Getty Images

Kevin Stepherson, three others no longer on Notre Dame roster

13 Comments

Irish head coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame parted ways with four underclassmen Tuesday, in a move only partially-expected. Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson, sophomore running back Deon McIntosh, freshman running back C.J. Holmes and junior defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum are no longer part of the team, a University spokesperson confirmed.

Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated first reported the dismissals. The spring semester began Tuesday.

Stepherson’s departure, at least, was widely-expected after a December weekend of bad decisions brought his count of mishaps to four during his brief Irish career and induced an indefinite suspension. The lesser of those transgressions came with Holmes at his side, as the duo was charged with shoplifting from a nearby mall. Stepherson was also charged with possession of marijuana, speeding and driving without a valid license. Back in August of 2016, he was one of five players charged with marijuana possession, though no suspension came from that issue.

Following the shoplifting incident but before the additional Stepherson charges had come to light, Kelly expressed distinct disappointment in the choice made on a Friday night.

“You can’t steal, and they did,” he said. “I can tolerate a lot of things, but I can’t tolerate stealing. That’s why they’re suspended indefinitely and they put themselves in jeopardy.”

Kelly said he did hope to keep the players, specifically Stepherson, eligible so if they were removed from the team a transfer may be in their futures.

“If I wasn’t to have him back in the football program we want him to maintain his eligibility here so he can transfer to another program,” Kelly said.

Sophomore Deon McIntosh provided crucial depth for Notre Dame as ankle sprains limited juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

McIntosh was sent home from Orlando during Citrus Bowl preparations due to a violation of team rules. Tiassum’s exit will be a question for the time being, with no public knowledge of any issues.

While long-presumed, the loss of Stepherson still bears the most notice. When engaged, he was Notre Dame’s most explosive receiver, finishing 2017 with 359 yards and five touchdowns on 19 catches in only eight games, with genuine offensive involvement in only six. He caught 25 passes for 462 yards and five scores in his freshman season.

Cutting ties with both McIntosh and Holmes comes as a bit more of a surprise and will cut deep into the Irish running back depth. As ankle injuries limited the running game mainstays, McIntosh provided a reserve option, finishing the year with 368 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries, a 5.7 yards per rush average. Holmes was activated to further counteract the injury concerns. If McIntosh were banged up, Notre Dame theoretically had one more option. He finished with eight carries for 32 yards.

Without the two backups, the Irish have only three running backs currently on the roster in junior Dexter Williams, sophomore Tony Jones and early-enrolled Jahmir Smith. Williams and Jones were likely to remain the top two on the depth chart, mitigating McIntosh and Holmes again, but the depth is always crucial at running back, as 2017 certainly proved.

Tiassum was unlikely to see much playing time in the future thanks to the returns of junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner announced Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Tiassum made two tackles in 2017.

Bonner’s decision to return brought the Irish roster up to 87 players with three spots open in the current recruiting cycle. That count had already presumed Stepherson off the roster. Thus, this development drops that number to 84, including committed consensus three-star offensive tackle Luke Jones. The NCAA maximum allowed come fall is 85.

Monday’s Leftovers: Coney & Tillery once enrolled early at Notre Dame, now to the NFL or not?

Associated Press
39 Comments

Today marks two occasions. It is the day before Notre Dame begins its spring semester. In other words, it is the day before this year’s seven early enrollees begin classes. It is also the deadline for early entrants to file for the NFL draft.

There are two common threads to the separate events. Junior linebacker Te’von Coney and junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery both enrolled early in 2015, and they have both delayed their stay-or-go decisions to today.

With the early signing period’s implementation, the former date holds less import. These players have already signed with the Irish. Gone are the days of putting down a drink and racing to a computer after finding a source to confirm a consensus five-star quarterback’s early arrival. With an early signing period, Gunner Kiel likely would have been bound to at least begin his career at LSU in the spring of 2012, rather than show up on Notre Dame’s campus at the 11th hour.

The tangible value of arriving early can still hold legitimacy, but that theoretical does not become much of a reality until spring practice commences, anyway.

Junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (99) will need to decide today if he will head to the NFL Draft or return for his senior year. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

So an early enrollee summary can wait until tomorrow’s first day of classes. In the meantime, breathes remain baited waiting for the decisions from Coney and Tillery. Will they return for a year under first-time defensive coordinator Clark Lea, or follow the lead of running back Josh Adams and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and head for the NFL?

As has been discussed and seems rather obvious, both Coney and Tillery would greatly boost the 2018 Irish defense. They would also both likely hear their names called in the NFL draft, so there is merit to whatever option each chooses.

— As it pertains to the early enrollees, the measureable benefit of the semester’s head start can be debated. In looking at the last three classes, it has appeared to have great effect with a few of the freshmen, but not for most.

2015: Tillery, Coney, defensive lineman Micah Dew-Treadway, offensive lineman Tristen Hoge.
2016: Safety Devin Studstill, receiver Kevin Stepherson, defensive end Daelin Hayes, defensive end Khalid Kareem, safety Spencer Perry.
2017: Offensive lineman Robert Hainsey, tight end Brock Wright, running back C.J. Holmes, safety Isaiah Robertson, offensive lineman Aaron Banks.

Of those 14, Tillery, Studstill, Stepherson and Hainsey offered genuine contributions in their debut seasons.

Tillery started three games in 2015, appearing in all 12, making 12 tackles with one sack. More than the counting statistics, the depth Tillery provided at defensive tackle was an absolute necessity.

As injuries and suspensions purged the Irish secondary just before the 2016 season’s start, Studstill was forced into a starting role. He finished the year with 38 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. He was not yet ready to be a collegiate starting safety, but he was needed to be, and the time spent going through the paces in the spring provided Studstill enough of a base to be somewhat serviceable from the outset.

Stepherson broke out as a deep threat right away — a likelihood with or without an early enrollment simply due to his speed. In his only complete season with the Irish, Stepherson caught 25 passes for 462 yards and five touchdowns.

Hainsey’s impact was far and away the most distinct. He went from the second most-heralded early-enrolled offensive lineman to a starter at right tackle. That surge puts Hainsey in pole position to start at left tackle in 2018. He may have ended up there, anyway, but the freshman first played a pivotal role on the best offensive line in the country.

— It would not be a site dedicated to football if it did not include some mention of the Minnesota Vikings’ victory Sunday evening. Some adjective should precede victory in the previous sentence, but no quick combination encapsulates just how absurd, dramatic and, per the quickly-adhered catchphrase, miraculous the conclusion was.

Stefon Diggs’ game-winning touchdown may not have been as excellent as Irish receiver Miles Boykin’s was in the Citrus Bowl if compared in a vacuum, but Diggs’ score came with no time remaining on the clock, while Boykin’s was merely an excellent play that if failed, other chances would have followed.

Of course, being the Vikings, the Notre Dame connection is thorough.

— A thought experiment sparked by that Minneapolis tangent … The Minnesota Timberwolves played their first game in franchise history Nov. 3, 1989, meaning it has endured a title drought the exact same length as the Irish have.

Which wins its respective championship first?

U.S. Army All-American Bowl, featuring five Notre Dame signees: Who, what, when, etc.

rivals.com
46 Comments

WHO? More than a hundred of the best high school seniors of the class of 2018, including five Notre Dame signees and two more targets, one of which will announce his commitment during the game.

The signed commits: Consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Rivals.com four-star tight end George Takacs.
Consensus four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola.
Consensus four-star linebacker and possible future rover Shayne Simon (pictured above).
Consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen.

Consensus five-star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (Mater Dei High School; Anaheim, Calif.) will announce a commitment to either USC, Stanford or the Irish during the game. The Trojans seem his most likely choice.

Consensus four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu (Mater Dei H.S.; Anaheim, Calif.) will also play in the exhibition, with Notre Dame still among the contenders for his commitment.

WHAT? Arguably the top of the high-school all-star games, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is in its 19th season, having featured more than 400 eventual NFL players, per its website.

WHEN? 1:00 p.m. ET.

WHERE? The Alamodome; San Antonio, Texas. The game will be broadcast on NBC, hence its featuring in this space.

If considering watching online, this should work out for you.

WHY? It is a pretty simple argument: This will be the last chance to see these incoming freshmen in any form of competition until September, with the exception of Takacs. The Naples, Fla., product will enroll this month and should be involved in the Blue-Gold Game to conclude spring practices. Otherwise, the five, perhaps seven, will be behind a figurative curtain until any action seen in the fall.

Of the committed five, at least three of them and possibly four are likely to play for the Irish in 2018, with Takacs ironically the exception.

Ademilola’s and Simon’s chances of seeing consistent defensive snaps will rise significantly if current juniors defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te’von Coney opt to head to the NFL rather than return for their final seasons of collegiate eligibility. Coney’s decision notwithstanding, Simon seems primed for special teams duties.

Derrik Allen (rivals.com)

Allen may well become a starter, as has been detailed concerning the situation at safety. He told ND Insider’s Tyler James he strives to prove he is ready for that possible opportunity.

“Just show people I can move,” Allen said of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “I’m fast. I can play safety at the next level. Show people I can do it.”

Similarly to Allen at safety, Jurkovec’s potential impact at quarterback speaks as much to the dearth of confidence there currently as it does to his talent.

ALLEN’S RESPONSE TO ELKO’S DEPARTURE
He may be only a high school senior, but Allen’s reaction to Notre Dame defensive coordinator departing for the same gig at Texas A&M was more mature than most fans’ or even current players’.

“Part of the buisness [sic],” Allen posted to Twitter on Thursday. “Sign to a place cause of their cultures and beliefs not because of a coach.”

Phil Jurkovec (rivals.com)

HOW COME JURKOVEC ISN’T ENROLLING EARLY?
Any debate about enrolling early seems unnecessary and inconceivable for those through college or irrationally cheering for a particular football team. But do not forget the subject of the debate is still a high schooler, looking to appropriately conclude what has been nearly two decades with friends. The cliché example of that nostalgic concept is prom. There are other reasons at hand, though.

Jurkovec has not only excelled on the gridiron at Pine-Richland High School, Gibsonia, Pa., but also on the hardwood.

“I’ve been playing [basketball] my whole life, so I wanted to play [this year],” Jurkovec told James while in San Antonio. “It helps me, too. For me, it shows I’m not really tapped out with football, because I don’t play football year-round. Playing basketball has really helped me develop athletically.”

BY HOW MUCH? Just kidding. It would take a real degenerate to know of a betting spread on a high school exhibition game.

WHO ELSE? Consensus four-star defensive back Houston Griffith and consensus four-star linebacker Jack Lamb partook tin the Under Armour All-American Game earlier this week.

ANOTHER OUTGOING NOTRE DAME TRANSFER
Freshman defensive end Jonathon MacCollister announced on Twitter on Friday he will head to Central Florida … as a tight end. Originally from Florida, MacCollister spent this season on the sideline, as he will be required to again in 2018 due to transfer restrictions.

“I would like to thank the University of Notre Dame and Coach [Brian] Kelly and his coaching staff for giving me an amazing opportunity to be part of one of the best institutions in the country,” MacCollister wrote. “I would also like to thank my teammates for accepting me into their family and treating me like their brother from day one, and to me they will always be my brothers.”

One of two defensive ends in his class, along with Kofi Wardlow, the likelihood of MacCollister seeing imminent playing time decreased with the rapid development of sophomore Khalid Kareem and the presumed return of senior Jay Hayes after a productive season from the veteran. Additionally, sophomore Daelin Hayes (no relation) continued strong progression and MacCollister had a future of competing with sophomores Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji for any remaining playing time.

At tight end, MacCollister never would have seen the light of day with the Irish.

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE OF THE CITRUS BOWL VICTORY:
Book and Boykin heroics give Notre Dame a Citrus victory
Things We Learned: Kelly is open to a Notre Dame QB competition; WRs emerge
Things We Learned from the season: 10-3 Notre Dame is two glaring holes from being much more

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE OF DEPARTURES:
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko leaves for Texas A&M
Friday at 4: Notre Dame not at fault in Mike Elko’s departure, but the next decision could determine 2018
C.J. Sanders to transfer from Notre Dame; DT Pete Mokwuah, as well
Notre Dame’s leading receiver, Equanimeous St. Brown, heads to the NFL
One-time Notre Dame Heisman candidate, Josh Adams declares for the NFL

OUTSIDE READING:
Future Irish QB Phil Jurkovec catches Notre Dame’s fantastic Citrus Bowl finish
Analysis: Sizing up Brian Kelly’s next step after Mike Elko’s departure from Notre Dame
Fisher tabs Elko as Aggies’ defensive coordinator
Nelson, Yoon make AP All-Bowl Team
Under Armour All-America Game viewing guide for Notre Dame fans
USC QB Sam Darnold declares for NFL Draft
The final steps of Baker Mayfield’s inimitable college football career ($)

One-time Notre Dame Heisman candidate, Josh Adams declares for the NFL

Getty Images
27 Comments

It would have been an ideal scenario for Notre Dame if junior running back Josh Adams returned for his senior year, but that may not have been in his best interests. Thus, Adams announced Friday afternoon he will head to the NFL.

“With a lot of thought, prayer and discussion with my family, I’ve decided to forgo my senior year and enter the 2018 NFL Draft!” Adams wrote. “… I’ll always have Notre Dame in my heart.

“With my decision, I hope that people will know, and kids will see how it’s okay to chase your dreams, because with God ‘ALL things are possible.’”

Adams went on to state he will “definitely” return to the University to earn his degree.

The Irish running game hinged on Adams and the dominant offensive line in front of him this season, with the one-time Heisman candidate finishing the year with 1,430 yards gained on 206 attempts, adding nine touchdowns. He finishes his career with 3,198 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging a startling 6.6 yards per carry. His career total places Adams fifth in Notre Dame history. His 229 yards at Boston College in September are fourth in single-game school history and paced the team to its most-efficient rushing performance in modern history.

Perhaps not a first-round draft pick, Adams will still likely hear his name called in an early round. Given the career longevity for running backs in the NFL — rather, the lack thereof — seizing that opportunity makes an abundance of sense.

“I chose Notre Dame because it was a place that allowed me to pursue my full potential,” Adams wrote. “It was a decision that would affect the rest of my life.”

Without Adams, the Irish backfield still has both depth and talent, led by current junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones, with sophomore Deon McIntosh and (currently suspended indefinitely) freshman C.J. Holmes adding further depth and incoming freshman Jahmir Smith on the way to round off the options.

Arguments can be and have been made Williams was not used enough in Notre Dame’s offense in 2017, but that can be somewhat attributed to Adams’ record-setting successes. In addition, nagging ankle and quad injuries limited Williams throughout the season, as did an ankle to Jones.

The most likely scenario moving forward is Williams sees the most action only if he develops as an every-down back, as in, only if he develops as a pass blocker. For example, he followed two successful runs in the Citrus Bowl by immediately missing a block and exposing sophomore quarterback Ian Book.

If that progress occurs, Jones can continue to serve as a positional mismatch putting defenses in a bind. Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long relished opportunities to deploy a healthy Jones as a second running back due to his threefold abilities as a rusher, receiver and blocker. With him lined up with Adams, defenses truly did not know what type of play could be coming. Long’s ideal will presumably have Jones in a similar role alongside Williams.

With junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown declaring for the NFL Draft on Thursday, Notre Dame now awaits for decisions from three more juniors: linebacker Te’von Coney, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and tight end Alizé Mack. They have until Jan. 15.

From Adams’ Instagram

Notre Dame’s leading receiver, Equanimeous St. Brown, heads to the NFL

Associated Press
34 Comments

Notre Dame junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown will heed his father’s advice and head to the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining. Each of the past two seasons, St. Brown led the Irish in receiving yards and receptions, also leading in caught touchdowns last year while finishing second in that category this season to sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson.

“Three years ago I decided to attend the best University in the world, Notre Dame,” St. Brown posted to Twitter on Thursday. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities given me and the lessons that the coaches taught me. I’m a better person and player because of it.

“I also want to thank my professors, who challenged me to be a better student, and my mentors, who helped me take the right path. To my teammates, I love you guys. I’ve formed friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. It’s been an honor to play by your side.

“Last, and certainly not least, I want to thank my family for supporting me. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you for everything.

“I’ve wrestled with this decision, but I’ve decided to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft! While my Notre Dame playing career has come to an end, I will come back to complete my degree. That’s a part of this process that was never in question.”

St. Brown ends his Irish career with 92 catches for 1,484 yards and 13 touchdowns, highlighted by a sophomore campaign of 58 catches for 961 yards and nine touchdowns, a rare bright spot amid the dismal 4-8 season. His final Notre Dame touchdown will be a drag route sprung for 75 yards at Stanford in this regular season’s finale.

St. Brown’s length will make some NFL teams at least consider him, though he is not yet a highly-touted Draft prospect. A strong combine and workout season could certainly change that.

Losing St. Brown compounds an Irish issue already apparent, with the odds highly unlikely Stepherson is with the team come fall, currently suspended indefinitely following a shoplifting arrest. Stepherson finished as the third receiver this season in both yards and receptions, and the two playmakers combined for 52 catches, 874 yards and nine touchdowns.

That will leave current sophomore Chase Claypool as the offense’s only proven receiver. He finished 2017 with 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns, breaking loose for nine of those receptions, 180 yards and a touchdown against Wake Forest at the start of November.

After Claypool, attention could quickly turn to freshman Michael Young and junior Miles Boykin, they of the two fourth-quarter Citrus Bowl touchdowns.

St. Brown has a younger brother, Amon-Ra, highly-rated in the recruiting class of 2018 who has Notre Dame among his three finalists, along with USC and Stanford. The tea leaves continue to point toward the youngest St. Brown becoming a Trojan.

And one last time, the full name is Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown. No, the “J.” is not technically short for anything.

The Irish continue to wait for NFL-or-stay decisions from four juniors: running back Josh Adams, tight end Alize Mack, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te’von Coney. They have until Jan. 15.