May 14, 2014, 3:08 PM EST
Instead of finishing up high school and running track at Speedway Sparkplugs, Justin Brent left Indianapolis and spent the spring in South Bend, thrown into the deep end of college football after being a very big fish in the relatively small pond of Indiana high school football. The talented recruit enters one of the stiffest positional battles on the roster, filled with young, but unproven receivers.
Brent seems to bring something different to the Irish that doesn’t currently exist. But we’ll have to wait until fall to see if that’s enough to push him into the mix for playing time, or if it means he’ll spend the year watching and learning.
6’1.5″, 204 lbs.
Freshman, No. 11
When Notre Dame accepted the commitment of Brent way back in July of 2012, many Irish fans shrugged their shoulders. An Indiana product with little national reputation was coming to South Bend. Who’s next? But then Brent hit the summer circuit, turning heads and shooting up recruiting rankings at a breakneck pace.
Brent is another example of Notre Dame identifying a prospect early and having the conviction to pull the trigger on an offer. It looks like it’s turning out okay for Corey Robinson, who Notre Dame offered before Texas-San Antonio, and there’s reason to believe that it should work out with Brent.
A senior season spent playing mostly running back capped Brent out at a high four-star rating by Rivals, and an offer list that only included Louisville likely means that programs like Ohio State and Michigan kicked the tires on Brent, who wasn’t budging. But any worry that Brent physically doesn’t measure up to other elite prospects was erased when he outperformed most of them at The Opening in Oregon and at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Chicago.
Right now, that’s all Brent has. But our first look at Brent during spring drills takes a bit of the luster off of him, if only because we saw Brent looking like — shocker — a freshman. Physically, only slot receiver C.J. Prosise looks like Brent, and you’d get confused that the freshman from Indianapolis is the one pushing around multiple plates in the weight room, not an upperclassman playing linebacker.
But Brent comes from a high school system that wasn’t offensively advanced, and in an effort to get the football in his hands, he spent most of his final year in high school playing running back, leading you to believe that there’s nuance still needed to play receiver for Mike Denbrock.
But as we’ve seen in the past few recruiting cycles, Brian Kelly knows exactly what he wants from a wide receiver prospect. And Brent has the speed and ball skills that should have you believing he’ll be a capable contributor sooner than later, though maybe not soon enough to break into the 2014 depth chart.
It may have been a foolish prediction around Signing Day, but I get the feeling that Brent might spend the year redshirting. It’s a decision that Kelly pulled off with DaVaris Daniels, another receiver with NFL potential who was stuck behind Michael Floyd so this isn’t a referendum on his talent. But there just might not be enough footballs to make it worth using a year of eligibility.
Where Brent might slide into the mix is after Daniels heads to the NFL, which may be after the 2014 season. That would leave Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown as outside receivers, along with the unknown quantities that are Torii Hunter Jr. and Corey Holmes (and an incoming freshman class). If Brent projects inside, he’ll likely have both Prosise and Carlisle still in the mix, though the staff believes he’s an outside receiver in the current system.
Snippets of UND.com practice videos aren’t necessarily the best evaluation tool, but Brent has some work to do sharpening his routes and getting more comfortable playing as a true wideout. But physically and athletically he looks the part of a dominant offensive weapon, and that’s a great place to start.