Chance Tucker's commitment continues Notre Dame CBs coach Mike Mickens' rebuild

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Length, verified speed and versatility are among the top qualities Notre Dame covets when recruiting cornerbacks.

Chance Tucker, a three-star corner in the 2021 class, said the Irish coaching staff told him he possesses those traits. As a high school track star at Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite who brings the ability to play multiple positions in the secondary, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Tucker certainly looks the part.

Hearing the ND coaches' vision played a role in why Tucker silently committed to the Irish last Friday and made his pledge public on Wednesday via Twitter. He ranks as 247Sports’ No. 54 corner and No. 687 overall player nationally in the class.

Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State were among other schools under Tucker's consideration.

“Wherever I went, I wanted to feel like a priority and feel like they would have a plan for me and would know how to utilize me," Tucker said. "I felt that with Notre Dame.”

As the Irish look to rebuild a cornerback group depleted by roster turnover and past recruiting whiffs, adding Tucker this cycle appears to bring them closer to that goal. How well new cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens recruited Tucker and what he's accomplished on the trail overall this offseason, though, continues to be the big-picture significance.

Since being hired away from the University of Cincinnati in mid-February, Mickens has offered a scholarship to four corners this class. Three of those four have pledged to Notre Dame: Tucker, Ryan Barnes and Philip Riley. The odd one out, Naperville (Ill.) Central’s Sam Jackson, preferred to play quarterback and committed to Purdue.

The Irish accomplished that high hit rate despite facing geographic disadvantages. The coronavirus pandemic seemed to trigger a trend of recruits committing to relatively nearby schools. While Tucker comes from Southern California, Riley plays for Bloomingdale High in Valrico, Fla., and has family in Washington. Barnes spent most of his childhood in Florida before relocating. He now plays at Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard.

All three corners have also yet to take an unofficial or official visit to Notre Dame. Riley may never see Notre Dame until he arrives as an early-enrolled freshman in January. Barnes’ only times on campus came during his childhood when visiting family in nearby Winona Lake, Ind.

Swinging by South Bend for the first time on July 4-5, Tucker needed to informally tour campus without the company or involvement of Notre Dame's official football personnel. The NCAA has continued to extend its dead period, which prohibits formal on-campus recruiting trips. The current mandate lasts through Aug. 31.

Tucker plans to enroll at Notre Dame in June after finishing a delayed high school football season in the spring, a modification prompted by the California Interscholastic Federation on Monday.

“I really liked the feeling that I got there,” Tucker said. “It was kind of like a gut feeling. But I also liked how beautiful the campus was and how everybody treated us nicely.”

Unusual recruiting pitches were also part of the process for these three corners.

Relative to other recruitments, an abnormal amount of Irish coaches assisted with courting Barnes. He heard plenty from head coach Brian Kelly, special teams coordinator Brian Polian and all four defensive assistant coaches.

What made Riley’s recruitment different had more to do with his decisions. He nearly pledged to Virginia Tech before Notre Dame offered him. Riley felt more comfortable before committing to Notre Dame after messaging with multiple students he contacted on social media.

Part of what coaxed Tucker to picking Notre Dame involved a conversation with someone who has no affiliation with the Irish. Mickens had one of his former players at Bowling Green and Cincinnati, Cam Jefferies, contact Tucker.

Jefferies offered Tucker perspective on what playing for Mickens would be like and remembers being in a similar position. As a two-way athlete who dabbles at receiver, Tucker will need time to adjust to playing corner full-time and learning the nuances of the position. He does not project as a plug-and-play corner and has only played the position for one season.

“When it came to fine-tuning my game at the college level, I was very raw,” said Jefferies about what he told Tucker in their phone conversation earlier this month. “I had no fundamentals. I had no technique. I didn’t watch film. I was an athlete.

“The three things that coach Mickens is going to do is he’s going to coach you and prepare you to be a pro. He’s going to create you into a technician at the position, and he’s going to teach you how to really study the game of football.”

How well Tucker could change direction on the field seemed to be Mickens’ only question when he first contacted him in May. Mickens had Tucker send clips of himself flipping his hips, moving laterally and maneuvering around various cones. After reviewing Tucker's tape, Notre Dame offered him a scholarship on June 2.

Defensive coordinator Clark Lea then joined Mickens as a secondary recruiter. Adam Sargent, associate director of academic services for student-athletes, handled the academics pitch. Tucker also heard from Tom Mendoza, who endowed Notre Dame’s business school.

“That was really special getting to talk with him, seeing how he went about his life story and how he has relationships with a lot of the Notre Dame players,” said Tucker about hearing from Mendoza earlier this month. “I kind of felt special. That was awesome.”

By committing to the Irish, Tucker became pledge No. 13 in this cycle. Rivals and 247Sports rank the class No. 14 and No. 21, respectively. Notre Dame’s last five commitments — Riley, Barnes, Tucker, defensive end Jason Onye and offensive tackle Joe Alt — have never taken an unofficial or official visit to campus.

What brought Tucker to the Irish started with their priorities at cornerback and ended after another peculiar approach.

“The academic prestige of Notre Dame played a huge role in my decision,” Tucker said. “I also love my connection with coach Mickens and coach Lea. I feel like they made it clear that they would be able to develop me not only as a player, but also as a man by trying to help me reach my goals and pushing me every day.”

Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite High’s Chance Tucker (7), a three-star cornerback in the 2021 recruiting class, reported a Notre Dame scholarship offer on June 2.