Notre Dame football recruits weigh in on academic fraud investigation

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Tristen Hoge was scrolling through social media when he saw the first reports.

“I read it on Twitter and Facebook when I got home today,” the 2015 Notre Dame offensive line commit said Friday. “I saw the report, I read it, and I was really shocked by the players who actually committed it.”

When Notre Dame confirmed Friday evening a pending investigation of academic dishonesty for at least four members of the football team, a cloud of uncertainty was left hanging over the current program and Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts.

Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore are being held out of practice and games until the investigation closes, but the hole could prove much larger if the investigation uncovers transgressions that could affect future seasons.

The outcome could also affect the perception of Notre Dame to the prospects it’s trying to convince to join its program. But as the story unfolded Friday, at least some recruits weren't ready to give up on Notre Dame yet.

The Tribune spoke with three high school seniors who have held the longest commitments to the Irish 2015 class – offensive lineman Jerry Tillery, Hoge, and safety Prentice McKinney.

Both Hoge and McKinney indicated that their commitments will remain unchanged regardless of the outcome.

“They’re individuals. I can’t judge a school by the individuals who committed the act,” Hoge said. “It’s not Notre Dame that’s cheating or committing this academic fraud, it’s those players. That’s how I look at it.”

Notre Dame’s recruiting class and recruiting targets will likely start hearing from opposing coaches and fans that will point to the reported transgressions as another example that Notre Dame sets a bar too high for its student-athletes.

That’s not a strategy that will impact McKinney, who committed to the Irish in March before visiting Notre Dame for the first time.

“I’m not the person that just quits on things,” McKinney said. “If it’s hard, eventually it pays off in the end.”

Tillery, who became Notre Dame’s first 2015 commitment back in June 2013, remains committed, but wants to learn more.

“Those are pretty key players for us,” Tillery said. “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten all the information yet. I’ll probably call (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand in a few minutes to see what’s going on.”

The unknown ramifications of the reports leave Tillery in a wait-and-see-mode.

“It definitely has an effect,” Tillery said, “but I don’t know how it will affect me yet.”

Hoge, whose family already purchased a home in South Bend, committed to the Irish in September.

Tillery and Hoge have expressed plans to enroll early at Notre Dame in January.

“’I haven’t experienced how hard college is,” Hoge said, “but looking at it from my perspective, I look down upon cheating.” | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame offensive line recruits Jerry Tillery (left) and Tristen Hoge remain committed to the 2015 Irish recruiting class (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN).