Troy Pride Jr. didn’t need any fancy wrapping paper to give the Notre Dame coaching staff a Christmas gift.
His verbal commitment will suffice.
The senior cornerback recruit from Greer, S.C., announced his pledge to the Irish on Thursday afternoon. His commitment puts a bow on a strong month of recruiting for the Irish.
December brought three new additions to Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class — linebacker Daelin Hayes, safety Devin Studstill and Pride — all defenders and all with a chance to play early in their college careers.
The latest commitment from Pride, a 6-foot, 165-pound prospect, came despite late pushes from in-state programs South Carolina and Clemson. Notre Dame started its pursuit of Pride in June with a scholarship offer despite his verbal commitment to Virginia Tech. When Pride dropped his long-standing commitment to the Hokies last month following head coach Frank Beamer’s announced retirement, the Irish found themselves in poll position.
“They haven’t negatively recruited any other schools or things like that,” Pride said of the Irish coaching staff on Monday. “I know where I stand with Notre Dame. They have a bunch of great people in general. They’ve definitely been consistent.”
Running backs coach Autry Denson and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght led Notre Dame’s recruitment of Pride. The relationships both coaches built with him allowed the Irish to maintain their lead over some of the other programs Pride considered in the last few months.
Pride made visits to Clemson, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and North Carolina State during the season. His official visit to Notre Dame came in October for the USC game. Pride is the fifth recruit to commit to the Irish following a visit for the 41-31 victory over the Trojans.
“We talked a lot throughout the process,” Pride said of Lyght and Denson. “They've expressed that they want me. It's refreshing to hear from a coaching staff. People can offer you, but when they specifically say they want you, it speaks volumes. It's been constant contact with them.”
Pride joins cornerbacks Julian Love and Donte Vaughn in Notre Dame’s class. 247Sports slates Pride as a four-star recruit and the No. 23 cornerback in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and No. 32 at the position.
Pride saw a fit for himself in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s aggressive scheme.
"I like coach VanGorder's exotic blitz packages that he uses, and I understand coach Lyght as a defensive backs coach,” Pride said “The technique that he preached to me when I went up for an official will be very influential to me furthering my game. It will make me a better football player."
Pride brings 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash and long arms that enhance his coverage skills.
“He has documented, top-end speed and a prototypical frame,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “He’s a guy who can absolutely play early at Notre Dame – certainly in packages where they’ll have to have more cover guys on the field. He’s a legitimate cover corner; a very confident player.”
“He’s a good, solid player,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “He’s a physical defensive back with good instincts. He’s a good all-around player.”
The late interest from several schools and the previous commitment to Virginia Tech supports the idea that Pride has a bright future ahead of him. The Hokies consistently produced defensive backs in the NFL during Beamer’s tenure.
“It shows Notre Dame is really good at evaluating,” Wiltfong said. “They’re in on a guy, who we at 247Sports think is a really good player, before State U and State U did. They were able to show this young man what a priority he was for them and that he was a need guy at Notre Dame. So when Clemson and South Carolina came calling, Notre Dame had already built such a strong foundation with him and his support circle that those offers weren’t enough to flip the script.”
Walking away from his Virginia Tech commitment wasn’t easy for Pride. Even though new head coach Justin Fuente kept secondary coach Torrian Gray, who recruited Pride, on his staff, Pride felt he needed to pursue other options.
“It was hard because Virginia Tech was home for me in February when I did commit,” Pride said. “When I stepped away from it, I know it hurt my mother. She was a big Virginia Tech Hokie for a while. But it was time to move forward and try to find what was best for me."
The offer from Clemson came on Dec. 17. Pride saw the Tigers in person against Notre Dame and South Carolina this season, but they may have waited too long to make a move on Pride.
“It was somewhat of a shakeup,” Pride said. “Clemson's the home school. I live 45 minutes down the road from them. The proximity to home would be pretty close. It did shake up some things. It made me think about a lot of things. Clemson's obviously the No. 1 team in the nation and playoff bound.”
But the Irish, who fell three points shy of beating Clemson in October, were victorious on the recruiting trail. They’ll have Pride on their side if the teams meet again in the next four or five years.
Twitter: @TJamesNDICB Troy