In the first example of offseason attrition, Notre Dame will need to find a new kick returner in 2018. Junior C.J. Sanders will graduate from the University this spring and then look to transfer, per reports. Irish Illustrated’s Tom Loy first reported Sanders’ decision early Tuesday morning.
Sanders’ departure makes sense. He has had his moments as a kick returner — most notably a 93-yard touchdown against Stanford in 2015, his freshman season — but he has struggled to break into the rotation at receiver. With Notre Dame adding three more receiver recruits already signed in the class of 2018, that task will be only more difficult moving forward.
Sanders opened the 2016 season with two strong receiving efforts at Texas and vs. Nevada, catching a total of eight passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. In the final 10 games, though, he caught only 16 more passes for 192 yards, not finding the end zone again. This year, Sanders caught one pass for no gain at Michigan State.
He will finish his Irish career with 293 receiving yards on 26 catches.
As the punt returner in his first two seasons, Sanders returned 35 punts for 307 yards with one touchdown against Massachusetts in 2015. On 80 kick returns across three seasons, Sanders gained 1,904 yards with three touchdowns, averaging 23.8 yards per return. He returned one kickoff for 21 yards in Notre Dame’s 21-17 victory in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.
By graduating this spring before transferring, Sanders will be immediately eligible wherever he lands.
The names that jump to mind to replace him at kick returner include junior receiver Chris Finke, freshman receiver Michael Young and sophomore running back Tony Jones. The last of those typically lined up alongside Sanders on kickoffs, but he was serving in a blocking role more than as an actual return threat.
PETE MOKWUAH ALSO SET TO TRANSFER
Senior defensive tackle Pete Mokwuah has one more year of collegiate eligibility, and he will use it elsewhere. By no means was it expected the Irish coaching staff would even offer him the opportunity to play at Notre Dame in 2018.
Mokwuah was a late recruiting target in the class of 2014, filling a positional need along with Daniel Cage.