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They're still golden

Notre Dame is struggling, but it hasn't lost its touch with top Southland recruits

November 28, 2008|Eric Sondheimer | Sondheimer is a Times staff writer.

Lori Barr and her son, Anthony, aren't worried about obtaining tickets for Saturday's sold-out USC-Notre Dame football game at the Coliseum. Their quandary is over which team to root for.

The Barrs have strong family ties to the Fighting Irish. But Anthony, one of the top junior running backs in California, has scholarship offers from Notre Dame and USC, and the Trojans have invited him to attend the game as a recruit.

"We have to make a decision being a Notre Dame family," Lori said. "Do you go there and support your team as a spectator, or as a prospective student-athlete for USC?"

Added Anthony: "I'm going to wear neutral colors and not going to favor either side, especially if I'm going to be on the USC side."

Barr, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards this season for Los Angeles Loyola High, is the latest Southern California athlete to become a recruiting target for a Notre Dame program that has been gaining traction in pulling away players from USC and UCLA.

Although Coach Charlie Weis has been having trouble winning games, he has continued the Notre Dame tradition of being a national program in attracting recruits. Two years ago, he signed quarterback Jimmy Clausen from Westlake Village Oaks Christian. Last season, quarterback Dayne Crist from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and tight end Joseph Fauria from Encino Crespi signed with the Fighting Irish.

And this year, Weis has outdueled UCLA for running back Cierre Wood from Oxnard Santa Clara and defensive back Marlon Pollard from Cajon, and beat out USC for receiver Shaquille Evans from Inglewood. Defensive back Byron Moore Jr. of Harbor City Narbonne, who has committed to USC, took a recruiting visit to Notre Dame last week.

"They're still the big-name school in the country," longtime recruiting expert Tom Lemming said. "They're able to transcend winning and losing."

Notre Dame has struggled to a 6-5 record, including last week's 24-23 defeat to an eight-loss Syracuse team. But being a consensus national champion 11 times, plus the lure of taking a trip to South Bend, Ind., and experiencing the tradition and history associated with a fabled football program, still prompts top players and their parents to open their doors to recruiting pitches by Notre Dame coaches no matter what the team's record might be.

"Who wouldn't want to go to Notre Dame, to a great college with a lot of history behind it," Moore's father, Byron Sr., said. "That's why he went to see it and get a feel for Notre Dame."

Added Lori Barr: "There's always that possibility they're going to return to national prominence, and to be part of that, I don't think any parent can say they don't want to be part of the rebound of that program."

The Barrs' ties to Notre Dame are deep. Anthony's father, Tony Brooks, was a standout running back for the Fighting Irish, along with his uncle, Reggie Brooks. But Barr remains undecided about his college choice, with the Trojans, California, UCLA and several schools in the Midwest continuing to pursue him.

"I want to get a good look at both teams," Barr said. "It's my first time seeing USC live and my second time watching Notre Dame. You always want to get a feel how each team plays watching your position."

And just because his father went to Notre Dame doesn't mean Barr will follow.

"He's a competitor and wants to win," Lori said. "It's very important to him in choosing a program that it has the right coach and is building the right program."

Notre Dame has been successful in selling Weis' NFL coaching contacts, the high graduation rate for football players and the exposure players receive with their home games shown on NBC.

Barr said he'll be sensitive to his hosts Saturday. "I don't want to offend anybody," he said.

But his mother will be less subtle.

"I'll be wearing my Notre Dame gear -- it might be underneath another jacket," she said.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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