Irish make presence felt in Carolinas

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — What's one implication of playing Wake Forest inside 31,500-seat BB&T Field, almost 50,000 seats fewer than Notre Dame Stadium? How about exposure.

No, Notre Dame doesn't lack for drama or attention, but maybe the Carolinas do. And the Irish have made it a point of making their presence felt in that area.

Just take a look at these numbers:

  • Seven current Notre Dame players hail from North Carolina or South Carolina.

  • Three more, Mark Harrell and Romeo Okwara (both North Carolina) and Chris Brown (South Carolina), have committed to play for the Irish next season.

  • Eight ESPNU 150 players hail from either North Carolina or South Carolina, which, together, puts the area sixth behind Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Alabama.

"It's started to grow in terms of its significance in the recruiting grand scheme of things — even when I was at Cincinnati we started to get in there because the high school football was growing and that population growth in that area, as you know, made that the reason for it," Brian Kelly said Sunday. "So it's been on our radar. We've just really worked hard at it, and we've obviously got some players from that area that have allowed us to continue to build those relationships."

"Yeah, North Carolina, South Carolina has been an area now that we've had a number of coaches on our staff, it's not just one coach, that are in there recruiting it hard. So getting down and playing Wake Forest, you know, obviously we're gonna be able to have a number of kids come up — they won't be our guests obviously, but they're certainly gonna check us out."

Irish cornerback Robert Blanton, from Matthews, N.C., said he will have a dozen family members in attendance.

"It's about an hour and 15 minutes [northeast] of Charlotte, and it takes about 45 minutes if you drive fast," Blanton said of his hometown, laughing.

Linebacker Prince Shembo, from Charlotte, will get to see his father, Maurice, in the stands for just the second time since the elder Shembo suffered a brain aneurysm Sept. 16.

On Tuesday, Kelly again cited population growth for the number of recruitable football players in the Carolinas, a place he said he recruited wide receivers and defensive backs from while at Central Michigan from 2004-06.

In addition to Blanton, Kelly's other starting cornerback Saturday, Gary Gray, hails from the area, having played high school ball at Richland Northeast in Columbia, S.C.

"Just have always felt that that's been — when I was at Central and Cincinnati — kind of an under-the-radar state or states," Kelly said. "It's not that anymore. So I've always felt the importance of it because it was a big growth area demographically. And then I think Notre Dame has always been in that area, and we've just kind of carried that on from my beliefs that it's a very good football state."