The biggest reason why impending Virginia Tech grad transfer wide receiver Eric Kumah and the Notre Dame football program have a blind date of sorts this weekend is the premise that the best is yet to come.
Not that Kumah’s 44 catches for 559 yards and seven TDs last season as the Hokies’ second-leading receiver isn’t worth an open mind.
But if the Irish are going to potentially invest a 13th scholarship in an already-sizable wide receiver group that has some intriguing and burgeoning options in its sophomore class, that player needs to have a skill set that can help elevate an ND passing game that shriveled when confronted by an elite defense, Clemson’s, in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29.
There also needs to be a fit, which is what this weekend’s official visit by the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Woodbridge, Va., product and his father (also Eric) should define for both sides.
“He can play any of the wide receiver positions, inside or outside,” offered Daniel Bruton, Kumah’s head coach at Forest Park High the player’s final two seasons there. Bruton too has since moved on — in his case, to Briar Woods High School in Brambleton, Va.
“And I think wherever he ends up, he’ll show that he has more to offer than what was on display at Virginia Tech,” Bruton continued. “I don’t know if that was by design or what was going on there. I wasn’t there every day.
“But I do know there’s a lot more to his game. He’s good in the screen game, the short/intermediate routes and the deep routes. He’s a guy you could build a team around. He’s going to play on Sundays.”
The options where he’ll be playing on Saturdays in his final college season — before the NFL dream can unfold — also include Louisville, Cincinnati, Old Dominion, Texas Tech and Penn State. The Irish are his first visit. Kumah has also announced via Twitter dates to check out Texas Tech (March 30) and Penn State (April 6).
“I think he’s a guy who could fit in anywhere, in any offensive system,” Bruton said. “As far as his personality, he’s one of those guys that every guy wants to be and every girl wants to be with. He’s got that ‘it’ factor.
“He can walk in and fit with veterans as well as the young guys. He’s got a competitive edge to him on the field. I call him a bully on the playground, because he doesn’t just want to beat you. He wants to humiliate you on the field. But he’s not like that off the field. My wife and I consider him family.”
Family is a big deal to Kumah, and it affected his football trajectory in high school. He started out in a specialty (broadcasting) curriculum at Hylton High. But his aunt passed away after a battle with lupus, and Kumah’s parents adopted their niece and their nephew.
The larger family meant more difficult dynamics in terms of transportation, so Kumah transferred to Forest Park during his sophomore season to help out, and eventually won an appeal for eligibility to play for his new team later that season.
He blossomed into a star for Bruton the next two seasons, though his three-star recruiting status from the major recruiting services didn’t reflect that.
In fact, in the same cycle that the Irish lured Javon McKinley (the nation’s No. 11 receiver nationally), Chase Claypool (No. 22) and Kevin Stepherson (No. 66), Rivals.com didn’t deem Kumah one of the top 100 receivers in the cycle.
“To me these star ratings are a waste of time,” Bruton said. “You get your stars by going to all these camps. Eric didn’t go to camps. He did tour campuses, because he wanted to get the total picture.”
Kumah’s initial recruitment was more regional than national, with Miami (Fla,) perhaps his most high-profile scholarship offer. Old Dominion was the only one of his six finalists in the grad transfer process that recruited Kumah out of high school.
On Saturday and Sunday in South Bend, he’ll be surrounded by prospects in Notre Dame’s more distant future — from the 2020 and 2021 classes.
Among the biggest names on an impressive guest list for Junior Day is 2020 four-star safety Lathan Ransom from Salpointe Catholic High in Tucson, Ariz., and 2021 QB target Tyler Buchner of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif. The latter is the school where former Irish All-America cornerback Shane Walton serves as defensive coordinator and assistant athletic director.
The dynamic and unanswered questions involving Kumah are so different than the ones the Irish coaching staff will be dealing with when it comes to the high school prospects this weekend.
The most pressing in Kumah’s case: How do his NFL aspirations fit within the team concept?
The Irish coaching staff knows from watching his film and seeing him in person last October that Kumah can beat press coverage and that he’s strong on 50-50 balls. He had four catches for 48 yards and a TD against the Irish in the 45-23 ND road win on Oct. 6.
Less obvious is his raw, straight-line speed.
What makes him different than the only four other grad transfers the Irish have taken to date — wide receivers Cam Smith (Arizona State) and Freddy Canteen (Michigan), cornerback Cody Riggs (Florida) and Avery Sebastian (Cal) — is he is the first without a history of injuries when they showed up.
Only Riggs among them was healthy enough at Notre Dame to have a significant impact.
In December Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was convinced he’d stay out of the grad transfer market this go-round, but that was based on his read that leading receiver Miles Boykin would return for a fifth year. Boykin in January opted to wade into the NFL Draft pool.
If Kumah ends up selecting the Irish, he’ll get to face his former team Nov. 2 in Notre Dame Stadium. The Hokies are still reeling from a flurry of offensive players that headed to the transfer portal in a two-week period in January that included former starting QB Josh Jackson (headed to Maryland).
Kumah’s departure, tied at least in part to wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins’ exodus to Alabama, may be the most painful.
“The chance to prove his value to NFL teams is certainly a big thing he’s looking for in this transfer process,” Bruton said, “but it’s not the only thing.
“He wants to be a realtor when football ends, so he wants a school that will enhance that desire. And he wants to win. Big time.”