Taking chance on CB TaRiq Bracy paying off early for Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Finding the end zone in a variety of ways, TaRiq Bracy scored 73 touchdowns in his career at Milpitas (Calif.) High School.

He rushed for 47 touchdowns and caught 19 touchdown passes. He returned three interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns. He found the end zone on two punt returns and one kickoff return.

Yet on his recruiting profile pages on Rivals and 247Sports, Bracy had only 11 offers listed. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound athlete didn’t draw big-time attention. Only three Pac-12 programs offered the star in the Golden State: California, Utah and Washington State.

But nearly seven months before Bracy led his team to a CIF Division 4-A state championship, Notre Dame recognized Bracy’s talent with a scholarship offer. By Dec. 10, Bracy gave his verbal commitment to the Irish. He won the state title by the end of the week and signed his national letter of intent on Dec. 20.

Ten months later, Bracy has emerged as the surprise contributor in Notre Dame’s freshman class. In the 19-14 victory against Pittsburgh last week, Bracy was called upon to play cornerback. Troy Pride Jr. was sidelined with an ankle injury. Then cornerback Donte Vaughn, who started the game, was benched in the third quarter after Pittsburgh successfully threw his way a few times.

The Irish chose to play Bracy for the rest of the game as the field side corner. He finished the day with seven tackles.

“The moment is not too big for him,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “He’s a pretty level-headed young man. He’s got some work to do. He recognized some things a little bit quicker. But I think there’s a big confidence when the ball goes down the field. We like his skill set.”

Bracy’s work in thie first six games had come mainly on special teams. Before the season opener, Bracy changed his number from 10 to 35 in order to be on the field at the same time as punt returner Chris Finke. His first assignment: stay in front of the gunners on Michigan’s punt team to help block for Finke. He quickly added that ability to his skill set.

Adapting quickly isn’t new to Bracy. He was called up to the varsity level at Milpitas in his freshman season. It’s no surprise to Milpitas head coach Kelly King that Bracy’s done the same at Notre Dame.

“He’s very mature football-wise,” King said. “I thought he would contribute. I’m catching up with him all the time and peeking at what’s going on with him. We’re real proud of him. I’m glad he’s contributing. I knew he was just going to get better.”

Even though his offer list was short, it wasn’t easy for Notre Dame to land Bracy. He originally wanted to play in college with his twin brother, TyRee. San Diego State pitched the possibility of taking both of them. But TaRiq Bracy decided Notre Dame was his best option.

“TaRiq made a courageous decision to do what’s best for him and his future,” recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said after Bracy signed in December. “They have an incredibly tight relationship. It’s an incredible family. Mom and dad are wonderful, hard-working people. Ultimately, I do believe, that it will work out well for all of them. But it was a unique situation. It was a factor in the recruitment.”

TyRee Bracy, listed as a cornerback as well, eventually joined the San Diego State program as a walk-on. Polian, who led Notre Dame’s recruitment of TaRiq Bracy, said getting the Irish recruit on the phone “was like an Act of Congress.” Polian would have to wait until 1:30 a.m. in South Bend to reach Bracy on the west coast.

“He was not a guy that was ‘look-at-me’ in the recruiting process,” Polian said in December. “Look at me constantly on Twitter, seeking offers, going to every camp to get his stars up. He just said, ‘Hey, I’m blessed to have this opportunity.’ His recruitment, frankly, probably would have been bigger had he sought that. But he was not an attention-seeking guy. It made for a pretty unique deal.

“Honestly, when TaRiq called to say, ‘I’m coming,’ I was a little caught off guard. I called back here and said, ‘Guys, I think we ought to be prepared for the fact that he might go somewhere else,’ because of all the factors that were involved.”

Uncertainty also came with Bracy’s position projection in college. Both Rivals and 247Sports put Bracy in the athlete category without specifying a position for him.

247Sports slated Bracy as a four-star recruit, the No. 22 athlete and No. 302 overall in the 2018 class. Rivals rated him as a three-star recruit as the No. 36 athlete in the class.

“He can play multiple positions, but the question I have is what position does he really play at the college level?” Rivals national recruiting analyst Adam Gorney asked following Bracy’s senior season. “Is he a running back? Does he have the size to take the pounding? Is he going to be a slot receiver? Is he going to be a defensive back? Where does he really fit as a position player long term?”

The answer in the short term and long term for Notre Dame was cornerback. Even though Bracy totaled 3,755 rushing yards and 1,659 receiving yards in his Milpitas career, King figured his future would probably be on defense.

“He has great ball skills on the corner,” King said. “He plays really well and understands the game. His man-to-man coverage skills were excellent in high school.”

With Pride healthy again, Bracy will be relegated to mostly special teams for the rest of the season, but the Irish won’t be afraid to throw him into coverage again.

“He’s a guy that’s got to physically continue to develop,” Kelly said, “but we like his demeanor in competitive situations. The moments don’t look too big for him.”

Notre Dame freshman cornerback TaRiq Bracy brings down Pittsburgh’s Darrin Hall (22) during ND’s 19-14 win, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Twin brothers TaRiq Bracy, left, and TyRee Bracy initially wanted to play college football together, but TaRiq Bracy chose to attend Notre Dame. TyRee Bracy plays at San Diego State as a walk-on cornerback.