Notebook: Te'von Coney had clarified his status with Notre Dame long before courts did

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It was never quite much ado about nothing, but the notion that Notre Dame preseason All-America linebacker Te’von Coney could miss a chunk of fall training camp and perhaps some games during the season because of a 22-month-old court case wasn’t really grounded in reality, either.

At least not if the senior meets the conditions of his probation, stemming from an August 2016 misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession and his guilty plea to that charge on Tuesday in Fulton Superior Court in Rochester, Ind.

“He had already been disciplined within the program,” Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly told the Tribune this week. “This has been an extension of something that just didn’t get adjudicated in the courts in a timely fashion.

“But what he was required to do (by Notre Dame), he had completed before the fall of last year within the program — counseling, intervention. He had been disciplined already. It wasn’t a new story, but it was presented that way, because the courts didn’t finish up that matter in a timely fashion.”

It also was a non-starter, because about the same time Fulton County Court reported a positive drug screen (March 22) for Coney in a court-required drug test, a random test given the linebacker in roughly the same time period by Notre Dame was clean, per Kelly.

“Our kids get drug-tested on an average of four times a year,” Kelly said. “So if you’re here four years, you’ve probably had 15 drug tests. They’re random. They don’t know they’re coming.

“We had our own results. We went on the results that we have. We didn’t delve into the specifics of (the court’s) finding, because we had already dealt with him on those matters. We already had a drug test on him.”

The conditions of Coney’s one-year probation include 48 hours of community service. Should he violate probation, a suspended 178-day jail sentence would be reinstated.

Coney’s plea agreement effectively canceled the scheduled Aug. 1 bench trial, the fourth time a trial had been scheduled in the case. The other dates were Aug. 27, 2017; Sept. 27, 2017; and April 11, 2018, all of which would have conflicted with football commitments if they had actually taken place on those dates.

Coney and teammates Dexter Williams, Ashton White, Kevin Stepherson and Max Redfield were arrested Aug. 19, 2016, after an Indiana State Police trooper stopped the 2007 Ford Focus they were riding in for having an improper taillight and going 73 mph in a 60-mph zone.

The other four players were also charged with a misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana. Redfield was also charged with illegal possession of a handgun, along with his marijuana charge. He was dismissed from the ND football program the day after the arrest by Kelly.

The school expelled Redfield, the only projected starter at that time, before he could finish the fall semester. He transferred to Division II power Indiana University of Pennsylvania. White has since transferred to Buffalo. Kelly dismissed Stepherson in January on another matter.

Williams returns with Coney for his senior season at ND. Coney led the Irish in tackles (116) and tackles for loss (13) in 2017.

The bigger picture

Nine states and counting have legalized recreational marijuana use, but there’s no gray area for Kelly and Notre Dame when it comes to players smoking pot.

“It’s just like legalized gambling,” Kelly said. “The NCAA prohibits recreational drugs and it prohibits gambling. You’ve got to handle both the same way. If it’s against NCAA rules, there are going to be consequences.’’

At ND, it isn’t until the second offense that a suspension of games is imposed by the school.

Roster churn

Counting four pending Notre Dame football transfers, who have yet to find a landing spot, 49 of the 178 players (27.5 percent) who signed with the Irish in the Brian Kelly Era have transferred.

That excludes the 27 members of the freshman class, and also Michigan transfer wide receiver Freddy Canteen, who earlier this week revealed he’ll play his final season at Tulane.

Wide receivers (8) and cornerbacks (7) have been the position groups most on the move. Beyond kicking specialists, offensive tackle is the only position that has yet to transfer among the Kelly recruits.

Of those 49, some of whom didn’t have the choice to stay because of disciplinary issues, only two have gone on to play a single down of football in the NFL. and one of those — defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) — didn’t play a down at ND before filing his transfer paperwork. Defensive end Aaron Lynch (South Florida) is the other transfer player with NFL experience.

Offensive guard John Montelus, who finished at Virginia last season as a grad transfer, could make it three if the undrafted free agent can stick on the Detroit Lions’ roster through the preseason cuts.

It could be argued that in many cases the roster turnover has allowed Kelly to upgrade the roster with larger recruiting classes.

Kelly’s take on the transfers?

“I don’t think it can be a good thing, unless they have their degree,” he said. “Then if a young man believes he could be receiving more playing time, we shouldn’t be quarreling about playing time. You should go find a place to play.”

Twenty-one of the 49 transfers were grad transfers, meaning they left with their ND degree in hand.

The Irish have taken only four grad transfers themselves, and only one of those — former Florida cornerback Cody Riggs — was a significant and consistent contributor, even though all four started at least one game. Riggs started 11 games in 2014, missing the other two with an injury.

Health was a major issue for the other three — Canteen, fellow wide receiver Cam Smith (Arizona State) and safety Avery Sebastian (Cal).

All of them missed at least half a season. Sebastian missed so many games in 2015 that he petitioned for and was granted a sixth year by the NCAA for the 2016 season.

“They have to be the right fit academically and they’ve got to get into a very limited graduated program here,” Kelly said. “Even if they can meet those two things, what we’re looking for, on those rare times we take a grad transfer, is a bridge to the next guy.

“We would rather develop our own players that are going to be front-line guys.”

Green light for redshirts

Prior to the NCAA’s recent overhaul of college football’s redshirt rule, there was some question whether Notre Dame freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec would have seen the field in a game in 2018.

Not anymore.

“He’s going to play,” Kelly said. “You hope you have some situations where your lead is out of reach and you can put him in those situations. He’s going to get some very valuable experience.

“In fact, I told all our freshmen when they came in for summer school, ‘Be ready to play this year.’ “

The new rule allows a player to participate in up to four games in a season, including a bowl game, and still take that year as a redshirt year, thus preserving a year of eligibility. Players still have only five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.

Previously, if a player played so much as a single down in a season, the potential for a redshirt year was lost. Even with a player who suffered an injury and applied for a medical redshirt year, three games was the limit and those games had to have been played in the first half of the season.

“Love the rule,” Kelly said. “What’s not to love?”

Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney (4) high-fives fans following the 35-14 win over N.C. State, Oct. 28 at Notre Dame Stadium.