plays stronger than that.

Donald also has racked up big numbers as a running back, rushing for 1,583 yards as a sophomore and 1,558 yards as a junior. Although he runs strong and is not afraid to lower a shoulder on a defender, he runs a bit upright. Linebacker is his natural position, and he showed that his junior season when he recorded 110 tackles and five sacks.

Nobody makes a better recruiting pitch than Charlie Weis, so when Donald says Notre Dame has pulled even, I’m sure he means it. But his deep-seeded love for Tennessee likely isn’t going to go away. All things being equal, Notre Dame would have a good chance. But things aren’t equal. He’s always felt like a Vol, or at least a Vol-to-be. This is an uphill battle for the Irish all the way.

One Irish Illustrated subscriber estimated that there’s an 80 percent chance that Tennessee will win this battle. I’ve got to believe Notre Dame’s chances are a bit better than that, but not substantial enough to sway Donald away from the comfort zone that Knoxville provides for him.

Notre Dame will keep plugging away. They’ll need a break to convince Donald to go against his home-state favorite.

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