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The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Irish Receiving Core

Written by Liam Gaudet, Senior Editor


I remember September 12th, 2015 like no other. Notre Dame ranked ninth in the country heading into Cavalier territory after stomping the Texas Longhorns at home 38-3 had me ecstatic for a season that would surely see the Irish finally put it all together. A dual threat quarterback in Malik Zaire and dynamic playmakers on the outside, all rounded out by the swiss army knife that was C.J. Prosise had this offense looking dangerous. I can’t lie, the naïve young fan I was completely overlooked the Cavaliers and was anxiously anticipating what would be a top 15 showdown with Georgia Tech the following week, but I digress. The weather in Virginia was bleak. Light showers and a black sky covered Scott Stadium, almost foreshadowing the events that were about to take place. On a designed quarterback draw early into the game, Zaire would have his foot trapped beneath a defender and go down with a season-ending ankle injury. Enter DeShone Kizer, who hadn’t managed to get any meaningful snaps in his career up until the prior week in the aforementioned blowout win over Texas. Although the Irish managed to jump out to a two-score lead, it diminished quickly in typical Notre Dame fashion, and the Irish found themselves trailing 27-26 with the seconds ticking away on the final drive. The Irish found themselves on the Virginia 39 yard line with 19 seconds left on the clock, ticking away. Kizer bought time in the pocket and launched it toward the end zone - oh my god Fuller caught it! We actually did it, we escaped with a win… And of course the legendary meme was born.


Photo by One Foot Down


Looking back on that game got me thinking - When was the last time a Notre Dame receiver completely took over a game like that? This wasn’t Will Fuller’s first long and electrifying touchdown of the season, let alone the game, as he hauled in a bomb from Zaire prior to his injury. It seemed like whenever the Irish needed a miracle, Fuller would deliver against all odds. It was to the point where it was almost expected, and this would no doubt translate to more receivers elevating their play to reach new heights in the blue and gold… Right? Not exactly.


Photo by Notre Dame Athletics


Since I started following Notre Dame closely about 14 years ago, the slow and painful decay of the receiver room has never been more prevalent than it was since the departure of our last true wide-receiver-one in Chase Claypool. Now of course I’m not ignorant enough to ignore the fact that below average quarterback play hasn’t crippled the potential of some seriously talented receivers, but it isn’t like some of our best receivers in the past decade were catching passes from Joe Montana. This issue has a lot of moving parts, and so far the staff has addressed some of them, but upon dissecting these issues myself, there are a few key points that have come to mind that are already being mitigated by Marcus Freeman and company.


The immediate thing that comes to mind is lack of performance, which stems from lack of development. The slow poisoning of the receiving core rests mainly on the shoulders of Del Alexander, who had elite skill at his disposal only to either let it wither away on the bench or produce absolutely no meaningful results. I found it a miracle that Notre Dame was even able to recruit the position when he was on the staff, and I think the recruits finally caught on to the anemic production before exploring other options. The recruiting of elite receiving talent slowly diminished over time, and it wasn’t much of a surprise at all. Notre Dame saw decommitments and mass-transfers out of the program as a result, and suffered for it heavily the past couple of seasons. This put a lot of pressure on the depth of the Irish receiving room, which either lacked playing time and experience, or just simply lacked talent.


When I mentioned that Notre Dame was able to recruit under Alexander, I didn’t necessarily mean well. Bayou Brian isn’t free of blame here either, as it was proven over the past two seasons by Marcus Freeman that it isn’t as hard as Kelly made it out to be to recruit at Notre Dame. I challenge you to look into Notre Dame’s receiver recruiting classes from 2017 to 2020. These four classes combined had a total of THREE top 300 ranked receivers according to 247 Sports. One of those players is Jordan Johnson, the only five star receiver in years to sign with Notre Dame who promptly transferred out of the program after his freshman season to the dismay of the entire fanbase. The other two players: Kevin Austin (ranked 82) spent the majority of his time injured before producing one decent season, and Lawrence Keys III (ranked 286) who transferred out as well. So if you can’t even get the best out of your top end talent on the roster, then why even bother attempting a forward pass at all. A change needed to be made, and thankfully it came.


Photo by 247 Sports


Chansi Stuckey didn’t reinvent the wheel in his first season at Notre Dame after Del Alexander’s departure, but he certainly managed to do more with less. Jayden Thomas was a bright spot this season after barely seeing the field in his freshman season, and although shaky at times, Lorenzo Styles will more than likely be a large piece in a Sam Hartman led offense next season. Deon Colzie is finally starting to look like the player we all expected after making a few key receptions this season, and even Braden Lenzy was utilized more to his skillset this season than in previous years. All this without mentioning that these players aren’t ones he recruited, but has still managed to make a meaningful impact on.


I haven’t even mentioned the recruiting aspect of Stuckey’s regime, and this is where things start to get exciting. In just one cycle, Stuckey matched the number of top 300 receivers from the four recruiting cycles I mentioned earlier, as he secured signatures from Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse and Rico Flores. With the injection of talent into the room, there is no reason to expect that the product on the field will go anywhere but up. In the majority of interviews with the receiver signees, all of them cite their relationship with Stuckey as one of the driving forces in attending Notre Dame. Pairing his ability to bring the best out of even the worst of situations with his tenacity in recruiting, and you have a recipe for long-term success. It’s finally time for the Notre Dame wide receiver redemption arc.


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