You thought after a wild ride during the 2012 season that all would be calm around Notre Dame's football program until the fall? You must have forgotten that it's now spring. Just weeks after losing quarterback Gunner Kiel to a transfer, Notre Dame has reportedly seen another member of its 2012 signing class decide to leave school.
247Sports reported on Tuesday night that rising sophomore wide receiver Davonte Neal has decided to transfer closer to his Arizona home after just nine months in South Bend. Neal played in every game as a true freshman, primarily returning punts. Neal's 21 punt returns went for just 46 yards, while his lone catch went for negative yardage.
From Michael Floyd's DUI in 2011 to Aaron Lynch's transfer and Tommy Rees' arrest in 2012 to Neal this year, drama has become a rite of spring at Notre Dame.
Like Kiel, Neal has been prone to drama. He was most noted for failing to show up to his elementary school in February 2012 to announce his college decision between Notre Dame and Arizona. Later that day, he signed with Notre Dame.
Neal's departure leaves Notre Dame thin at the slot receiver position with Robby Toma having graduated. Early enrollee James Onwualu could be the biggest beneficiary. The Minnesota native is the most natural slot receiver of the four receivers in the 2013 class, and head coach Brian Kelly mentioned last week that he was impressed with Onwualu's progress.
Notre Dame's two-deep at wide receiver now includes seniors T.J. Jones and Daniel Smith, junior DaVaris Daniels, sophomore Chris Brown, Onwualu and freshman Corey Robinson.
Other receivers on the roster include senior Luke Massa and sophomore Justin Ferguson. Two other 2013 signees, Torii Hunter Jr. and Will Fuller, will arrive in the summer. Both have slot receiver potential.
The loss of Neal is a significant blow to an offense that is expected to open up its passing game this season with Everett Golson now in his second year at quarterback. Kelly ideally likes seven capable receivers in his offense. Getting to that number this year may require three freshmen being part of the rotation—far from ideal for any team, let alone a national title contender.
The 2012 class was already the most disappointing one of the Kelly era. Now, with two of its biggest pieces leaving in a matter of weeks, the Irish have now lost their three highest-rated signees in that class (cornerback Tee Shepard left last March).
Kelly and his staff learned many lessons from the 2012 recruiting year that helped them sign a top-five class in 2013 (the 12-0 regular season didn't hurt either). They rolled the dice on a number of recruits, nearly all of whom have now backfired.
Neal was, by all accounts, content at Notre Dame, and the coaching staff should not be at all criticized for Neal's decision. However, the misjudgments made in that 2012 recruiting year only amplify situations like Neal's.
Shocking? Not in the spring at Notre Dame.
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