With school just days away from returning after Christmas break, Notre Dame’s early enrollees are preparing to make the transition from high school to college life. According to the university website, safety Chris Badger, cornerback Spencer Boyd, wide receiver Tai-ler Jones, quarterback Tommy Rees, and cornerback Lo Wood will join the Notre Dame student body when classes resume, five green college students competing for playing time while adjusting to their new surroundings from the day they step on campus and join their new teammates in off season workouts before spring practice commences.
Each one of the five freshman walk onto campus as skill players looking to dent the two deep roster at their respective position. For Rees, he gave up his prep basketball career to get a jump start on the backup quarterback position, and he’ll likely take the lion’s share of reps during spring ball with Dayne Crist recovering from his ACL surgery and walk-on Nate Montana just getting back to campus after a semester playing junior college football.
Wide receiver Jones is coming off an impressive Under Armor All-American performance (something we’ll touch on later), and looks to use his versatility and athleticism to pick up some of the slack left after Golden Tate’s early departure. Jones has as much experience in Kelly’s offense as every other receiver on the squad, so if he’s one of the best four wideouts to suit up for the Irish, expect him to get some PT.
Badger, Boyd, and Wood all look to challenge in a secondary that was a disaster last year. Badger is a ferocious hitter from his safety position and while his measurables don’t seem to jump out at you, he looks to have exceptional instincts and football IQ, something the secondary could use. He’ll probably challenge at one of the two safety positions, and could have a Zeke Motta-like effect on special teams from the day he steps onto campus.
Boyd and Wood, both Florida natives that will step onto campus as cornerbacks, should expect the chance to compete with Robert Blanton, Gary Gray and Darrin Walls for time at corner. You’ve got to expect that Kelly and the new defensive staff will start from ground zero with the secondary, and after watching the secondary struggle last season, no job is safe.
The enrollment of five freshman at semester break is incredible when you think back to fairly recent days when Notre Dame was unwilling to let any recruit enroll early, setting back the Irish dramatically in battles for elite players. But credit the players that have come in early and the Irish support staff, as there have been very few hiccups in a process that has to be challenging for the young men jump-starting their college careers.