Here come the Irish

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The shamrock and the "Irish" carved in the back of South Bend (Ind.) Washington linebacker David Perkins' hair say it loud and proud.

Notre Dame is back, and it has a visible presence at Nike's The Opening showcase.

Perkins is joined by Irish commits Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Flanagan), Mark Harrell (Charlotte, N.C./Catholic), Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Central) and Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) at the event.

"It's nice to get know all of them before the season starts; it's the first time I've met the other recruits," Harrell said. "And it's nice to talk with them and get familiar before we step on campus, especially in an environment like this."

Shepard has been wearing his Notre Dame hat from the minute he stepped off the bus, and Greenberry has one of his own.

While these two players aren't alone in sporting the colors of their future home, it's a sign of how far Notre Dame has come with top-flight recruits since Brian Kelly was hired in December 2009.

"A lot of people are trying to show us love now," Greenberry said. "Back a few years ago, people weren't really high on Notre Dame. But now they see me and Tee representing the school and performing at a high level, and it's a different reaction."

The reason for that reaction, according to Harrell, is Kelly and the culture he has quickly created in South Bend.

"Coach Kelly has won everywhere he's been," Harrell said. "He's recruiting some great talent and developing a nice culture in the program.

"When he stepped in, a lot of people started respecting the program more because he won a lot at Cincinnati and he's going to bring a lot of wins to Notre Dame. People realize that, and they want to be a part of it."

Any recruit who goes to Notre Dame also accepts the academic responsibilities that go along with it, and that appealed to Shepard, an ESPNU 150 defensive back.

"I chose Notre Dame because I looked at football and academics," Shepard said. "I'm a good student and I want to get into the engineering program up there.

"We want to let people know it's possible to do the right things in the classroom and still go out and get crazy on the football field."

Shepard and Greenberry are cousins, and their decision to attend Notre Dame together extends the family atmosphere Kelly has created within the program.

"I know half the team already," Shepard said. "I've met some, and others we talk on Facebook and stuff. The coaches and the players are what makes the program for me."

One would expect the two West Coasters to be worried about the sudden change from the hot California weather, but Shepard is looking forward to it.

"I like cold weather; it's too hot in Fresno, to be honest," Shepard joked. "I also wanted to get away from home a little but still be in a comfortable place."

The next step for these commits is to have a strong week at The Opening to let other recruits around the nation know that Notre Dame is heading back to the top. Harrell said the expectations have already grown after the Irish ran off five straight victories to end the season.

"It's already started with the wins over USC and Miami," Harrell said. "That got a lot of people's attention."

Both Greenberry and Shepard believe championships are in the near future.

"It's exciting because once ND comes back up, it's over for everyone else," Shepard said. "We're going to compete for championships and beat the best every week."

"We have good talent coming in with the quarterbacks and the linemen and now my group with the speed players," Greenberry added. "Tee is going to make it happen on the defense, and I'm going to do it on the offense with the other incoming receivers like Justin Ferguson."

Still, there's no substitute for the emotions Notre Dame can bring out of some people. Shepard proudly admits that he got caught up in the moment.

"The first time I walked to the stadium, I cried, it was so nice," Shepard said. "I love that school. I wear green and gold proud."

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.