Notebook: Kicker Harrison Leonard might also play baseball for Notre Dame

Staff reports
ND Insider

Advice from Jamie Kohl, one of the nation’s top kicking coaches, prompted Notre Dame kicker recruit Harrison Leonard to ditch baseball this past summer.

Leonard’s former baseball coach, Robert Dowling, then reclaimed the Avon (Conn.) Old Farms High School head coaching job in September after a two-year hiatus. It rekindled something.

“He has always been such an influential person and incredible in the last four years,” Leonard said of Dowling. “Him being named head coach was just, I felt the passion that I always had was back. There’s something about him that inspired me to want to play the game.”

Leonard quit baseball after the spring and told ND Insider last month his only focus was kicking. Shortly thereafter, Dowling reentered the picture. Perhaps more importantly, Notre Dame’s baseball staff approached Leonard about playing baseball as well.

Brian Polian, Notre Dame special teams coordinator, talked to Leonard about the two-sport possibility during his Sept. 15 official visit. At that point, Leonard had been in talks with the Irish for less than a month. Now he has a preferred walk-on spot for football.

He also has texted with Notre Dame’s pitching coach, Chuck Ristano.

“It has been something I have been considering recently,” said Leonard, who expects a call from Ristano this week. “I don’t know right now. I do not have an answer for that now. But I have been considering it in the past week.”

Recently referring to Notre Dame as his “dream school,” Leonard immediately accepted Polian’s offer. He impressed at last Thursday’s practice, drilling a 55-yard field goal with the wind and registering touchbacks on 10-of-10 kickoffs, Leonard said.

The Irish might need Leonard as their Justin Yoon replacement. Sophomore Jonathan Doerer has been shaky in kickoff duties this season and has zero career field goal attempts.

Leonard could see the field as a true freshman. He might even earn a scholarship down the road. When and where exactly remains uncertain, though.

“I would say nothing is guaranteed,” Leonard said. “(Polian) definitely made it clear that it’s going to be a competition. I like that, because it just inspires me to work harder.”

For baseball, Leonard will know more once his talks with Ristano progress. Leonard’s fastball tops out at 91 mph, and he also plays shortstop.

“He’s got such a great arm that I imagine him on the left side of the infield,” Dowling said of Leonard’s collegiate future. “He’s super athletic, he’s quick and he’s got great agility. If they needed him to play second base, I believe that he could do that.”

New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski served Leonard as more than just an offseason kicking partner. As a four-year pitcher for the University of Memphis, Gostkowski provided him an inspirational blueprint.

“It would truly be an incredible opportunity if it presents itself,” Leonard said about playing two sports. “Following (Stephen) Gostkowski’s footsteps would be my dream. I think it would be too good to be true if that were to work out.”

Business approach

Quarterback Drew Pyne marked Notre Dame’s first commitment for the 2020 class. Following Pyne’s April 12 unofficial visit, it took four days for him to verbally pledge.

Although his cousin, Kevin Pyne, accompanied him on the visit and has an offer from the Irish, Kevin could take months before committing. Kevin, a Millis (Mass.) Milford High offensive tackle, not only refused to produce a top list, but he also dislikes certain aspects of recruiting.

“Every time I go on a recruiting trip, they try to get me to take a photo shoot and stuff,” Pyne said. “I will do that, but I just don’t see the point of doing that until you pick the school.

“I’m trying to approach this as more of a business aspect instead of just falling for all the crap and stuff that comes with it.”

Rivals lists Pyne as a four-star recruit, ranking him No. 3 for offensive tackles and No. 21 overall. 247Sports considers him lower, slotting him as a three-star and No. 33 at the position and No 278 overall.

Pyne has garnered offers since the end of his freshman season. Once he tore his meniscus as a sophomore, the 6-8, 265-pound Pyne had something to prove before getting ahead of himself, he said.

“I told myself, I’m not going to sit down and make a list or do any of that stuff until I get through this season,” Pyne said. “Because this season is really important to me.”

That hasn’t stopped Drew from mentioning the Irish when they are together — like at their cousin’s wedding last weekend. Tommy Rees, Notre Dame’s quarterback coach, also visited the schools of both Pynes last Thursday.

“All of the coaches and people I’ve met there have seemed like great people and very knowledgeable,” Kevin said. “Just being there is like a different type of feeling. It’s like they are one of the big SEC schools. It feels traditional.”

Bertrand, Hamilton to go at it

Atlanta Marist’s clash with Blessed Trinity Catholic this weekend means more than just a rematch from last year’s state championship game.

Kyle Hamilton, a 2019 commit, will go against childhood friend J.D. Bertrand, a four-star linebacker considering the Irish. Bertrand took an unofficial visit for the Oct. 13 Pittsburgh game. ND Insider confirmed he will journey to South Bend again for the Nov. 10 Florida State contest.

Bertrand decommitted from Georgia earlier this month and has garnered interest from several schools. He recently named Florida, Stanford, Notre Dame, TCU, Wisconsin, LSU, FSU and Tennessee as his top destinations.

Having still not earned an offer from the Irish, Bertrand is still a prospect at this point. But a second visit implies something is keeping him interested.

Avon Old Farms (Conn.) High kicker Harrison Leonard, a 2019 recruit, committed to Notre Dame on Oct. 18 as a preferred walk-on.