Isaiah Pryor will reunite with former high school teammate Houston Griffith at Notre Dame, confirming with the Tribune of his commitment on Sunday.
Both safeties out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy will share the field again. Pryor, a former four-star recruit from Ohio State’s 2017 class, is expected to contribute immediately as a graduate transfer, with two years of remaining eligibility starting in 2020.
“The education is very important,” Pryor told the Tribune. “I wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to get my master’s degree at a prestigious school while also being able to play on a team that had a chance to have a national championship run every year.
“So I felt like it was the perfect scenario for me. It’s the best of both worlds really.”
Defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph contacted Pryor the day after he entered his name into the transfer portal in September. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Pryor then took two trips to Notre Dame — an official visit for the Oct. 12 USC game and then an unofficial visit for Saturday's Virginia Tech game.
No other school received a visit from Pryor. Notre Dame positioned itself as Pryor’s heavy favorite, though he first needed the approval of his mother, Lillian. She could not join her son for the USC game but accompanied him this weekend.
“They made it a really easy decision,” Isaiah said. “They brought us in there and made us feel like family. It was a special place the first time. I wanted to make sure my mom had that experience as well.”
The visit for the USC game answered Pryor’s questions relating to academics. He plans to work toward a master’s degree. Witnessing Notre Dame’s three-man safety rotation against the Trojans firsthand also enticed Pryor.
The current group includes starters Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, with freshman Kyle Hamilton to plug in every few drives and on third-and-long passing situations. Notre Dame added a fourth safety to its platoon in Shaun Crawford against Virginia Tech.
“Everyone was getting playing time, and no one was complaining about it. They are all good people,” said Pryor, who compares himself to former Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. “Coach Joseph gave them the plans, saying this is what we are going to do. And then everybody said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’
“The back end played very well in the Virginia Tech game. I just want to be a part of that.”
Elliott’s eligibility expires following this year. But even if Gilman departs early for the NFL Draft, a three-man platoon remains a possibility now that Pryor is in the mix.
Hamilton, Griffith and Pryor have all played in high-leverage situations. All three were held in high regard by the recruiting world as well. Both 247Sports and Rivals ranked each of them among the top 150 overall players in their respective recruiting classes.
247Sports ranked Pryor as its No. 10 safety and No. 77 overall player in the 2017 class. Rivals pegged him No. 12 at the position and No. 106 overall. Pryor started seven games for the Buckeyes as a sophomore in 2018, recording 31 tackles, one tackle for a loss and an interception. He struggled to maintain his status as a starter in a position group loaded with talent for the Buckeyes.
“I think he’s a strong safety,” Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. “Very strong tackler. Doesn’t mind sending a message over the middle and hitting people.”
The Pryor addition comes with low risk and high upside for the Irish. The best-case scenario sees Pryor living up to his recruiting hype and becoming a starter beside Griffith or Hamilton. At worst, Pryor becomes the third safety used for a rotation and adds depth to what could have been a depleted position group.
Without Pryor, Notre Dame may have been left with only four scholarship safeties on the roster next season: sophomore DJ Brown, freshman Litchfield Ajavon, Griffith and Hamilton. Sophomore safety Derrik Allen, a former four-star recruit, left the Irish for Georgia Tech in August.
No safeties from the 2020 recruiting class are expected to land with the Irish either. Notre Dame earned commitments from three cornerbacks who could move to safety, in Caleb Offord, Landen Bartleson and Clarence Lewis.
Notre Dame also pursued Isaiah Pryor as a high school recruit. He trekked to Notre Dame in 2015 for the Blue-Gold Game.
“We had a really, really good visit when we were there,” said Richard Pryor, Isaiah’s father. “Notre Dame was one of his top schools. He said that (head coach Brian) Kelly had a scholarship offer the minute he walked through the door.
“Nobody has done that in all of the visits he’s ever had.”
Pryor hopes to become the first grad transfer captain in program history in five attempts. Notre Dame previously accepted grad transfers from wide receivers Cam Smith (Arizona State) and Freddy Canteen (Michigan), cornerback Cody Riggs (Florida) and safety Avery Sebastian (California).
“I’m an extremely hard worker,” Pryor said. “You can ask anyone on my Ohio State team. I was one of the hardest workers over there. I want to make sure that everyone else is trying to get to my level as far as work ethic and teamwork building.
"I feel like I’m a real leader. I’m ready to step up into more of an experienced role.”