top of page

Keep the Receipts - These Newcomers are Poised to Make an Impact

Updated: Jul 5

Written by: Brenden Duffy ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter/X @Brenden_Duffy

Photo via Duke Athletics


As the dawn of a new season approaches, roster turnover has been the central theme of the offseason. This is expected, as players leave the program each season for various reasons including being drafted, running out of eligibility, NIL enticement, or just finding another opportunity.


The Irish rebounded well, bringing in a top-10 recruiting class and top-50 transfer class this season. Let’s take a look at the incoming transfers and freshmen who will make an immediate impact:


Riley Leonard (QB, Senior, Duke)


The former Duke star quarterback announced his transfer to Notre Dame on December 12, less than two weeks after entering the portal. The 6’4" 215-pound signal caller has one year of eligibility remaining after three seasons at Duke. 


Raised in Alabama, Leonard was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school, primarily targeted by Duke and Ole Miss. On May 18, 2020, Leonard committed to Duke University.


As a freshman in 2021, Leonard played sparingly as the backup to Gunnar Holmberg. Leonard was used more as a rushing threat, totaling 47 rushes for 173 yards. His most notable performance came at home against Louisville, when he completed all 13 of his passes for 90 yards, in addition to 70 rushing yards and a touchdown. 


Following the 2021 season, legendary head coach David Cutcliffe and Duke University decided to part ways. Leonard remained committed to Duke throughout the coaching change as Mike Elko was hired. His commitment to the program would pay off.


Leonard’s sophomore campaign was sensational, as he led Duke to their first 9-win season since 2014. Leonard started in all 13 games during his career-best season. He totaled 3,666 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air and ground, showcasing his versatility. He completed over 63% of his passes while only throwing 6 interceptions, and concluded the season with a Military Bowl win. Leonard’s best game of the season as a passer came in the final week of the regular season at home against a ranked Wake Forest squad. In this tight 34-31 win, Leonard threw 29/41 for 391 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were of 30-plus yards. He would finish the season with three outings of 300-plus passing yards and four games with multiple rushing touchdowns. In all, Leonard would finish the season as top 6 passer and rusher in the ACC.


Unfortunately, last season did not go smoothly for Leonard. After suffering an ankle injury versus the Irish in week five, Leonard was unable to bounce back and was ruled out for the year by November. In the four contests pre-injury, Leonard played well, averaging over a 73% completion rate with 1,016 total yards and 6 touchdowns with no interceptions.


After committing to Notre Dame, Leonard underwent ankle surgery in January which was deemed successful as he was back on the field for the beginning of spring practice. However, in late March, he underwent another foot surgery which has held him out of the rest of spring practice.


Hope remains high in South Bend that Leonard will recover and help lead Notre Dame to new heights. Recently, Leonard has been gaining Heisman buzz as he looks to lead the Irish to the College Football Playoff in his final collegiate season.


Kris Mitchell (WR, Grad Transfer, Florida International)


Mitchell, an FIU product, committed to the Irish on December 5, just six days after entering the portal. The graduate transfer will be playing his 5th season of college football for Notre Dame. Mitchell is a 6-foot, 185-pound speedster who was rated as a consensus 4-star and top-15 receiver in the portal.


Coming out of high school in Jacksonville, Mitchell had several group of five conference offers before committing to Florida International on July 29, 2018. 


Mitchell was redshirted his 2019 season and, thus, did not receive any action. 


In 2020, FIU and Mitchell’s seasons were cut short to just five games due to Covid. Mitchell appeared in four games and, in limited playing time, he totaled 4 receptions for 39 yards.


Once again in 2021, Mitchell was given limited playing time. He appeared in 10 games, recording 9 receptions for 158 yards including a 50-yard touchdown versus Charlotte, his lone of the season.


The following year, Mitchell finally saw an increase in his playing time, as he appeared in all 12 games with 8 starts. Mitchell made 23 catches for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. He finished with four games of 50-plus receiving yards, including an 80-yard game that featured 2 touchdowns at home against Bryant. His most productive game came on the road against Charlotte, where he posted 8 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.


Mitchell truly broke out last season in 2023. Playing 12 games, Mitchell recorded 64 receptions for 1,118 yards and 6 touchdowns. Despite his 1,118 receiving yards leading the conference, he was selected to All-Conference USA Second team. Mitchell posted four games with 100-plus receiving yards, most notably at home versus Maine where he had 201 yards on 9 receptions with a touchdown.


Given Mitchell’s 20-plus MPH speed and pure talent, he will be a top three receiver on this Irish squad. It is likely he will line up as the WR-Z, meaning he should be working in sync with, elite tight end, Mitchell Evans. He may not be a 1,000-yard guy in a deep receiver room at Notre Dame, but Kris Mitchell will definitely be a difference maker throughout the season.


Beaux Collins (WR, Senior, Clemson)


Similar to Mitchell, incoming senior Beaux Collins needed just six days to commit to Notre Dame after entering the portal. The Clemson transfer was a high school star at powerhouse St. John Bosco in California. 


At SJB, Collins played with 5-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei for two seasons. Collins did not have a senior high school season due to Covid, but in 2019, he helped SJB win a state championship with 41 receptions for 1,008 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was selected to play in the 2021 Under Armour All-American Game.


Coming out of SJB, Collins was a high 4-star and consensus top-30 receiver who held 36 offers from powerhouses including Notre Dame, Alabama, and Ohio State. Ultimately, Collins committed to Clemson University to team up with former high school quarterback, Uiagalelei. 


As a true freshman at Clemson, Collins appeared in 11 games with 6 starts. Despite the limited playing time, he finished 2nd on the team in receptions (31), 3rd in receiving yards (407), and tied for the lead in touchdown catches (3). Collins had two games with 100-plus receiving yards, including a 137-yard performance at home versus Wake Forest that featured this spectacular touchdown grab.


In 2022, as a sophomore, Collins started all 10 games he appeared in. He finished with 22 receptions for 373 yards and 5 touchdowns. Despite the lack of a singular breakout performance, Collins was, in general, solid all year finishing with five games of 50-plus yards. This included three outings consisting of 4 receptions, 50-plus yards, and a touchdown.


Last season was Collins’ most productive season of his career. Before missing the end of the season due to a plantar fascia tear, Collins started all 11 games he played in. He finished the season with 38 receptions for 510 yards and 3 touchdowns. Collins exploded in week two at home versus Charleston Southern when he recorded 7 receptions for 137 yards, including this 69-yard touchdown.


Collins’ Clemson career finished with 91 receptions for 1,290 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 32 appearances (27 starts). Collins entered the portal on December 4 with 3-star status as a top-60 receiver. As of right now, it is expected that Collins will be Kris Mitchell’s primary backup at WR-Z. Collins will be given opportunities to play a bigger role in the Irish offense if he capitalizes in his current tasks. Regardless, the addition of Collins is great for the depth of the receiver room and he should see the field on game days.


Micah Gilbert (WR, Incoming Freshman)


The first true freshman on this list is 6’2", 204-pound receiver Micah Gilbert. Gilbert committed to Notre Dame in May of 2023 as a consensus 4-star and top-50 receiver in the nation. The Charlotte native chose the Irish over the big local schools North Carolina, South Carolina, Duke, and Wake Forest.


From a young age, viewers of Gilbert could tell he was talented. As an 8th grader Gilbert was placed on the Charlotte Christian (high) School varsity basketball team. He played his final season of basketball as a junior, when he averaged over 15 points per game.


On the gridiron, Gilbert did make varsity as a freshman but he only notched one, 16-yard reception all year.


Gilbert finally made a name for himself as a sophomore. In 2021, he finished the year with 40 receptions for 534 yards and 3 touchdowns.


The following season, Gilbert had a similar campaign. Despite only playing in seven games due to a wrist injury, Gilbert recorded 39 receptions for 486 yards and 6 touchdowns. Undoubtedly, his best performance came in the last game before his injury. In a 38-37 win versus Providence Day School, Gilbert posted an 11 reception, 183-yard performance that included 3 touchdowns.


Gilbert exploded his senior season. This past year, Gilbert was named First team All-State after he recorded 1,105 yards on 76 catches with 10 touchdowns in 12 games. He had five games with 100-plus receiving yards, three games with 10-plus receptions, and three games with multiple touchdowns. Statistically, Gilbert’s best game occurred in week three against South Point High School when he racked up 170 receiving yards on 11 catches with 2 touchdowns.


Despite not being the highest-ranked receiver recruit in this 2024 Irish class, he has had the best spring. Gilbert notched two touchdowns in the Blue and Gold Spring Game, impressing everyone who watched. As of right now it appears Gilbert is in line to back up Jayden Thomas in the WR-X role. Both Thomas and Gilbert will be go-to weapons when they are on the field for Riley Leonard. The rise of Gilbert has been a welcome sight for Irish fans and coaches alike as he seems ready to grow into the next great Irish receiver. A fun fact about Gilbert is he is cousins with NFL Hall of Famer, Darrelle Revis, and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Jordan Whitehead.


RJ Oben (DE, Grad Transfer, Duke)


RJ Oben enters the Irish gates as one of the more experienced players in the country, in his 6th season of college football. The newly-turned 23 year old is a 6’3", 261-pound beast off the edge. Coming out of Jersey City, Oben was a consensus 3-star with various offers from high and low level programs. Oben ultimately committed to Duke University over Boston College in June of 2018.


Oben’s first two years at Duke did not go to plan, as he dealt with various injuries, limiting him to just 13 appearances in that time. Given the circumstances, Oben recorded 5 tackles while on the field.


Oben had his first healthy season in 2021 when he appeared in all 12 games, making 10 starts. In arguably his best statistical year, Oben recorded 25 total tackles, 7 for a loss, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and this interception. His two best games on the season came on the road against Charlotte and at home versus Pittsburgh, where he posted identical statlines of 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble.


The following season in 2022 saw Oben appear in all 13 games, with 12 starts. Oben finished the year leading the team in QB pressures (10), tied for second in forced fumbles (2), third in sacks (4.5), and fourth in tackles for loss (6.5). In addition, he recorded 20 total tackles throughout the season. His best game of year came on the road against Miami, where he recorded 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.


In Oben’s final season at Duke, he started all 12 regular season games before entering the transfer portal prior to the Birmingham Bowl. He finished the year with 17 tackles including 6 for a loss and 5 sacks. His best performance was, perhaps, his final game at home versus Pittsburgh where he recorded 3 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks in a Duke win. 


As mentioned above, Oben entered the transfer portal in early December. In less than two weeks, Oben committed to the Irish ranked as a consensus 4-star and top-50 transfer. Oben wrapped up his Duke career totaling 67 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and an interception.


Currently listed as a defensive lineman according to Notre Dame’s roster, expect Oben to line up as a starting defensive end in week one. Redshirt sophomore Joshua Burnham and true freshman Bryce Young are likely to be Oben’s backups. This should bode well in the future, as Oben’s experience should rub off on both Burnham and Young. Oben has a real chance to have his career-best season this year with the Irish. If he does this, expect Oben to be playing on NFL Sundays soon. RJ’s father, Roman, is the NFL Vice President of Football Development and played 12 seasons in the league after attending Louisville.


Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa (MLB, Incoming Freshman)


The second true freshman on the list is the Polynesian out of California, Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa. Viliamu-Asa, listed at 6'3" and 240 pounds, was a consensus 4-star and top-50 recruit before committing to Notre Dame on July 23, 2023. Viliamu-Asa is also listed as a top-5 linebacker in the country and top-5 player in California across various sites. Prior to joining the Irish, Viliamu-Asa was heavily recruited by national powers Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State.


Like Beaux Collins, Viliamu-Asa played high school football at St. John Bosco.


Viliamu-Asa capitalized on his limited playing time as a freshman, recording 28 tackles and 1.5 sacks in just 6 games.


Unfortunately, Viliamu-Asa missed his entire sophomore season with a knee injury.


His comeback was greater than the setback, to say the least, as he exploded his junior year. In 2022, Viliamu-Asa finished the season with 111 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and a 47-yard pick six. He recorded five games with 12 or more tackles and four games with a sack. Viliamu-Asa saved his best for last with his greatest performance occurring in the championship versus Mater Dei where he recorded 15 total tackles and a sack. This junior campaign was good enough to be named California Interscholastic Federation Defensive Player of the Year, as he helped SJB to a MaxPreps National Championship. He also was a secret weapon on offense where he recorded 2 receiving touchdowns on his lone 2 receptions of the year.


Viliamu-Asa’s senior season was even better. In 13 games, he recorded 114 tackles, 13 for loss, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, and another pick six on his lone interception. He also added 3 receiving touchdowns on all 3 of his receptions offensively. Following this campaign, Viliamu-Asa received invitations to the All-American Bowl and Polynesian Bowl.


With the lack of depth at middle linebacker, Viliamu-Asa should get an ample amount of early playing time as the clear MLB2 behind sophomore Drayk Bowen. Given his size and the early praise from Irish coaches and teammates, Viliamu-Asa has real potential to be the next great Irish linebacker.


Jordan Clark (S, Grad Transfer, Arizona State)


Mark this as another Irish player whose father has NFL ties. Jordan is the son of 13-year NFL safety and current ESPN analyst, Ryan Clark.


Jordan Clark was raised in Louisiana, and was rated as a consensus 3-star and top-50 cornerback coming out of high school. Clark committed to Arizona State in October 2018, selecting the Sun Devils over schools like Mississippi State, Nebraska, and SMU.


Similar to RJ Oben, Clark comes to South Bend with 5 years of college football experience. In his first two seasons, 2019 and 2020, Clark was limited to just 6 game appearances, primarily due to the Covid-shortened 2020 year. Over these two seasons, Clark totaled 21 tackles and 2 pass deflections.


While still in a backup role, Clark did receive more playing time in 2021 playing nickelback and slot corner. After not playing week one, Clark appeared in all 12 games the rest of year. He finished the season with 21 total tackles, 2 pass deflections, and an interception.


The following season in 2022 was arguably the best of Clark’s collegiate career. Once again, Clark did not appear in week one but appeared in all 11 of the following games. He finished the year with 47 tackles, 3 for loss, 4 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions including this pick-six. Clark’s performance at home versus Washington was sensational as he made 9 tackles, in addition to the 38-yard defensive touchdown. He racked up four outings of 5 or more tackles on the year.


Last season, in 2023, Clark appeared in 11 games. He set a career high in tackles (50) and pass deflections (9). He had six games with 5 or more tackles and two games with multiple pass deflections. 


Clark entered the portal on December 1st and committed to the Irish just three days later. As a transfer, the 5'10, 180-pound defensive back was ranked as a 3-star and top-15 safety in the portal.


Clark comes to South Bend to serve as the primary nickel back. His experience at ASU should bode well for the Irish when he is called upon in obvious passing situations. Given the lineage, if Clark has a good year, he could very well hear his name called in the 2025 NFL Draft. 


Rod Heard II (S, Grad Transfer, Northwestern)


Rod Heard, the Northwestern graduate, is the third transfer on this list who comes in with five years of college football experience. Raised in Michigan, Heard had a few solid offers coming out of high school as a consensus 3-star cornerback from the likes of Michigan, Iowa State, and Northern Illinois. Ultimately, Heard chose to commit to Northwestern University in March 2018.


Over the course of his first two seasons at NU, Heard saw limited playing time, appearing in 9 games with 2 starts in that span. In this time, he totaled 11 tackles and a pass deflection. Heard made his first collegiate start week one in 2020 at home versus Maryland and played well, gaining six tackles and his lone pass deflection of the year.


Heard saw an increase in playing time come 2021. He played in all 12 games with 4 starts. Heard finished the season with 31 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a pass deflection. His best game of the season came in week three on the road at Duke when he posted 8 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and recovered one.


Heard again improved the following season in 2022. While starting all 12 games, Heard finished the year with 67 tackles, 4 for loss, a sack, 2 pass deflections, a forced fumble, and his first career interception. He ended the year with nine games of 5 or more tackles, including two outings with 10 tackles each.


In Heard’s final year at NU, he again started all 12 games while recording 85 tackles, 4 for loss, a sack, 4 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception. He ended the season with eight games of 5 or more tackles, including two outings with 12-plus tackles.


Heard entered the transfer portal on December 28th with 194 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 8 pass deflections, 5 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 interceptions in 46 career games at Northwestern. After receiving multiple offers, including from his home-state teams Michigan and Michigan State, Heard committed to the Irish on January 10th. The 5'11", 195-pound defensive back was a consensus 3-star in the portal.


The Irish love to have versatility with their safeties, and that is exactly what Heard brings to the table. He should be in line to be the main backup to boundary safety, Adon Shuler. Heard has been unable to practice this spring, thus hurting his chances of earning the starting role. However, when he arrives his presence should be welcomed as, similar to Jordan Clark, his loads of experience should rub off on his younger peers, like Shuler. 


Mitch Jeter (K, Grad Transfer, South Carolina)


The final newcomer on this list is Mitch Jeter, kicker out of South Carolina. The North Carolina native was a 2-star and top-10 kicker in the nation when he committed to the University of South Carolina in December 2019.


Jeter spent his first two seasons at SCAR as the kickoff specialist. In his sophomore year, he received two opportunities on extra points and converted both.


In 2022 as a junior, Jeter finally took over field goal and extra point duties, in addition to his role as the kickoff specialist. Jeter kicked 42/44 on extra points and 11/11 on field goals during the season. He connected on two 50-plus yard tries during the season including a season-long of 53 in the home opener versus Georgia State. Without a doubt his most clutch kick of the season came when made this game-winning field goal from 35-yards to win over Clemson.


Jeter had another solid campaign last season, maintaining all kicking duties. He went 33/34 on extra points and 12/14 on field goals, with both misses coming from 50-plus yards. Jeter’s 69 points scored led the Gamecocks all season and he was selected as the Jim Carlen Award winner which recognizes the MVP of special teams. His longest kick of the season was a 51-yarder on the road at Missouri. Jeter’s best play of the season came in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl when he recovered his own onside kick to begin the second half.


Jeter ended his South Carolina career with 146 points, consisting of 77/80 on extra points and 23/25 on field goals. He would enter the transfer portal on December 4 and commit to Notre Dame just 10 days later.


It is assumed Jeter will pick up the same responsibilities he had at South Carolina with the Irish. This includes kickoff, extra point, and field goal duties. The 5’11" kicker will definitely have an impact on the outcome of games.

 

Most players will get their time to shine, eventually, if they are patient and smart. The time is now for these nine players. The thought of a healthy Riley Leonard in this loaded offense should make Irish fans optimistic. The addition of Kris Mitchell will definitely pay dividends early with his knack for playmaking. RJ Oben is a monster who will command double teams, leaving other Irish defenders able to make the big plays. The reloaded safety room with Jordan Clark and Rod Heard II brings necessary depth to one of the more important positions on the field. Freshmen Micah Gilbert and Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa should be given opportunities early and often, only boosting their potential. You can never underestimate the importance of a good kicker and the Irish secured their man with Mitch Jeter. These Irish newcomers are ready to make an impact this season.


コメント


Like Our Content?
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
Enjoyed This Article?
Share Below
The Irish Tribune
The Irish Tribune
bottom of page