Philip Riley made a lot of sense for Notre Dame, but Notre Dame hardly made sense for Philip Riley.
The four-star cornerback relayed that message in a phone interview with the Tribune on Wednesday.
The Irish coaching staff made Riley feel like a priority before and after he verbally committed to their 2021 recruiting class in May. Riley rescinding his pledge from Notre Dame on Sept. 25 and flipping to USC three days later had little do with what the Irish had been doing.
It had more to do with what they could not provide.
Though Riley comes from Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale, his true ties are on the West Coast. He grew up in the Tacoma, Wash., area and still has family there. Riley transferred to Bloomingdale after completing his sophomore football season for Lakes High in Lakewood, Wash.
The Florida recruit from the West Coast felt he would have been out of place in the Midwest. And Riley had never even visited Notre Dame.
“I wanted to be closer to home. It was really a personal thing,” said Riley, who added he began to have second thoughts approximately one month ago. “(Notre Dame) respected my decision. They were definitely supportive of me.”
New cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens considered Riley to be a top recruiting target after being hired away from the University of Cincinnati in February. One of the first scholarship offers Mickens extended after joining the coaching staff came to Riley in March. Then Riley became the first cornerback recruit to pledge to Notre Dame under Mickens.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Riley would have brought recruiting pedigree and helped fill a key position of need. If his spot in the recruiting rankings holds, Riley would have been the highest-ranked corner the Irish have signed since Troy Pride Jr. in the 2016 class, per 247Sports.
Rivals ranks Riley as its No. 24 cornerback and No. 241 overall player in the class, while 247Sports pegs him No. 13 at the position and No. 221 overall.
Sometimes decommitments happen because schools lose interest. Not this time.
“The (Irish) coaching staff was doing great,” Riley said. “They were texting me almost every other day. They were doing their job. It was just I really felt like I rushed the decision. Due to the coronavirus and knowing my home is on the West Coast, I felt like that was the best place for me.”
Under head coach Brian Kelly, 34 recruits have decommitted from the Irish. Only four pledged to Notre Dame a second time: defensive ends Stephon Tuitt (2011) and Aaron Lynch (2011) and wide receivers Braden Lenzy (2018) and Deion Colzie (2021).
Colzie, Riley and offensive guard Greg Crippen produced Notre Dame’s three decommitments this class. Riley's decommitment should be considered the toughest among those three.
The Irish decided they did not want Crippen in their class after accepting his pledge in March 2019. Colzie initially committed to Notre Dame in October 2019 before decommitting in March and pledging again on Sept. 28.
Tight on scholarship numbers at 19 verbal commits this class, the Irish are still looking to add at least one safety and one corner in 2021. They have commitments from one safety (Justin Walters) and two corners (Ryan Barnes and Chance Tucker) this cycle.
Theran Johnson, a three-star cornerback from North Central High in Indianapolis who is pledged to Northwestern, accrued a Notre Dame offer last month. His recruitment will be worth monitoring.
Los Angeles Loyola’s Ceyair Wright has long been considered a top Irish cornerback target but appears to be headed elsewhere. The Irish may extend offers to more 2021 corners.
“At this stage, it’s a major loss,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming told the Tribune last month regarding Riley. “More than it would have been back in the summer. … And really good corners are tough to find. They are going to have to take a chance on a guy who may or may not be good, unless they could take a player away from another school.”
The Sunshine State essentially went from necessity to afterthought in Notre Dame’s recruiting priorities. Through the 2020 cycle, Florida had produced more Irish players (29) than any other state under head coach Brian Kelly. But after Riley’s decommitment, they are expected to complete this class without signing a Florida recruit for a third consecutive cycle.
Florida is widely considered one of the top states in producing football talent. The Irish seem to believe there is more value in recruiting other areas, however. Florida and Texas have not been as fruitful for Notre Dame lately compared to states loaded with talented private and Catholic high schools like California, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Now the Irish only dip into the state on occasion for top recruits like Riley. So when No. 5 Notre Dame (2-0, 1-0 ACC) hosts Florida State (1-2, 0-2) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. EDT on NBC), don’t expect the game to have much of a head-to-head recruiting impact.
Safety Houston Griffith marks the most recent recruit to be torn between the Irish and the Seminoles. He verbally committed to Florida State before flipping and signing with Notre Dame. The Irish signed three other Florida players in that 2018 recruiting class: tight end George Takacs and wide receivers Joe Wilkins and Kevin Austin Jr.
Florida State never emerged as a major contender for Riley despite being one of the first major programs to offer Riley in February. USC offered Riley three days later (Feb. 21) and stayed persistent in his recruitment. Led by cornerbacks coach Donte Williams, the Trojans began recruiting Riley even harder last month.
Like Notre Dame, Riley has not visited USC’s campus. This time, he does not believe that factor will deter him. Riley plans to swing by USC later this month. And he already knows it will feel like home.
“They have great academics,” said Riley of USC. “They are in LA, so there was a lot of connections out there. The coaching staff really felt genuine. It felt like they cared about me. Coach Donte was a big factor. You aren’t going to get a DB coach like him anywhere else in the nation.”