In Notre Dame linebacker commit Prince Kollie, the possibilities are the allure

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

What Notre Dame linebacker commit Prince Kollie will become is not as important right now as what he could become.

The possibilities are what makes Kollie’s potential so intriguing. At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Kollie brings versatility and plays multiple positions for Jonesborough (Tenn.) Crockett. On the Irish, Kollie could play rover. He also could play inside linebacker. He could even play strong safety.

Or maybe Kollie becomes like the player to whom he’s often compared — star rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Rovers tend to be versatile, but the multi-faceted Owusu-Koramoah goes beyond what has been the norm at that position. He’s even used as a defensive back and off the edge in certain third-and-long situations.

Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, said Kollie is further along in his development than where Owusu-Koramoah was at this point. So Lemming could see Kollie eventually being used in similar ways at Notre Dame.

Or he could help fill other positions of need.

“He has the athletic ability to grow into a linebacker,” Lemming said, “but I think he could be a little bit more of a rover right now because of his speed. He doesn’t have a lot of weight to him yet. But he has the frame to add that weight. So I think it’s just a matter of once he gets to Notre Dame, where they prefer him at and where they think his growth will eventually make him.”

None of Notre Dame’s pledges have produced bigger numbers this season than Kollie. He’s been one of the more impressive commits despite playing two new positions.

David Crockett head football coach Hayden Chandley said his roster called for Kollie to move from outside to inside linebacker and wide receiver to running back and wildcat quarterback this fall. Kollie impressed as a wide receiver in 2019, catching 68 passes for 1,085 yards and nine touchdowns across 11 games.

In six games this season, Kollie has turned 88 carries into 844 yards and 12 touchdowns with 49 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and three pass breakups. Chandley said Kollie recorded those numbers in essentially 4.5 games, because blowouts sidelined him for the equivalent of six quarters.

Transitioning to inside linebacker and running back meant Kollie needed to be more physical. He gained 12 pounds this offseason while keeping his other strengths intact.

“The best thing about Prince defensively is his instincts,” Chandley said, “and that’s not something that you can necessarily teach. That’s just something that I believe somebody is either blessed with or not. Prince is overwhelmingly blessed with instincts and the ability to just dissect a play very quickly and then obviously get to the football in a very quick manner and make a tackle.

“He’s very physical at the point of attack, whether he’s making a tackle or he’s taking on a block. He’s really good in open space. He’s really good laterally, going sideline to sideline. I think his game translates really well to the next level.”

Defensive coordinator Clark Lea needed to land a talented linebacker this class after passing on the position in the 2020 cycle, including top 100 recruit Cody Simon. The first nine of 10 linebackers the Irish offered this class hardly showed interest. No. 10 in Kollie did.

The one critique of Kollie was the same perceived weakness Owusu-Koramoah carried before outperforming his three-star rating. Recruiting analysts and football programs wonder if Kollie’s all-purpose ability makes him more of a master-of-none who is not refined at a particular position.

The coronavirus pandemic prevented Kollie from proving himself and receiving exposure through recruiting camps and official or unofficial visits to campuses. Yet he ultimately emerged as one of the more burgeoning recruits in the southeast this offseason.

It took until Feb. 26 for a Division I program (Georgia Tech) to offer Kollie a scholarship. Then Georgia, Texas, LSU, Auburn, Florida State and Louisville were among programs to join the mix. When Notre Dame offered Kollie on May 17, 247Sports (No. 33 outside linebacker) and Rivals (No. 57 athlete) considered him to be a three-star recruit in the 2021 class.

247Sports has since elevated Kollie to four-star status, ranking him as its No. 15 outside linebacker and No. 233 overall player this cycle. Though Rivals still values Kollie as a three-star recruit, the recruiting site ascended him to its No. 22 outside linebacker.

Lea offering and prioritizing Kollie when he was just a three-star recruit at the time looks a lot smarter now.

“Clark has a great eye for football and for players,” Lemming said. “For me, he’s one of the guys where when you see him recruiting somebody, you need to take notice right away. He seems to have that knack. He’s not a super personable guy, but he knows how to recruit. The ones he goes after, you always have to really like. You know they are going to be good players and athletes.”

Kollie accrued those offers and received a considerable bump in the rankings without proving his talent in the offseason. How he’s started his season seemed to confirm why many became optimistic about his potential.

The possibilities of what Kollie could become are beginning to take shape.

“His versatility is off the charts,” Chandley said. “It’s unlimited, really, what you can do with Prince. We talked with coach Lea about how his second and third year, how maybe in some third-and-long situations, putting him at defensive end and letting him rush the passer.

“I really think his game translates in so many ways that you can really use him as needed. He’s kind of that utility guy and can really play a handful of positions based on what your team needs.

“I think that’s the biggest thing with Prince: he brings so much to the table and he allows you to do so many things because of how versatile he is.”

Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett’s Prince Kollie (21), a linebacker in the 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame on Aug. 7.