Keith Arnold

Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (20) runs past Georgia Tech defensive back Jamal Golden (4) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Path to the Draft: C.J. Prosise

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Part six of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie StanleyWill FullerJaylon SmithNick Martin and KeiVarae Russell

C.J. Prosise
No. 90 overall to Seattle Seahawks

There are traditional paths to college football stardom. And then there’s C.J. Prosise’s.

Notre Dame’s third-rounder, now a key piece to the Seattle Seahawks’ reshuffled offensive puzzle, spent a long time trying to find the right fit in the Irish football program.

But Prosise’s athleticism was never in question. That’s what ultimately led Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to pursuing the prep school athlete, a three-star prospect with modest offers.

“It was him dunking a basketball, I saw this athlete,” Kelly said last September. “And I said, ‘I don’t know where he’s going to play, but we’ve got to take him. We’ve just got to find a place for him to play.'”

Finding that place took some time. It was a journey that started at safety, a redshirt season spent learning Bob Diaco’s defense. Then there was the transition to receiver, and a quiet sophomore season where his biggest impact came on special teams.

Prosise showed hints of being a game-changing player as a junior. He earned Notre Dame’s special teams player of the year award, earned mostly for his impressive coverage work. But his 29 catches for 516 yards averaged more per play than even Will Fuller. After Prosise took a jet sweep to the house against LSU, it was likely all anybody on staff needed to see when they decided that Prosise would spend time in the spring cross-training at running back, just in case Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant needed a break in 2015.

A break turned into a breakthrough for both the Irish and Prosise. Notre Dame got three carries from Folston and Bryant last season, proving the move of Prosise to the backfield a brilliant one.

And after slowly finding his fit in the defensive backfield or at receiver, Prosise took to running back immediately, showcasing his game-breaking skills with the ball in his hands and a quick comfort at the position, even as he was learning on the fly.

The jump to the NFL robs Kelly and his staff from finishing their job developing Prosise as a player. And make no mistake, there’s work to be done. Prosise still needs work on his pad level. His short-yardage success left much to be desired. But those things can be taught. The ability to turn five yards into fifty? Not so much.

That’s also what makes him such an intriguing prospect. With Seattle needing to replace Marshawn Lynch, the lack of wear on Prosise, not to mention the versatility in his game, add new dynamics to an offense that needs to surround Russell Wilson with playmakers. And with a degree already in hand and Folston back along with Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, Prosise thought it was the right time to jump on the chance to head to the NFL.

Is he ready? Pete Carroll sure thinks so.

“He has a tremendous range of ability,” Carroll said during rookie camp. “Going into this draft I was hoping we were going to get this guy so that we can do the things that we can do with him. I don’t mind saying this because it’s not going to take us very long to show it—he is a guy that you can line up out of the backfield as a wide receiver, and he can line up in the backfield and run the football and beat you there too.”

 

It took three seasons for C.J. Prosise to find his footing and one to become a star. It’s another success story for Notre Dame’s coaching staff.

Irish back in the mix for elite DE Robert Beal

Robert Beal
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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Blue-chip defensive end Robert Beal looked like the one who got away. One of Notre Dame’s earliest commitments in the 2017 recruiting class—and then, their biggest decommitment—was the lone black mark on a recruiting class that’s coming together quite nicely for Brian Kelly, Mike Elston and a hard-working group of assistants.

 

But news broke today that Notre Dame is still in the mix for Beal. The edge rusher will visit campus for the Irish Invasion camp this summer, with Irish247’s Tom Loy the first to break the news:

This according to Loy and Irish247’s Juice:

In the past month, per a source, the family has changed its tune on that. They wanted to “remove some of the stress from Robert” and no longer have his decision depend on which school is able to get his sister into college.

With his sister’s decision no longer playing a role in Beal’s recruiting process, our source says that Beal wanted to reach out to the Notre Dame coaching staff immediately to see if things could be mended and if the staff was still interested in him as a student-athlete. It looks like Notre Dame is very interested, as defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has put in a ton of effort recently to make sure things work out and Beal gets back on campus in June.

 

Getting too worked up about anybody’s recruitment nearly nine months until Signing Day is silly. It’s a big reason why worrying about a recruit like Josh Kaindoh, surprisingly off the board to Maryland last week, isn’t worth the effort until after the Terrapins show just how hard it is to rebuild a program.

But getting back into the game with Beal would be huge. The Georgia-native’s departure from the Irish recruiting class was tough to criticize, especially considering his family’s desire to keep the two siblings united. But as Beal considers a new option to finish high school—Anna Hickey at Irish Illustrated reports that Beal will finish his high school career at IMG Academy—the Irish seem to be back in position to land the pass rusher.

Notre Dame’s got Brian VanGorder on the case, with the Georgia native having a solid relationship already built with the Irish defensive coordinator. And it doesn’t take the head of the Irish defense to see the gaping hole in the depth chart where Beal could fill in, especially as the Irish continue to look for ways to fortify their pass rush.

 

Path to the Draft: KeiVarae Russell

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: KeiVarae Russell #6 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish intercepts a pass intended for John Christopher #7 of the Temple Owls in the fourth quarter on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Part five of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie StanleyWill FullerJaylon Smith and Nick Martin

 

KEIVARAE RUSSELL
No. 74 overall to Kansas City

It was no surprise that KeiVarae Russell finished an impressive Notre Dame career by being selected with a premium pick in the NFL Draft. Just ask him.

From the moment Russell stepped onto campus as a four-star running back with multi-purpose versatility, the Washington native’s confidence was through the roof. And while that’s colored the lens through which we’ve observed Russell both on and off the field, it’s also maybe the biggest reason why he was able to make a training camp pivot to the defensive backfield and find a starting role at cornerback on one of the best defenses in Irish history.

Before the narrative of Russell’s career was overwhelmed by his role in the academic dishonesty investigation that took him off the team along with four other teammates in 2014, it was a development success story. Russell wasn’t an elite recruit, but he was a blue-chip prospect, the U.S. Army All-American picking Notre Dame over USC, Stanford, Cal, Washington and the rest of the Pac-12.

Even better, he carried the “RKG” tag. He was impressive in the classroom at Mariner High, active in the community. In many ways, Russell was one of the first to embody and perfect Brian Kelly’s recruiting model—find the intangibles Kelly used to look for at Central Michigan or Cincinnati, and land the high-end physical talent that’s expected at Notre Dame.

With 26 straight starts to begin his career, many thought Russell’s 2014 season could be his final one in South Bend. And it very nearly was, the shocking academic investigation ended the season for Russell in August before it even started.

A year that could’ve been a coronation was instead a reckoning. The well-chronicled time spent at home in Washington, working in a real-estate office, taking classes full-time, and training. And training. There was no shortage of training videos that came from Russell as he used Instagram as the outlet for his confidence.

That confidence was present when Russell said all the right things upon his reinstatement. It was apparent why it existed in a handful of game-changing plays he made during the 2015 season, clinching victories against USC and Temple with critical interceptions.

But Russell’s performance last season wasn’t what we expected. At times it was somewhat ordinary—Russell giving up underneath throws and passes you expected him to contest. Hardly the dominant, non-stop, high-impact play that Russell certainly expected of himself. But the stress fracture in Russell’s tibia that finally ended his season against Boston College helped reveal why.

 

Hounded from training camp, Russell gutted out the injury. As the team’s medical staff tried to figure out a solution for how best to keep the injury at bay, Russell played on—ending his Notre Dame career on a high-impact forced fumble, a fitting end even if it wasn’t the conclusion to his college career that he wanted.

Instead of wading through the murky NCAA waters in front of him, Russell decided to head to the NFL anyway. The timing wasn’t perfect from a performance perspective, but Russell did what you have come to expect from him, show confidence and talk a great game.

Even though he wasn’t able to workout at the NFL’s scouting combine, he did all the right things. Russell also impressed at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, not fully back from injury but still putting up strong numbers. Some of those physical traits that you didn’t always see on the field in 2015—explainable now that we know about the stress fracture.

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While some wondered if Russell would slide on draft day, the Chiefs made him the 74th pick overall. It solidified the decision Russell made to leave, with a contract that’ll pay him more than $3 million certainly helping.

That personality? It’s already entertaining Chiefs fans, who heard Russell get emotional on draft day after the moment hit him. And the confidence? It shouldn’t be a shock that Russell expects himself to start from day one, replacing free-agent departure Sean Smith and forming an elite duo with Marcus Peters.

Now don’t be surprised when it happens. Russell won’t be.

Greg Bryant succumbs to gunshot wounds, dead at 21

Purdue v Notre Dame
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Ex-Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant is dead at age 21. He had been in critical condition since early Saturday, when he was shot on I-95 in West Palm Beach, Florida, near Bryant’s hometown of Delray Beach.

Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly released the following statement after the news of Bryant’s passing.

“This is such a sad and tragic situation. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of everyone associated with the University of Notre Dame and its football program, are with Greg’s family at this incredibly difficult time.”

News broke Sunday afternoon that Bryant was brain dead as a result of the shooting that took place in the early-morning hours of Saturday. His family confirmed that Bryant passed away Sunday afternoon as well, ultimately succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds.

The incident is being investigated as a homicide. According to a report from Channell Ramos of WPBF25, a local-ABC affiliate in the area, passenger Maurice Grover is being treated at St. Mary’s Medical Center with minor injuries.

Ex-Notre Dame RB Greg Bryant in critical condition after shooting

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant is clinging to life in a South Florida hospital after being shot overnight. The former Irish running back, who transferred to UAB with hopes of restoring his football career, is reportedly in critical condition in a West Palm Beach hospital.

According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, Bryant was driving a car in the early-morning hours of Saturday when he and his passenger, 25-year-old Maurice Grover, were both shot on I-95. The freeway was shutdown while detectives investigated the scene, reopening the roads at 8 a.m.

While news broke mid-afternoon that Bryant has passed away—spurred on by a tweet from former running back coach Tony Alford—social media messages originating from the American Heritage football account, where Bryant starred as a five-star high school prospect, have him alive and still fighting.

No suspects have been apprehended in the shooting and details are still scarce.

Bryant spent two seasons with the Irish before departing amidst a suspension for violating team rules and academic difficulties. He spent portions of 2015 playing for a junior college program in Miami, before announcing his intention of heading to UAB, who’ll reboot its football program in 2017.