SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Autry Denson recognizes the irony of his current task. Heck, he already has lived it, albeit on the other side of things. He was a Florida-bred recruit who couldn't stand the thought of leaving the Sunshine State, who told out-of-area recruiters to get lost, who couldn't point to Notre Dame on a map.
He had taken a visit to Colorado and gotten homesick. He had dismissed overtures from Irish assistant Dave Roberts, among others. And then, well …
"Coach (Lou) Holtz came to my house, I was committed to Florida State, we didn't talk about football one time," Denson said. "He had to be at my house till about midnight, he was there a long time. He was doing magic tricks and we were just talking, having fun. And when he got ready to leave he said, 'Hey, by the way, we'd like you to come up on a visit, you've still got one left.' The rest is history."
History, as in Denson becoming the school's all-time leading rusher. As in Denson playing four NFL seasons and coaching for six years, returning this year as an Irish assistant, along with fellow former Irish standout Todd Lyght.
The magic trick, for the record, was the old milk-disappearing-in-the-newspaper bit, impressing Denson's mother. Denson is confident it'll no longer take pulling a rabbit out of his hat to woo prospects from the South, having been in those recruits' shoes a mere two decades ago.
"When you grow up in Florida, you don't grow up hearing Notre Dame," the running backs coach said. "You grow up hearing SEC, that's all you know. SEC. And you've got Florida State, ACC, things of that nature. So the biggest thing is me making sure I get them here, and not just them but their parents. Because the amount of information that an 18-year-old's going to take in by himself at Notre Dame, so many things will get missed."
The challenge is similar for Lyght, whose recruiting territories include the warm(er) locales of Louisiana, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
"Parents understand the importance of a Notre Dame education," said the secondary coach, a cornerback on the Irish's last title team (1988). "Sometimes when you're talking to a young man who may be 17 or 18 years old and you're talking about the next four years, that's a lifetime for them, but we all know four years is going to go by pretty quickly. So we always talk about four-for-40; the next four years are going to set up the next 40 years of your life."
A Flint, Michigan, native, Lyght recalled Holtz and assistant Vinny Cerato showing up at his high school at 8 a.m. on the first day of permissible contact, sealing the deal over in-state programs. Long after the end of his 12-year NFL career, when Lyght was living in Las Vegas and the coaching bug finally bit, he got hooked up with Bishop Gorman (Nevada) coach Tony Sanchez in the early stages of a prep dynasty.
Denson, who had worked in the financial industry, leaned on a number of mentors -- Tony Dungy, Chuck Pagano and Urban Meyer among them -- when he decided to uproot his family and follow his passion.
"Coach Meyer did a great job of preparing myself for my wife when I was even thinking about getting into coaching, of what my life would be like, in his opinion for the next four or five years," Denson said. "And I'll tell you what, it's been pretty accurate. So even from a housing standpoint, we sold our place and then we rented because we were prepared."