Notre Dame football recruiting: Family reroutes defensive line prospect

South Bend Tribune

It looked like a twisted version of deja vu Thursday, when Notre Dame lost another defensive line recruit to UCLA’s football program.

This time, the parting of the ways didn’t come with bitter feelings. In fact, it was anything but.

Matt Dickerson, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound senior from San Mateo, Calif., found out three weeks ago that his father, Clarence, has prostate cancer — that according to Dickerson’s coach at Junipero Serra High, Patrick Walsh.

“Clarence is probably going to have surgery at the end of the month,” Walsh said in a phone interview Thursday night. “His mom (Pam) has been battling an illness awhile herself. The overwhelming nature of what his family is going through forced him to kind of rethink things.

“He’ll be a car ride away as opposed to a lot further away. It’s just him and his twin sister, and they’re kind of hunkering down to take care of their parents. UCLA’s a good school, but he definitely loved Notre Dame and (head) coach Brian Kelly and (lead recruiter) coach Mike Denbrock.

“Matt thought it was the perfect match, I did too. But just kind of family realities overrode the entire thing.”

Less than a year ago, another Northern California standout, Eddie Vanderdoes, committed late in the 2012-13 recruiting cycle and signed with the Irish in February. Three months later, it came to light he wanted to get out of his signed commitment, and he and ND got into a bit of a rules tussle over it in the weeks that followed.

Ultimately, Vanderdoes enrolled last summer at UCLA, then had his one-year sitting-out period waived by the NCAA through an appeals process.

In the moments after and 247Sports broke the news of Dickerson’s commitment flip on Thursday, fans and media started the Vanderdoes references on Twitter. The apparent parallels didn’t seem to escape Vanderdoes, who tweeted shortly after the news broke.

“Of course I'll be blamed for this one,” he wrote.

Vanderdoes, a five-star prospect who made several freshman All-America teams this fall, never made clear the reasons for his switch, at least not publicly. Initially, he hinted at an ill grandmother as his motivation before he was granted his release from ND, but later in interviews with UCLA media he said that was far down the list of why he had a change of heart.

Dickerson’s heart never changed. Only the world around him did.

“He kind of made peace about his mom’s illness, because Matt and Pam always had some concern about the distance and what she was going through,” Walsh said. “But his affinity for Notre Dame still made it a slam dunk. When he heard the news about his dad, it was just too much.

“Coach Kelly was disappointed on one hand, but he understood. And I have so much respect for him and coach Denbrock. They hung in there with Matt even after he got hurt and couldn’t play this season.”

Dickerson originally committed to Notre Dame in August before his senior season. He then missed the entire regular season for Junipero Serra recovering from a preseason back injury. Dickerson described the injury as a small stress fracture that didn’t require surgery.

Walsh said Dickerson is expected to be cleared to lift weights and to run in a pool sometime next month as long as the scans show the bone has healed, with a timetable to return to normal football activity coming sometime in the spring.

Despite not playing this season, Dickerson still was rated a four-start prospect by both Rivals and 247Sports, though he did not make either recruiting service’s list of Top 250 prospects nationally.

Kelly and his staff can’t publicly comment on recruits, per NCAA rules, until they sign national letters-of-intent. Signing day in this cycle is Feb. 5.

But the buzz around Dickerson was that the staff loved his upside and his versatility. He was even considered a top candidate to fortify the depleted nose guard position, even though most schools profiled him as an edge pass-rusher.

“He could have played anywhere across their defensive front,” said 247Sports national recruiting writer Steve Wiltfong. “So they’re losing a guy they really liked and who was pretty versatile. But this happens everywhere. It’s not like the Notre Dame coaches are going to go into panic mode.”

The Irish are still left with a handful of defensive line prospects, most of whom project as edge players, at least initially. Those include Jay Hayes (6-5, 260), Jonathan Bonner (6-4, 250) and Grant Blankenship (6-5, 245). Defensive end Andrew Trumbetti (6-5, 250) will enroll at Notre Dame next week.

The Irish may join the pursuit of four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley, currently committed to Penn State but waiting to see how the coaching staff shakes out after Bill O’Brien’s departure for the NFL. The Irish may be able to shake a prospect loose in other classes as well.

“The one thing is Notre Dame won’t take someone to just take someone,” Wiltfong said. “If there’s someone who can help the Irish win and is a fit, then they’ll explore that possibility.”

Staff writer Tyler James contributed to this story.


Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly extended an offer to punter Tyler Newsome after watching him kick on campus Thursday.