Surprise? Safety recruit Khari Gee turns down LSU, announces signing with Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The various opt-outs, transfers and chaos that have consumed LSU all season influenced Khari Gee to look elsewhere.

In May, Gee verbally committed to the Tigers. But seven months later, the safety recruit regarded the defending national champions much differently. From the offseason until last week, LSU lost 18 scholarship players to opt-out, suspension, arrest, transfer and entering the transfer portal.

So approximately two weeks ago, Gee said, he contacted Notre Dame defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph. Gee wanted to know if the Irish still had a spot for him in their 2021 recruiting class. They did.

Then, they landed him.

The College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy product signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday before announcing the news via Twitter two days later. The combination of quality academics and athletics piqued his interest, Gee said.

“Obviously Notre Dame being successful this year really impacted my decision, but I wouldn’t say that was the biggest,” Gee told the Tribune on Thursday before making the news public. “I’d say the biggest was really all the drama down there at LSU and people transferring, opting out. It was just a sign for me that I needed to go, too.

“It was just too much. I didn’t really want to be included in that environment. So my family and I decided to take a step back and really look at my decision.”

Signing Gee could help the Irish secure a top 10 class. 247Sports and Rivals rank the class No. 9 and No. 11 nationally, respectively. A total of 25 recruits have signed. They are still recruiting four-star cornerback Ceyair Wright and running backs Audric Estime, Logan Diggs and Byron Cardwell.

Gee choosing the Irish should come as a major surprise in the recruiting world. Notre Dame did not heavily recruit Gee relative to its top targets this cycle, at least until both parties reconnected. The Irish offered Gee a scholarship on March 2. But he publicly eliminated them from contention a couple months later, naming LSU and Clemson as his top schools.

Then Notre Dame and Gee kept his signing unknown to the public for two days. He never announced his decommitment from the Tigers. He has never visited South Bend. And top programs like Oregon, Clemson and LSU courted him hard.

“This is like an early Christmas gift for Brian Kelly,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said about Notre Dame’s head coach.

Lemming met with Gee in late January. That evaluation process brought Lemming to conclude that Gee is one of the top safeties in this cycle. He pegged Gee with a four-star-plus rating and considers him to be the best defensive back in this Irish class. Notre Dame signed five other defensive backs this week, including four-star cornerback Philip Riley.

247Sports and Rivals are less bullish on Gee. Rivals values Gee as a four-star safety, ranking him No. 28 at the position in the class. 247Sports considers Gee to be a three-star safety, slating him No. 43 at the position and No. 489 overall.

“Believe me: he’s the top rated of their (defensive back signees),” Lemming said. “He has the size, the speed, the production. He’s got everything. He’s got all the physical attributes to be an outstanding safety. Outstanding. He will be a definite starter at Notre Dame and a big-time player.”

At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Gee brings a versatile skill set. It’s not a coincidence that he operated at a position Woodward Academy calls rover. Much like the Irish position with the same name held by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Gee’s role as a high school rover included a wide range of responsibilities.

Safety, cornerback, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and nickleback are all positions Gee has played. He brings the length, range and speed to cover all types of wide receivers. He reportedly clocked a verified 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds. With his bruising style, Gee can line up in the box and offer adequate run support, wreak havoc when blitzing off the edge and make tackles in the open space.

Arriving at Notre Dame in June, Gee projects to begin his career at strong safety but could develop into a rover.

“He’s got the length, the long arms and quick feet,” Lemming said. “He excels in coverage. He has the footwork and the loose hips. He can play either safety or strong safety, because he can hit. Smart, strong and athletic. I loved him. This is a big catch for them.”

There figures to be an opportunity for Gee to compete for early playing time. Sophomore Kyle Hamilton could leave before Gee’s second year with Irish football program. Hamilton likely will project as a top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The position’s outlook beyond Hamilton looks uncertain. There’s juniors Houston Griffith and DJ Brown, and sophomores Litchfield Ajavon and KJ Wallace. None of those four have made much of an impact at safety.

Notre Dame also signed three-star safety Justin Walters this week.

“They shared that they wanted me and that I could get an opportunity to make an impact early,” Gee said. “I also hit up Kyle Hamilton. He’s doing really well up there. And he was like, ‘Yeah man, this is the spot. I like it.’ I took that into account in my decision.”

Vanderbilt announcing Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea as its head coach on Monday did not deter Gee. Losing assistant coaches to better jobs is normal. Losing 18 scholarship players in less than a year is not normal.

How Gee’s recruitment unfolded sums up the rollercoaster of a recruiting cycle the COVID-19 pandemic brought for plenty of programs. He might end up being a pleasant surprise.

“It was in the back of my mind and I knew that if I didn’t go to the NFL and I wouldn’t be successful,” Gee said, “then I could go to a school like Notre Dame with such great academics. I’m excited to put in the work with my future teammates. I’m excited to keep that defensive tradition going.

“And really just get up there and see what the Irish culture is all about.”

College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy's Khari Gee (white), a safety in the 2021 recruiting class, reported a Notre Dame scholarship offer on March 2.