Get to know Notre Dame's five early enrollees
Reinforcements are on the way.
Notre Dame football headlines have been filled with players ending their college careers and declaring for the NFL Draft since the start of the new year. On Tuesday, a new crop of replacements will officially join the Irish roster.
Five recruits will start classes for the spring semester, becoming the 11th group of early-enrolling freshmen since former coach Charlie Weis pushed Notre Dame into the 21st century of college football recruiting in 2006. That number matches the amount of Irish players who have ditched remaining eligibility for the NFL this offseason.
Last year, four recruits enrolled at Notre Dame early: defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, linebacker Te’von Coney, defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway and center Tristen Hoge. Two of those players, Tillery and Coney, turned the jump-start on their careers into playing time as a freshman.
Tillery played in all 12 regular season games before being suspended for the bowl game. He started three games at defensive tackle and worked into the defensive line rotation at the start of the season. Coney also played 12 games on various special teams and as a reserve linebacker.
The list of players who skipped the final months of their senior year to enroll at Notre Dame includes both booms and busts. Some, like Sheldon Day, TJ Jones and Jimmy Clausen, turned into stars with the Irish. Others, such as E.J. Banks, Chris Badger and Tee Shepard, didn’t last long at Notre Dame.
The 2016 crop of early enrollees is heavy on recruits who could break into the two-deep depth chart as freshmen. Here’s a closer look at the newest Irish players.
• LB Daelin Hayes, 6-3, 240; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Skyline: Landing Hayes may have been the biggest recruiting victory of the 2016 recruiting cycle for Notre Dame. Hayes ditched a year-long commitment to USC before joining the Irish class in December.
Few question Hayes’ talent as a relentless outside linebacker who could develop into an elite pass rusher at defensive end. The biggest unknown comes with a history a health issues. He missed the majority of his sophomore season with a left shoulder injury. His senior season was cut short by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Hayes had surgery on his labrum in November with hopes to be ready to go for spring practice.
Rivals rates Hayes as a five-star recruit, the No. 6 outside linebacker and No. 21 overall in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a four-star prospect and the No. 10 outside linebacker.
• DE Khalid Kareem, 6-4, 257; Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison: Notre Dame’s search for difference makers at defensive end has been long and troubling in the past few recruiting cycles. Kareem may be the closest thing to an answer the Irish have found to their unending pass rush question.
The four-star prospect spent part of his recruitment with commitments to Michigan State and Alabama. When he gave his pledge to Notre Dame in October, Kareem immediately became the defensive end most likely to challenge for playing time as a freshman. He tallied 17 sacks, 60 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles in his senior season.
247Sports slates Kareem as the No. 9 strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. Rivals ranks him No. 18 at the position.
• S Devin Studstill, 6-1, 180; Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High: No position received as much attention in Notre Dame’s 2016 class as safety. It’s only fitting that two safety recruits chose to enroll early. The depth chart is filled with holes waiting to be filled.
Studstill will try to provide immediate help. A versatile defensive back who played a number of positions in high school, Studstill will bring much-needed athleticism to the safety position.
Studstill committed to Notre Dame over offers from Miami, Texas, North Carolina and West Virginia, among others. He recorded 29 tackles and one interception in his senior season at the same high school as Coney.
247Sports pegs Studstill as a four-star recruit and the No. 12 safety in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 45 athlete.
• S Spencer Perry, 6-3, 202; Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: Notre Dame pulled a three-star recruit away from the SEC when Perry visited for the Irish Invasion in June. He came to campus as a Florida commit. Ten days later, he gave his pledge to Notre Dame.
Perry played his junior season at Auburn (Ala.) High before transferring to IMG Academy. Many thought he would return to Auburn to play for the Tigers. Instead he chose to come north to South Bend.
Perry is a physical safety with the size to play early in his college career. Because of his comfort running downhill and making tackles, some believe Perry could become an outside linebacker. Perry was unable to show his development during his senior season this fall. It was cut short by a shoulder injury in September.
Rivals ranks Perry as the No. 43 safety in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him No. 49 at the position.
• WR Kevin Stepherson, 6-1, 180; Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast: Notre Dame lost its big-play threat when Will Fuller declared for the NFL Draft. This three-star recruit could turn out to be a sleeper with some big plays in his future.
Stepherson caught 45 passes for 746 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season on a team that managed only two wins. The wins will be easier to come by at Notre Dame, but the playing time won’t. The Irish will replace all three starting receivers from last season, but the depth chart is stocked with talented young players waiting for their turn.
Stepherson won’t be tagged as Notre Dame’s most promising freshman wide receiver, but he is the fastest. His 40-yard dash time has been reportedly clocked in the 4.4-4.5 range. Stepherson committed to Notre Dame at the Irish Invasion and nixed offers from Florida, LSU, Miami, Michigan and Michigan State, among others.
Rivals ranks Stepherson as the No. 68 wide receiver in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him No. 126 at the position.
The following former Irish recruits chose to start their college careers a semester early at Notre Dame. Five more Notre Dame freshmen start class Tuesday.
LB Te'von Coney
DT Micah Dew-Treadway
OL Tristen Hoge
DL Jerry Tillery
WR Justin Brent
DE Andrew Trumbetti
OL Steve Elmer
TE Mike Heuerman
WR James Onwualu
WR Corey Robinson
QB Malik Zaire
DT Sheldon Day
QB Gunner Kiel
CB Tee Shepard
K/P Kyle Brindza
DE Brad Carrico
QB Everett Golson
DE Aaron Lynch
DE/OLB Ishaq Williams
SS Chris Badger
CB Spencer Boyd
WR TJ Jones
QB Tommy Rees
CB Lo Wood
CB E.J. Banks
SS Zeke Motta
DL Tyler Stockton
DL Sean Cwynar
OL Trevor Robinson
RB Armando Allen
QB Jimmy Clausen
CB Gary Gray
RB James Aldridge
OL Chris Stewart
WR George West