Examining wide receiver recruiting, Deion Colzie's decommitment from Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts had little to do with Deion Colzie’s decommitment from its 2021 class in March.

A source with knowledge of the situation provided clarity about Colzie’s recruitment and dismissed speculation that the Irish didn’t push hard enough for him.

Head coach Brian Kelly, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander had been contacting the four-star wide receiver from Athens (Ga.) Academy multiple times per week. Alexander flew to Georgia during the winter to watch one of Colzie’s basketball games. In December, Colzie took his fifth recruiting trip to South Bend for Notre Dame’s Echoes Awards Show.

Chip Long being fired as offensive coordinator didn’t deter Colzie much either. Long played a major role in securing Colzie’s commitment hours before Notre Dame’s Oct. 12 home game against USC. However, any questions Colzie had were answered.

No matter the reason, losing Colzie’s pledge stings for Notre Dame. 247Sports ranks him as its No. 3 receiver and No. 44 overall player in the class, while Rivals pegs him No. 11 at the position and 71 overall. But understanding why Colzie re-opened his recruitment may explain how the Irish could win him back.

Late in the winter, Colzie began to have second thoughts about his commitment, the source said. South Bend seemed too far from his family, particularly his PTSD-ailing mother, Yolanda Jackson. Colzie also felt that by committing during his junior season, he missed out on potential opportunities.

Notre Dame’s coaching staff and verbal commits could feel something was wrong weeks before Colzie’s decommitment. The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Irish from hosting him for a visit to keep him secured. Colzie delivered the news to Kelly on March 19, one day before his decision became public.

In his only public interview since the announcement, Colzie explained his decision in broader terms. 

“Notre Dame was my dream school, and I feel like I rushed my decision,” Colzie told Chad Simmons of “I just didn’t think about it enough. I did not give the recruiting process enough time and that is why I am re-opening things back up now.

“I have thought a lot about this, and I just want to take more time and explore my options.”

Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan and Oregon have since extended scholarship offers to Colzie. Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida have continued to recruit him hard.

Though Colzie considers his recruitment to be open, expect Georgia and Notre Dame to be the top contenders.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Colzie took a recruiting trip to Georgia early last month. Georgia’s proximity to his family attracts Colzie. He also remains close with head coach Kirby Smart and his staff. Smart’s kids attend Athens Academy and know Colzie well.

To fend off Georgia and others, Notre Dame intends to pursue Colzie even harder. The coaching staff knows Jackson wants her son to sign and enroll early at Notre Dame.

Because Colzie wants to take more visits before committing, his decision may come deep into the fall.

“I don’t know what it’s going to come down to, to bring him (to Notre Dame),” said Lorenzo Styles Jr., Notre Dame’s lone receiver commit. “I feel like we did show him a lot, showing him what we could bring. Hopefully he takes an official visit and falls in love with Notre Dame again.”

The Irish coaching staff told Styles they plan to sign three receivers this class. Below are the most promising options for the Irish, beyond Colzie.

Lorenzo Styles Jr., 6-1, 170; Pickerington (Ohio) Central

Pickerington (Ohio) Central's Lorenzo Styles Jr., a 2021 wide receiver, committed to Notre Dame on Oct. 13, 2019. 

Notre Dame losing commitments from Colzie and Styles figures to be the worst-case scenario.

Colzie decommitted. Now Styles reneging on his pledge is conceivable too.

Last week, Styles held a video call with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. The four-star recruit continues to be in contact with multiple coaches across the country, but he considers himself committed to the Irish.

“I’ve developed relationships with coaches,” Styles told the Tribune. “One thing that I do feel like is cheating, in a way, is taking visits. So I don’t know if I want to take a visit or am that interested in a school.

“But I’ve developed relationships with coaches. I still feel confident with ND.

“I’m not sure if I will take any visits yet, but I think it might be a possibility. Right now, I’m only taking my official visit to ND.”

Styles made his pledge to Notre Dame public in October. Kelly, Alexander and other members of the Irish coaching staff have still contacted him multiple times per week.

Once considered the biggest threat to land Styles, Ohio State hasn’t been in much contact with him since he committed. Styles said he dialed down his relationship with their coaching staff. But other schools like Michigan are still actively in Styles’ ear about flipping his commitment.

Whether Styles schedules a visit elsewhere should be telling.

“I don’t think anything has changed my mind to make me think that I really want to visit somewhere to make certain I’m 100 percent sure,” Styles said. “The only reason I would do that is if I feel like maybe that school would be a better fit than Notre Dame.

“Right now, I don’t feel like any school is like that right now. I want to keep developing these relationships. I’m still 100 percent Notre Dame. I don’t feel like that yet.”

247Sports: Four stars, No. 21 WR, No. 135 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 7 WR, No. 37 overall

Dont’e Thornton Jr., 6-5, 192; Baltimore Mount Saint Joseph 

Mount Saint Joseph's Dont'e Thornton Jr., a four-star wide receiver in the 2021 recruiting class, plans to announce his verbal commitment next January.

Notre Dame’s biggest receiver target not named Colzie or Styles is Dont’e Thornton Jr.

The Irish extended an offer to Thornton in September, one month after he announced his decommitment from Penn State. Kelly, Rees and Alexander have since contacted him multiple times per week. He planned to visit South Bend on April 15 before recruiting trips were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Notre Dame still has several months to pursue Thornton, a four-star recruit, and reschedule a trip before he makes a decision. Thornton told the Tribune he intends to make his commitment public at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio next January.

“As of right now, I’m not really rushing anything,” Thornton said. “I’m just taking my time and enjoying the process. I know before, I rushed it a little at the beginning when I first committed. So I’m not trying to make the same mistake again.

“I’m just trying to feel out all the schools and see what they have to offer for me. Then at the end, I’ll make my decision.”

By the time the Irish hosted Thornton for a recruiting camp in June of 2018, Virginia and Rutgers were his only Division I offers. He values Notre Dame’s early interest in him.

“The campus was amazing,” Thornton said. “I didn’t know how different Notre Dame was from the other schools. The educational part, it’s really strong there.”

Thornton said his biggest priorities are education, relationships and feeling a family-like atmosphere. Oregon, Arizona State, Penn State, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and Notre Dame are the main schools pushing for Thornton.

The Irish compare Thornton to Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool, their most recent big-bodied receivers who found success.

“They said if I come there, I could get on the field and do what’s needed,” Thornton said. “With the receiving corps they are going to have, by adding me to it, they said we would lead the nation and have the best receiving corps.”

247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 WR, No. 55 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 9 WR, No. 52 overall

Jayden Thomas, 6-2, 208; Atlanta Pace Academy

Atlanta Pace Academy's Jayden Thomas, a four-star wide receiver in the 2021 recruiting class, considers Notre Dame as a top school.

Of all the programs recruiting Thomas, none feel like his school quite as much as Notre Dame.

Thomas, a four-star recruit, took his first recruiting trip to South Bend for Notre Dame’s Nov. 2 home game against Virginia Tech. His walks through campus reminded him of Pace Academy, the private, college-preparatory day school he attends in Atlanta.

“I liked the vibe I got,” Thomas said. “They made me feel like I was at my school right now and that I could really fit in. I just want to see them succeed this upcoming year to know that they are a really, really good team.”

Irish running back Mick Assaf and his family joined Thomas for the visit. Mick’s father, Fred Assaf, is the headmaster at Pace Academy. Thomas considers Tommy Assaf, Mick’s younger brother, to be his best friend.

Tommy wants to attend Notre Dame and hopes to bring Thomas with him.

“All the time, he will joke with me,” Thomas said. “He loves the university. They really showed me the ins and outs and showed me all the places. It would be pretty cool.”

Kelly stopped by Pace Academy in January for a recruiting trip. Thomas said he still hears from either Kelly, Alexander or defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph every day. Claypool recruited him during his visit.

Thomas included Notre Dame in his top 12 school list he released in February. He expects to narrow down his options again before his senior season. Then Thomas intends to take his official visits before committing in January.

Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan are expected to be the other contenders for Thomas.

“Definitely the home fit and the coaching staff,” said Thomas on what he’s looking for in a school. “I also want to be competing for national championships. Then educational wise, I want to be able to get a good degree and for it to mean something.”

247Sports: Four stars, No. 42 WR, No. 247 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 20 WR, No. 122 overall

Other options: Pompano Beach (Fla.) Monarch’s Jaden Alexis, Pleasant Grove (Ala.) High’s Christian Lewis and Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus’ J.Michael Sturdivant received Irish offers last week.

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Athens (Ga.) Academy's Deion Colzie, a 2021 wide receiver, shined at Notre Dame's Sunday Night Football camp on June 2, 2019.