Undersized CB TaRiq Bracy playing big role for Notre Dame
TyRee Bracy’s own football schedule doesn’t allow for him to watch his twin brother, TaRiq Bracy, live in action very often.
Even with the time difference between TyRee, a walk-on defensive back at San Diego State, and TaRiq, a scholarship cornerback at Notre Dame, getting in front of a screen to watch a live telecast isn’t easy.
But TyRee doesn’t have to try very hard to track down highlights of his brother. His mom, sister and friends will send him videos of TaRiq. He’ll even catch some clips from Notre Dame’s various Twitter accounts too.
“I’m never missing out,” TyRee said.
TaRiq’s increased role in his sophomore season this year has made the highlights more frequent too. He started the season playing primarily as part of Notre Dame’s dime package that includes an extra safety and cornerback and regularly appears on third downs.
TaRiq’s role will likely increase in Saturday’s home game against Bowling Green (3:30 p.m. EDT on NBC). With starting cornerback Shaun Crawford sidelined with a dislocated elbow, TaRiq may make the first start of his Irish career.
“It’s great to see him on the field,” TyRee said. “It’s great to see him developing into a good football player. I already knew he was going to be a great football player, but seeing him improve from how he was when we were in high school and even before then, it’s amazing to watch him grow and progress.”
The Bracy twins starting playing football around eight years old. TyRee usually played quarterback. TaRiq played in the backfield with him as a running back. Together they made for quite the dynamic duo even through their days at Milpitas (Calif.) High.
As seniors, the Bracys led Milpitas to its first football state championship in school history. They stuffed the box scores on a weekly basis.
TaRiq rushed for 2,042 yards, caught 15 passes for 299 yards and logged 312 return yards on kickoffs, punts and interceptions. He returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns and scored 31 touchdowns in total.
TyRee held up his end of the deal too. He threw for 1,858 yards and 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions and rushed for 410 yards and eight touchdowns for the state champions.
Through the recruiting process, the twins explored the possibility of playing together in college. But coaches showed more interest in TaRiq than TyRee. And even TaRiq’s scholarship offers were limited. When he committed to Notre Dame in Dec. 2017, his recruiting profiles on Rivals and 247Sports only listed 11 offers. Only three of them came from Pac-12 schools: California, Utah and Washington State.
TyRee didn’t want to hold TaRiq back. He made it clear to his brother that he should make a selfish decision.
“I told him as soon as he got the offer from Notre Dame,” TyRee recalled. “I said, ‘Wherever you think you need to go to get the best opportunity to make your dreams come true, you take it.’ Honestly, I supported his decision.”
TyRee Bracy knows how hard it can be to complete passes when his twin brother, TaRiq, plays cornerback.
In practice at Milpitas High, TyRee would have to try to beat TaRiq when the starting defense was taking reps. It only made TyRee want to be a better quarterback.
“He’s really athletic,” TyRee said, “so it’s always tough trying to complete the ball against him while he’s in coverage.”
Those coverage skills for TaRiq were what caught Notre Dame’s attention. Even though he was a prolific running back, he had a knack for playing defense too.
“It’s just a natural ability for him,” said Milpitas head coach Kelly King.
But TaRiq lacked height. Even though he was listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds on the Milpitas roster, he was closer to 5-10. Two years later, Notre Dame’s roster lists TaRiq at 5-10, 170. Either he hasn’t gained weight since joining the Irish, or his high school numbers were fudged a bit. He certainly didn’t shrink.
Those numbers didn’t scare Notre Dame. They still saw a skill set worth pursuing and developing in South Bend.
“What we were looking for in particular there was makeup speed, the ability to get back in phases and have the ability to play the ball in the air,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “We felt like we were short in those areas in particular with the makeup speed and playing the ball.
“He has shown to be really good in those areas, although we were short from a strength standpoint and maybe an inch or two. If we were going to take a position player at that level, he had to have great makeup speed and play the ball very well, and that was the balancing act for us.”
247Sports saw the potential in TaRiq. The recruiting service rated TaRiq as a four-star recruit, the No. 22 athlete and No. 302 overall in the 2018 class. Rivals had more doubts and pegged him as a three-star recruit and the No. 36 athlete in the class.
The athlete designation alone reflected uncertainty in which position TaRiq would end up playing in college. But what made TaRiq a good running back applied to his skill set at cornerback.
“He has pretty good technique and he’s a football player,” King said. “He has great ball skills, and he has great instincts. He’s always played physical and big for his size. The size thing never really bothered me.”
TaRiq Bracy’s far from a finished project.
“He’s still not physically developed to the level we want him to be,” Kelly said. “Once he gets physically to that level, he can work towards being much more of an elite corner.”
But that hasn’t prevented TaRiq from finding playing time in his first two seasons at Notre Dame. Last year, TaRiq played in 12 games, made 18 tackles and forced one fumble.
Through four games in 2019, TaRiq has already recorded 15 tackles, which is sixth on the team. He recovered a fumble against New Mexico and leads the Irish with three pass breakups.
Two of those pass breakups came in the end zone at Georgia. The first came on a third-and-4 throw from Notre Dame’s 14-yard line by quarterback Jake Fromm. An excellent pass found a leaping Tyler Simmons (6-foot) in the back of the end zone, but TaRiq managed to disrupt the catch with his right hand as Simmons fell to the ground. Later, TaRiq knocked away a fade pass intended for George Pickens (6-3).
Those pass breakups didn’t surprise his twin brother, TyRee.
“He has great instincts and always knows where the ball is going to be,” TyRee said. “He’s always been a ball hawk ever since we were little.”
TaRiq had always been a running back too. When starting running back Jafar Armstrong tore an abdominal muscle in the season opener, TaRiq could have been an option for Notre Dame to move to running back. But the Irish valued him too much on defense. Instead, the coaching staff moved cornerback Avery Davis, who played offense last season, back to running back.
TyRee still thinks his brother could play in the backfield.
“I had seen him play running back for a while, so I thought he could do both either way and still excel,” TyRee said. “I’m not surprised to see him excelling at defensive back. He has crazy speed.”
Speed makes up for a lot of things. King said it’s probably the biggest difference between TaRiq and TyRee as football players. That’s part of why TyRee is still working his way up the depth chart at San Diego State while TaRiq is rising to a potential starting role at Notre Dame.
Taking a chance on TaRiq has already been worth it.
“What he lacks right now is just that physical piece where he can be more explosive and breaking on the football,” Kelly said. “But he plays the ball extremely well in the air, and he will compete. He’s a competitor. We like that about him.
“Those traits he showed in high school when we recruited him — that he was very, very competitive — that has definitely carried on since he’s been here.”