SOUTH BEND — In a perfect — but very warped — world, DeShone Kizer would be plugged in at quarterback Saturday night against 14th-ranked Michigan, as a fourth-year starter.
Instead, the only Notre Dame football player ever to leave two years of eligibility on the table to enter the NFL Draft will likely be still celebrating his recent ascendance to the No. 2 spot on the Green Bay Packers’ QB depth chart behind Aaron Rodgers. That was sealed by a Wednesday trade of last year’s No. 2, Brett Hundley, to Seattle.
And instead senior Brandon Wimbush, still in regular touch with Kizer, gets the start for the 12th-ranked Irish at Notre Dame Stadium.
Kizer’s early dive into the draft pool kept alive the distinction that only Brady Quinn, Tommy Rees and Evan Sharpley share among quarterbacks recruited to ND in the post-Lou Holtz Era (1997-present).
They’re the only former QBs out of 23 who can claim they checked all three boxes: 1) Didn’t transfer; 2) Didn’t switch positions; 3) Didn’t leave early.
Kizer isn’t the only former Irish quarterback who could have been on the 2018 Irish roster. Montgomery VanGorder, who held on placekicks much more often than lined up in the shotgun while at ND, not only found a new home as a grad transfer, perennial FCS power Youngstown State. He’ll make his first college start Saturday.
The 24th-ranked Penguins host Butler.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a little bit of nerves,” VanGorder told the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator. “If there isn’t nerves, there’s probably a problem,”
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound VanGorder came to Notre Dame with his father, former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, now orchestrating Louisville’s defense.
Brian VanGorder was purged after 30 games, four games into his third season, but his son stayed on and was valuable on both special teams and signaling in plays to the ND QBs on the field.
The younger VanGorder led Buford High to two Georgia state titles and was a two-star prospect per Rivals, coming out of high school, with scholarship offers from FCS schools Eastern Kentucky and Murray State.
Here’s a look at the other former ND transfers who will either play elsewhere in college this season or are sitting out per NCAA transfer rules with remaining eligibility at their new schools:
Class of 2014
• Justin Brent (Nevada): The former top 100 recruit, who initially wowed Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly as an early enrollee, is still looking for his first significant college role and is now at his third position.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is listed as a backup safety for Nevada’s Friday night season opener with Portland State.
In his three years at Notre Dame, the wide receiver-turned-running back never recorded a carry or a catch, and all nine games he played in came during his freshman season.
However, he did get his ND degree. He did make all-academic Mountain West last season. He did finally record a statistic, a 21-yard reception against Washington State, as a wide receiver for Nevada in 2017.
And he had quite an adventure with the Wolf Pack basketball team, which he joined in February. More memorable than the two points and one steal in five minutes of action spread over three games was the ride Brent went on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
There, the Wolf Pack was eliminated by sister Jean and Cinderella Loyola of Chicago.
• Jay Hayes (Georgia): The 6-foot-3, 289-pound grad student is now playing for the team against which he had the best game of his college career.
The 13-game starter at defensive end in 2017 came into his own for the Irish last season after an uneven first three years, and had a career-high seven tackles in a 20-19 loss to the Bulldogs in game 2 of the season. He initially committed to coming back to ND for a fifth year, then abruptly changed his mind last spring.
Now wearing No. 7, Hayes is a key reserve at both defensive tackle and defensive end for Georgia, which hosts Austin Peay in its Saturday opener at home.
• Kolin Hill (Texas Tech): He left Notre Dame after his freshman season as a 6-1, 230-pound situational pass rusher. He’s now a 6-2, 245-pound senior with 20 career starts.
He’s listed as a starting rush linebacker for the Red Raiders and one of 10 returning starters on defense for Tech, though he’s expected to share time with and might get overtaken by senior Tony Jones. Hill had 44 tackles, including two sacks, last season along with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Texas Tech (6-7 in 2017) opens Saturday against Ole Miss in Houston. The Red Raiders have won 15 straight season openers.
• Corey Holmes (Morgan State): Elite speed hasn’t translated yet into significant playing time or production for the 6-1, 185-pounder — at Notre Dame or elsewhere.
FCS Morgan State (1-10 in 2017), which opens Saturday with Towson, is his third school in the past three seasons. and Holmes is expected to be a significant contributor at wide receiver.
After garnering 11 receptions for 96 yards at ND in three seasons, including a redshirt season as a sophomore, Holmes lasted just four games at Purdue in 2017 before leaving with one catch for seven yards.
• Pete Mokwuah (Wagner): The 6-4, 315-pounder amassed one career tackle during his four years at ND, then transferred to FCS Wagner, where he’s expected to be a significant factor.
The Seahawks open Thursday night against visiting Bowie State, an NCAA Division II school.
l Nile Sykes (Indiana): Sykes didn’t even last a full summer in 2014 before he and ND decided to mutually part ways.
He’s now a 6-2, 255-pound fifth-year senior and projected to start at defensive end. The former high school linebacker ended up redshirting at Indiana in 2014, then became a reserve defensive end the next two seasons and led the Hoosiers in sacks off the bench in 2016 with five.
Sykes missed the entire 2017 campaign because of an injury. Indiana (5-7 in 2017) opens Saturday night at Florida International.
• CB Nick Watkins (Houston): Watkins left Notre Dame on good terms as a grad transfer last spring after he couldn’t regain his former starting cornerback spot that Troy Pride Jr. wrestled away from him late in 2017.
Houston coach Major Applewhite declined to release a depth chart for the Cougars’ Saturday opener at Rice, but it’s widely believed that Watkins will share time with incumbent starter, senior Myres Alexander.
• Jhonny Williams (Toledo, Grand Valley State): Williams is at his third school, the Division II power where Kelly used to coach. He’s now Johnathon Williams, which looks much less like a typo. He’ll also be a starting defensive end when fifth-ranked GVSU opens with Indianapolis on Thursday night.
Williams had a stopover at Toledo after leaving ND, then sat out last season.
Class of 2015
• Josh Barajas (Illinois State): Barajas struggled for the FCS Redbirds in 2017, recording four tackles in six games as a reserve linebacker before suffering a season-ending foot injury that required surgery.
The struggles continue as the foot hasn’t completely healed. The ISU coaches aren’t optimistic the former four-star prospect will be able to help them this year. The Redbirds open Saturday against NAIA school St. Xavier.
• Jalen Guyton (North Texas): Guyton landed at North Texas after a season at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College and was named Conference USA Newcomer of the Year in 2017. The wide receiver collected 49 receptions for 775 yards and nine TDs for the Mean Green (9-5).
North Texas opens Saturday night against SMU and former Irish receiver C.J. Sanders.
• Tristen Hoge (BYU): The former Irish center petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility in 2017 but was denied, so he sat out the season for the Cougars (4-9). The 6-foot-5, 305-pound redshirt sophomore is set to start at right guard Saturday night at Arizona in his Cougar debut.
• Elijah Taylor (Eastern Kentucky): Redshirt junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor makes his first collegiate start Thursday night after seeing very little playing time during his three years at Notre Dame. His only significant reserve action came at the tail end of the 2016 season
Taylor missed 2017 with an injury. Eastern Kentucky, an FCS school, opens at home against Morehead State.
• Mykelti Williams (Northern Illinois): The former Irish safety redshirted his freshman season at ND, then left the university before his sophomore season. He resurfaced at Iowa Western Community College in 2016 and committed to transfer Syracuse. But in August of 2017 he was denied admission into Syracuse. He then surfaced at Northern Illinois and was the Huskies’ third-leading tackler in 2017.
That included a career-high 10 in a 21-17 Huskies victory at Nebraska. Williams, again a projected starter, and Huskies open Saturday at Iowa.
• C.J. Sanders (SMU): Sanders will return kickoffs and punts for his new team and likely will start at wide receiver as well. The Mustangs face North Texas on the road in their opener on Saturday night.
Sanders amassed 2,641 all-purpose yards in his three seasons at ND, most of those coming on kickoff returns. He has a couple of common opponents with his former Notre Dame teammates. SMU plays at Michigan on Sept. 15 and hosts Navy the following Saturday.
• Ashton White (Buffalo): White left ND as a grad transfer with two seasons of eligibility. He’ll start the first of those two years as a reserve.
White is expected to see special teams duty for the Bulls in their Saturday night opener against Delaware State, but he has yet to crack the two-deeps at safety.
Class of 2016
• Parker Boudreaux (UCF): Boudreaux had to sit out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules after being denied a waiver for immediate eligibility.
UCF first-year head coach Josh Heupel lauded the 6-4, 301-pound redshirt sophomore’s progress over the summer, but the Orlando, Fla., product wasn’t included in the two-deeps for the opener because of an injury.
UCF takes the nation’s longest active win streak (13) to UConn Thursday in what used to be called the Civil Conflict by former Huskies coach Bob Diaco and very few others.
• Deon McIntosh (Eastern Mississippi C.C.): McIntosh redshirted as a freshman, bounced around between wide receiver and running back in the spring of 2017, then was a surprise performer in the fall of 2017.
Although he was ND’s fourth option at running back, McIntosh ran for 368 yards on 65 carries and five TDs, more than anyone on the Irish roster save Josh Adams and Brandon Wimbush, despite playing in only eight games.
He was dismissed in January and landed in Scooba, Miss., at East Mississippi Community College in the summer. He’s expected to be a key contributor for the defending national JUCO champs and preseason No. 1 team at that level.
EMCC opens the season Thursday night at home against 13th-ranked Hinds Community College,
• Spencer Perry (South Alabama): The former teammate of Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson at IMG Academy, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt sophomore sat out last season at his new school.
When South Alabama opens at home Saturday against Louisiana Tech and coach Skip Holtz, Perry is expected to be a backup strong safety.
Class of 2017
• Jonathon MacCollister (UCF): He is sitting out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements after redshirting his freshman season at ND. The 6-3, 247-pounder has already switched positions and is now a tight end.
• CJ Holmes (Penn State): Holmes enrolled as a walk-on at Penn State this past summer after being dismissed from the ND program by coach Brian Kelly in January.
He’s listed at 6-feet, 215 pounds and as a running back. Penn State had recruited the versatile Hamden, Conn., product as a wide receiver. After sitting out the 2018 season to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements, Holmes will have three seasons of eligibility.
The Nittany Lions open the season Saturday against Appalachian State.
• Freddy Canteen (Tulane): Canteen, a wide receiver who transferred to ND in the summer of 2017, played against Notre Dame for Michigan the last time the two teams met (2014), though he didn’t record any stats in the 31-0 Irish rout in South Bend.
An injury-filled career at both Michigan and ND continues at Tulane, where a preseason shoulder injury has him out for the year.