Inside Notre Dame's tight end recruiting and verbal commit Cane Berrong's status

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame wanting to add another tight end in the 2021 recruiting class did not deter verbal commit Cane Berrong.

“I don’t care if they bring in eight tight ends,” said Berrong, a four-star tight end from Hartwell (Ga.) County. “I really don’t. I know who I am. I’m just ready to come in and compete.”

A couple developments could have changed Berrong’s status. Yet the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Berrong said he remains firm on the pledge he made to the Irish last June.

Thomas Fidone Jr. and Brock Bowers, two four-star tight ends in the 2021 recruiting class, are being pursued by Notre Dame. According to Berrong, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees told him the Irish are content with only signing him if they don’t land one of their top uncommitted targets. Berrong said he’s fine with either outcome.

“If I go there and I don’t make it to the NFL, then I would have a degree to back me up,” Berrong said. “That’s really what my mindset was. I was talking with Brock Wright and (others), and they told me to stay with it. There are so many connections that you make there.”

More connections than just one assistant coach. That much became clear to Berrong not long after Notre Dame parted ways with former offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long in December.

Long headed his recruitment, so Berrong heard from various assistants before the Irish officially named John McNulty as their tight ends coach last month. Head coach Brian Kelly, Rees, run game coordinator Lance Taylor and special teams coordinator Brian Polian were among Irish coaches contacting and reassuring Berrong about his decision.

Other schools were looking to flip Berrong’s commitment. Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida were already among schools to offer a scholarship to Berrong, who ranks as 247Sports’ No. 8 tight end and No. 209 overall player in the 2021 class. Rivals pegs him No. 12 at the position.

That Berrong reported offers from USC, Arkansas and Oregon on social media during that uncertain time made some wonder if he’s reconsidering his pledge. Recruits often don’t report their offers publicly after committing to a school.

But Berrong said his response to receiving offers does not mean he’s interested in those schools.

“Stuff like this doesn’t happen where I live,” Berrong said. “I’m just trying to leave a legacy where I live. So if I get an offer, that’s why I post it.”

Berrong said McNulty reached out to him after his hiring became official and has since contacted him multiple times per week. If health officials deem large gatherings to be safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Berrong plans to take a June 12-14 official visit to Notre Dame. He also intends to enroll a semester early.

Visits to other schools won’t happen, Berrong said. He’s already endured the worst part. Getting to know McNulty only helped cement his standing.

“Just a great guy who cares about the person I am,” Berrong said. “He tells me he loves my film. He can’t wait to finally meet me in person. When he talks, he’s very calm. You know a good person when you talk to them. That’s the vibe I have with him.”

Other tight end options

Below is a closer look at Notre Dame’s other tight end options, Fidone and Bowers.

Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central’s Thomas Fidone, a four-star tight end in the 2021 recruiting class, considers Notre Dame as a top six school.

Thomas Fidone, 6-5, 218; Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central: Fidone’s first visit to South Bend would have come this month had recruiting trips not been canceled through May 31.

The Irish adopted a virtual approach to pursue Fidone and other high-priority recruits in similar situations. The coaching staff spends more time contacting recruits than they ever have. Players are also being asked to connect with them. Notre Dame provides recruits the ability to take a virtual visit, which includes an online tour of the campus.

Fidone said he hears from Notre Dame’s coaching staff every other day. McNulty and Polian spoke with Fidone earlier this week on Zoom, the video conferencing app, and Polian provided an academics presentation that would normally come during in-person visits, Fidone said.

“They went over why Notre Dame’s the best choice to go for,” Fidone said. “Not only do you get a great education, but for me in my position, I also have one of the better shots to get to the next level than any other school.

“The resume for tight ends they have under coach Brian Kelly is crazy. Almost every starting tight end under Brian Kelly has been in the NFL or was drafted into the NFL. They develop tight ends very well.”

Once planning to commit before his senior season, Fidone said he now hopes to take all five official visits before announcing his pledge to a school during the fall. That Fidone included the Irish in his top school list last month despite having never visited campus shows they have a chance at landing him.

Notre Dame still has ground to cover before catching up to some of Fidone’s other five favorites: Nebraska, LSU, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. The Irish seem to be handling Fidone’s recruitment as well as they could during a pandemic and make him feel like their top priority.

Kelly, Rees, Polian and director of recruiting Aaryn Kearney have been involved with Fidone’s recruitment, following McNulty’s lead.

“I like him a lot,” said Fidone of McNulty. “Some coaches recruit you and tell you what you want to hear. I think McNulty tells you the truth. That’s kind of how he is from being in the NFL. ... I like that about him.”

247Sports: Four stars, No. 1 TE, No. 40 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 3 TE, No. 60 overall

Napa (Calif.) High’s Brock Bowers, a four-star tight end in the 2021 recruiting class, visited Notre Dame in March.

Brock Bowers, 6-3, 225; Napa (Calif.) High: Notre Dame benefited from being one of the last schools to host Bowers before the pandemic exacerbated.

The Irish provided a comprehensive visit for Bowers, the only high-priority recruit on campus at the time. He watched their first — and only — spring football practice on March 5.

Then Bowers heard McNulty’s first in-person recruiting pitch at Notre Dame. McNulty spent more time with Bowers than any other assistant during the two-day trip. Bowers said he attended a dinner that included quarterback Ian Book and tight end Brock Wright. He toured Notre Dame and its athletic facilities and received academics information.

The experience sold Bowers enough for him to tentatively plan a second trip, this time an official visit.

“They mentioned two weekends in June,” Bowers said. “I’m thinking about that so I could get an official (visit) knocked out.”

Bowers named Notre Dame as a top eight school this month. Georgia, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, California, Penn State and Oregon State also made his list. Bowers said he left Notre Dame impressed with McNulty’s football knowledge and the overall culture of the program. He continues to hear from McNulty and Polian multiple times per week, he said.

Like Fidone, Bowers wanted to commit before the season. Now Notre Dame has more time to cement his official visit plans and emerge as the favorite. Bowers said he plans to announce his commitment after taking all five official visits.

“It’s very structured with football and academics,” Bowers said. “I feel like it would prepare me for everything that would come my way for the rest of my life. It’s a unique place.”

247Sports: Four stars, No. 2 TE, No. 52 overall | Rivals: Four stars, No. 6 TE, No. 106 overall

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Hartwell (Ga.) Hart County’s Cane Berrong (81), a tight end in the 2021 class, is verbally committed to Notre Dame.