WR Jay Brunelle, 6-2, 200; Shrewsbury (Mass.) St. John’s.
The numbers: Brunelle hauled in 70 passes for 1,157 yards and 18 touchdowns in his junior season at St. John’s. The Pioneers (8-4) fell 56-20 to Springfield Central (11-1) in the MIAA Division 3 semifinals.
The rankings: 247Sports — Three stars, No. 127 WR, No. 729 overall. Rivals — Three stars.
First impression: Brunelle put on a show in Notre Dame’s June 9 Irish Invasion recruiting camp. The Irish extended an offer following his dominant showing in one-on-one action. Brunelle demonstrated what he does best — catching 50-50 balls downfield and securing the football in traffic. He also clocked a hand-timed 4.48 40-yard dash in the rain. At minimum, he could be a threat in the red zone.
Strengths: Throw it up, and Brunelle will likely come down with the football. His strong hands seem to secure even the most contested passes, including those that draw a defensive pass interference penalty. Because of Brunelle’s keen concentration, defenders are hard-pressed when trying to knock the football out of his gloves. Brunelle creates problems when matched up one-on-one in the boundary spot, particularly in limited space like on the goal line. A majority of Brunelle’s biggest plays, though, come from receptions 15 yards downfield or more. Hoping to enroll early in January, Brunelle has plenty of room to grow as a raw receiver. Those close to Brunelle believe he brings the work ethic that can make his upside become reality.
Proof of prowess: (4:38, 4:45, 4:54, 5:00, 5:08) These five touchdowns look almost identical. They begin with Brunelle establishing inside leverage on the cornerback. Then, he uses his body to block out the defender to put himself in prime position. Maybe Brunelle’s most impressive feat is how he finishes these plays. On all five of them, the defender reaches his arms around Brunelle's body in an attempt to punch the ball loose. But there's a reason Brunelle rarely drops passes. His strength and concentration are too much for his opposition.
(5:46) Brunelle fakes one direction to begin certain deeper routes. In this case, his initial quick jab inside freezes the cornerback slightly, but it's enough to force him to bail from his press-man coverage. Brunelle finishes the deep out with a patient cut to the outside, causing the defender to lose his balance. Even the smallest mistakes from defenders seem to be capitalized by Brunelle.
(Bonus) The footage below features Brunelle in two games against the best cornerback he faced last season — Springfield (Mass.) Central’s Keshaun Dancy Jr. Wearing No. 20, Dancy earned offers from several FCS programs and signed to Colgate’s 2019 recruiting class. Brunelle overpowered Dancy in both games. Had his quarterback not suffered a broken collarbone in the third quarter of the Nov. 16 semifinal, Brunelle likely would have added to his 11 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Brunelle eclipsed 100 receiving yards and tallied two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions against Dancy in their Sept. 14 matchup.
Sept. 14 loss against Central.
Nov. 16 semifinal loss against Central.
Competition level: Massachusetts saw an uptick in talent for the 2020 recruiting class. Of all the Massachusetts recruiting classes in the 247Sports' database, which dates back to 2010, the 2020 cycle has the most players rated three stars or higher with 16. St. John’s also competes in the toughest division in central Massachusetts. The Pioneers played five of the top 40 teams across all Massachusetts divisions, per MaxPreps: Central (No. 2; twice), Everett (No. 4), Catholic Memorial (No. 9), Wachusett Regional (No. 32) and Shrewsbury (No. 37; twice).
On a national scale, however, Brunelle plays against putrid competition. He has yet to face a Massachusetts defensive back bound for FBS football. None of the Pioneers’ 2018 opponents featured a player rated three stars or higher.
The camp circuit offered Brunelle his biggest challenge to date — and he took advantage. He shined enough at the UCLA and Notre Dame camps to land offers from both programs. At Irish Invasion, Brunelle bested Washington State safety commit Alaka’i Gilman on two occasions in one-on-one action. He also caught a jump ball over 2020 athlete Nigel Williams, who holds offers from UCLA, Virginia Tech and others.
Left to prove: Brunelle looks raw from a technical standpoint. His size, strength and speed alone are enough to overpower high school corners in Massachusetts. Brunelle does not seem to possess breakaway speed and looks more in the 4.55 range. He did not create much separation at Irish Invasion as well. Improved route running should help Brunelle distance himself from defensive backs. He told the Tribune he spent this offseason working to enhance his change of direction abilities and speed in and out of breaks. More patience in his routes will also help him become a tougher cover.
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Brunelle might not have the size to play boundary receiver at Notre Dame. But his skill set — highlighted by his knack for hauling in contested passes and threatening in the red zone — seems to fit the position. Brunelle would need to add strength and bring more physicality to belong at boundary. Former Irish boundary receiver Miles Boykin (6-4, 220) and current starting boundary receiver Chase Claypool (6-4, 229) stood at 6-4, 212 and 6-4, 214, respectively, before coming to South Bend. Brunelle could look to emulate the build of Irish sophomore Kevin Austin Jr. (6-2, 210), who will see time at boundary.
Unfair or not, Brunelle might find himself compared to Miami receiver commit Michael Redding III. Notre Dame essentially chose Brunelle over the four-star recruit out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy. Redding told the Tribune he would have committed to the Irish had they not ceased communication with him. Brunelle ranks much lower than Redding in the overall recruiting rankings on both 247Sports and Rivals. But he did not on Notre Dame’s recruiting board.
Will that turn out to be a mistake? That doesn't seem to be the case after reviewing both players, though comparing Brunelle with Redding is difficult. Redding competes against much better competition and is not featured in his offense as much as Brunelle. If Redding has the edge, it’s not by much. Should nothing come of Brunelle, Notre Dame's other offensive skill position commits will suffice. Receivers Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts, tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman and running back Chris Tyree represent an impressive and much-needed haul.