Davonte Neal AZ

Neal ready for Notre Dame

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After a recruitment that was high on drama and excitement, Notre Dame fans hope Davonte Neal brings the same thing to the football field as he enrolls in summer school today. Neal, who flew into South Bend on Sunday, represents one of the best options to walk in and contribute in an offense that’s desperately looking to fill the production void Michael Floyd has left behind now that he’s wearing an Arizona Cardinals uniform.

At 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, nobody is going to confuse the diminutive Neal with the former Irish star. But Neal’s pedigree is every bit as impressive as Floyd’s was coming out of high school. Neal’s prep exploits are well known, but worth mentioning again. Two-time Gatorade state player of the year. An all-region player as a freshman star receiver and defensive back at Laveen Cesar Chavez before transferring to Chaparral High in Scottsdale, where his team won back-to-back-to-back championships. Wondering about his speed? Neal anchored the state-record 4×100-meter relay, the fifth-best time nationally, as a true freshman.

With Neal leaving Arizona after an incredible prep career, he caught up with former Notre Dame star Bertrand Berry last Friday on his radio show to discuss moving on to South Bend. He was asked pointedly on what his goals were entering his first season with the Irish.

“My goals are to just do my part,” Neal said. “Do what I can for the team. Do what’s best for the team. If that means being a starter and the coaches put me on the field, then that’s what’ll happen. I’m looking to go up there and have fun, contribute for the team, and do what’s best for the team.”

Neal’s response is more polished than some might expect from a guy that got a ton of bad press for not showing up for his own press conference to announce his college decision at his grade school. It was a situation he learned from, and one that’ll likely help as he comes under an even more intense microscope in South Bend. But as he prepares for that scrutiny, Neal has also had an unlikely mentor in the process helping him along: Michael Floyd himself.

His relationship with the former Irish receiver has flourished with both being in the Phoenix area, and has helped give Davonte an idea of what life will be like under the Golden Dome.

“Mike and I have talked a lot and he has told me what to expect and how Notre Dame will help me succeed, not just in footballbut in life,” Neal told the Arizona Republic’s Richard Obert. “That is what I was always looking for in a college. I know some colleges, it’s all about football. But Notre Dame makes sure you do your class work and you do it well. They teach you priorities.”

Neal will have a few months this summer to help with the adjustment period from high school to college, an adjustment worth watching for someone that spent time at three different high schools in the past four years. On the field, it looks like Neal will focus his efforts at wide receiver, with the running back depth chart stacked and the Irish willing to roll the dice with what they have at cornerback. (There isn’t much doubt that Neal could play corner, but the Irish staff thinks Neal might be too good on the offensive side not to play there.)

With fitness tests and classes all set for today, it’s total immersion for Neal and his fellow freshmen. It also could be the start of a highly-anticipated Irish career.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.