What initially piqued Chance Tucker’s interest in Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens had little to do with football.
Mickens’ track knowledge and background resonated with Tucker, a three-star corner in the 2021 recruiting class. Prior to becoming a two-time All-American corner for the University of Cincinnati, Mickens shined as a football and track athlete at Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne High. He won the state title in the 300-meter hurdles as a junior.
The speed Tucker displays as a football and track star for Encino (Calif.) Capri Carmelite figured to be one of the biggest reasons Mickens offered him a scholarship on June 2. He clocked a 100-meter dash time of 10.97 seconds this spring.
That time may not be considered blazing, but Tucker had never competed in an official 100-meter dash race. He said he could have reached the 10.7-second range by now had the coronavirus pandemic not wiped out the rest of his track season. For reference, ND’s speedy wide receiver Braden Lenzy recorded a best of 10.62 in his high school career.
“It was my first and only race and it was at the beginning of the season, so there was definitely a lot of room for improvement,” Tucker said. “There’s a difference between track speed and football speed, but it helps to run with receivers deep and make up lost ground if a receiver creates separation.”
Beyond speed, Tucker also brings more than enough length at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds. He uses his long arms well when jamming wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, obtaining leverage and breaking up passes. Tucker’s physicality shows in his run support and tackling.
How well Tucker turns his hips and changes direction while operating in pass coverage seems to be the biggest question to recruiting analysts — 247Sports ranks Tucker as its No. 77 corner in the class. The Irish feel Tucker answered those concerns in a video he sent to the coaching staff.
Tucker first heard from the Irish last month when defensive graduate assistant Chris O’Leary asked him to send them the video. Coaches elsewhere have requested Tucker send them similar clips. None were as detailed and organized as Notre Dame’s inquiry, Tucker said.
The Irish had Tucker complete drills that involved cones and changing direction. Not long after Tucker sent them the video, Mickens came calling.
“Their offer excited me,” Tucker said. “They have a great academic institution, which is something that I value. But at the same time, they also have a great football program. It’s kind of like they have the best of both worlds.”
The next step
Adding Tucker could conclude a productive first offseason at Notre Dame for Mickens, though Los Angeles Loyola’s Ceyair Wright will be another corner worth monitoring.
The Irish landed a verbal commitment from Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale’s Philip Riley in May and Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard’s Ryan Barnes earlier this month. Nick McCloud from N.C. State pledged to a grad transfer and projects as a plug-and-play option.
None of the three corners took an official recruiting trip to Notre Dame prior to committing. Tucker has yet to visit campus and said he would have to visit a school before committing. However, Tucker would be open to changing his timeline if the NCAA extended the recruiting dead period again.
The dead period prohibits on- and off-campus recruiting visits through July 31. So Tucker booked a flight to South Bend for a recruiting trip on the Aug. 15 weekend. He also intends to visit multiple PAC-12 schools. But he may have to cancel or reschedule those plans.
Head coach Brian Kelly said Notre Dame’s operating as if the NCAA will extend the dead period through the season.
“We seem to think that with all the precautions that are being taken relative to your own campus, relative to testing, how is it you can fly in a family that hasn’t been tested,” Kelly said to reporters in a Zoom video call on Tuesday, “put them up on your campus, in your hotels and let them walk around campus freely?
“I just think it’s going to be hard to navigate through this in the fall. There’s still work to be done. I don’t think it’s going to happen quickly. If it does happen, we’ll be excited about it, but we’ll be very cautious and we’ll have to ask a lot of questions.”
No on-campus visits would mean Notre Dame losing its recruiting trump card. So beating some of Tucker’s other top contenders like Washington, Oregon State, Boise State and Colorado may require an approach that prepares for that worst-case scenario.
Tucker said his biggest questions regarding the Irish are about their tradition, culture and what South Bend would be like. Learning that information without visiting campus could be difficult. But Notre Dame coaxed defensive end Jason Onye to committing before visiting, along with Barnes, Riley and McCloud.
Virtual visits and making Tucker feel like a top target will be the key. His priorities in a school already seem to compare with the qualities he sees in Notre Dame.
“Academics, great football program, great culture combined with great traditions,” Tucker said. “And I want to have a good social life. But I know football takes up a lot of time and I’m willing to sacrifice that.”
Rocco Spindler update
The message continues to remain the same for Rocco Spindler, arguably Notre Dame’s top target in the 2021 class: what date he commits will become public knowledge long before his decision.
The four-star interior offensive lineman from Clarkston (Mich.) High told the Tribune in February that he would announce his decision on May 15. Spindler delayed his timeline indefinitely once the pandemic canceled recruiting visits, including a March 20-22 unofficial and an April 3-5 official visit to South Bend.
Spindler told the Tribune to expect him to announce his new commitment date at least one month before he makes that decision public. He also said he does not want to announce a commitment before taking all five official visits.
In wake of rumors surfacing that he might commit soon, Spindler took to Twitter on Wednesday to reiterate his plans.
“Just wanted everyone to know that I will not be committing any time soon,” Spindler wrote in the tweet. “Not until I take all 5 officials. Which will be… Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, LSU.”
Of Spindler’s top five schools he named last month, Notre Dame and Michigan should be considered as his biggest contenders. The Irish consider his position to be one of their biggest needs. He also brings recruiting pedigree. 247Sports ranks Spindler as its No. 3 offensive guard and No. 66 overall player in the class, while Rivals pegs him No. 3 at the position and No. 56 overall.
Two of Notre Dame’s high-priority wide receiver targets named them in their top school lists released this week.
Athens (Ga.) Academy’s Deion Colzie, a four-star receiver in the 2021 class, named Notre Dame in his top 10 list on Sunday. The Irish have continued to recruit Colzie despite losing his verbal commitment on March 20.
Recruiting analysts expect Colzie to land at Georgia. His top 10 included Notre Dame, Georgia, Oregon, Penn State, Florida, Penn State, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Virginia. 247Sports ranks Colzie as its No. 3 receiver and No. 44 overall player in the class, while Rivals slates him No. 11 at the position and No. 73 overall.
Westerville (Ohio) South’s Kaden Saunders, a four-star receiver in the 2022 class, included Notre Dame in his top seven list on Tuesday. Saunders also named Michigan, Penn State, TCU, Arizona State, Indiana and West Virginia and expects to announce a commitment in September.
The Irish offered Saunders when he visited South Bend for a junior day on Feb. 1. He brings impressive speed and ranks as the No. 16 athlete and No. 166 overall player on 247Sports.