The second highly touted member of the 2012 recruiting class is leaving the Fighting Irish football team. Wide receiver Davonte Neal, who spent his freshman season as the team’s primary punt returner and was expected to play a significant role in the Irish offense in 2013, is leaving school.
Jason Sapp of Blue and Gold Illustrated first reported the news. Neal joins quarterback Gunner Kiel as rising sophomores that have departed this spring. It marks the second year in a row that a highly touted young player has left during spring workouts, with Aaron Lynch doing so last year after he wanted to be closer to his girlfriend and family at home.
After talking to Neal’s father Luke, Sapp reports that the slot receiver’s decision to leave Notre Dame wasn’t unhappiness with his role in the program, but rather a six week old daughter at home.
This from Sapp’s report ($):
“The reason for Davonte’s transfer is that he’s the father of a six-week old baby girl (Baylee) with his girlfriend (Marie Burton) that he has dated since seventh grade,” said Luke Neal, Davonte’s father, of his granddaughter that was born on Feb. 2. “The plan was to move his girlfriend and his baby to South Bend, but Davonte’ just felt the need to be closer to his family and his girlfriend’s family at this time.
“It’s a situation that I’ve been talking to Davonte’ about the past four months, and he’s finally realized he wants to be involved in his daughter’s life closer than from a distance at Notre Dame.”
With Neal gone and Amir Carlisle likely out for the spring, the Irish are short at the inside receiver position. They could move veteran TJ Jones back into the slot or give young players like Chris Brown or early enrollee James Onwualu a shot as well. There’s also a chance a player like Cam McDaniel gets some time there as well, while incoming freshman Torii Hunter Jr. and Will Fuller will be options in the fall. Daniel Smith has also worked in the slot, more as a productive blocker than traditional Z receiver.
The slot receiver position in Brian Kelly’s offense hasn’t had the type of productivity many expected the past three seasons, and mostly it’s because of a lack of personnel. The loss of Neal and Carlisle’s current lack of injury luck certainly continues that trend.
Neal will likely end up at a Pac-12 school that’s closer to his Arizona home and new child.