Four-star cornerback Philip Riley decommits from Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Mike Mickens just experienced his first significant recruiting loss at Notre Dame.

Four-star cornerback Philip Riley decommitted from Notre Dame's 2021 recruiting class on Friday. Irish Illustrated first reported the news. The Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale product confirmed his decommitment with the Tribune.

The Irish replaced former cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght with Mickens this offseason in hopes of improving their recruiting prowess at the position. Losing Riley means Mickens lost his highest-ranked cornerback pledge. Riley also was the first corner to commit to Notre Dame (on May 5) after Mickens joined the coaching staff from the University of Cincinnati. 

If his spot in the recruiting rankings holds, Riley could have been the highest-ranked corner the Irish have signed since Troy Pride Jr. in the 2016 class, per 247Sports. Rivals ranked Riley as its No. 24 cornerback and No. 241 overall player in the class, while 247Sports pegged him No. 13 at the position and No. 219 overall.

That Riley no longer saw his future in South Bend may not be considered surprising. He had deleted pro-Notre Dame posts from his social media pages. He still has yet to visit Notre Dame and is unfamiliar with the Midwest. He’s from the Tacoma, Wash., area and moved to Florida after his sophomore football season.

“At this stage, it’s a major loss,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “More than it would have been back in the summer.”

Lyght developed well but struggled to recruit top prospects. He signed only four corners in five recruiting classes who were ranked among the top 20 at the position on either Rivals or 247Sports: Donte Vaughn and Pride in 2016, Houston Griffith in 2018 and Isaiah Rutherford in 2019. Griffith moved to safety this season.

The Irish have signed just four corners ranked among the top 10 at the position and in the top 100 overall since Rivals started ranking recruits in the 2002 class: Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil in 2006, Gary Gray in 2007 and Tee Shepard in 2012.

Mickens has shown efficiency in his first recruiting cycle. Five 2021 corners have received a scholarship since Mickens’ hiring: Riley, Ryan Barnes, Chance Tucker, Sam Jackson and Theran Johnson. Riley, Barnes and Tucker pledged Irish. Jackson wanted to play quarterback, so he committed to Purdue. Johnson remains an option.

Losing Riley brought Notre Dame to three decommitments this class. Wide receiver Deion Colzie and offensive lineman Greg Crippen decommitted from the Irish in March. Colzie is expected to pledge to Notre Dame when he announces his commitment on Monday. And the Irish did not want Crippen in their class.

So Riley’s decision hits differently.

“And really good corners are tough to find,” Lemming said. “They are going to have to take a chance on a guy who may or may not be good, unless they could take a player away from another school.”

That player could be Johnson. When the Irish offered the three-star corner last Tuesday, he ranked as the No. 98 cornerback and No. 1,114 overall player in the class on 247Sports. However, the Indianapolis North Central product has since received a bump in the rankings after a strong start to his senior season.

Now Johnson ranks as the No. 41 corner and No. 543 overall player on 247Sports. Rivals pegs him No. 68 at the position.

The 6-foot, 182-pound Johnson will consider Notre Dame despite verbally pledging to Northwestern in May.

“It has the same prestigious-ness as Northwestern, and the academics are really well known,” Johnson said about Notre Dame. “But the difference there is the football. Football is a really big priority at Notre Dame. They win. It’s all in their record. That’s just the big difference. And the amount of people that they send to the NFL.”

Unless Notre Dame extends more offers, Los Angeles Loyola’s Ceyair Wright and Johnson will be its top cornerback targets going forward. The Irish have 18 commits in this class. In the secondary, they are looking to add at least one safety and one corner.

Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale’s Philip Riley, a four-star cornerback in the 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame in May. He decommitted on Friday.