A look inside Notre Dame's pursuit of Ohio State grad transfer safety Isaiah Pryor

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Terry Joseph did not waste time after learning of a recent addition to college football’s transfer portal.

Joseph reached out to safety Isaiah Pryor the day after his decision to move on from Ohio State became public a couple weeks ago. Notre Dame’s defensive pass game coordinator then helped schedule Pryor’s Oct. 11-13 official visit to South Bend.

Pryor’s visit falls on the biggest recruiting weekend this season for No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1) as it hosts rival USC (3-2) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. EDT on NBC). The graduate transfer has two years of eligibility remaining and would enroll at Notre Dame after obtaining his undergraduate degree in December.

“They came out to me saying that they want me in their program,” Pryor told the Tribune. “So I would like to explore this further and really get to know the campus, so that’s why I decided to take a visit this weekend.”

A marriage with Pryor would at least help alleviate Notre Dame’s depth concerns at safety. The plan for Pryor in the Irish defense, though, remains to be seen.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Pryor played more of a linebacker-safety hybrid and lined up in the box in high school. He received scholarship offers as a cornerback but ultimately saw time at safety for OSU. Pryor’s struggles in pass coverage played a role in his demotion from a starting role.

“I feel like I’m used to playing all over,” Pryor said. “Now I’m just ready to go out there and make plays. It doesn’t really matter to me about the position as long as I’m out there playing.”

The former four-star recruit brought enough prowess to see the field early for the Buckeyes. Pryor started seven games as a true sophomore, recording 31 tackles, one tackle for a loss and an interception last season.

247Sports pegged Pryor as its No. 10 safety and No. 77 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class, while Rivals tagged him No. 12 at the position and No. 106 overall.

“I think he’s a strong safety,” Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. “Very strong tackler. He doesn’t mind sending a message over the middle and hitting people.”

Irish safety Jalen Elliott’s eligibility expires following this season, and his fellow starter Alohi Gilman may depart early for the 2020 NFL Draft. None of Notre Dame’s 17 commits in its 2020 recruiting class project as a safety. Sophomore backup Derrik Allen transferred to Georgia Tech during preseason camp.

The need to fill those gaps explains why Notre Dame pounced on Pryor’s upside of becoming a starting safety beside standout freshman Kyle Hamilton in 2020. Pryor would compete with sophomore Houston Griffith, who switched from cornerback to safety last week.

Pryor and Griffith were actually roommates a few years ago. Pryor transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., after finishing his junior season at Lawrenceville (Ga.) Archer High. Griffith also transferred to IMG, from Chicago Mount Carmel High.

Griffith and fellow IMG products, running back Tony Jones Jr. and right tackle Robert Hainsey, are helping to recruit Pryor. Griffith spoke with Pyror on Monday night.

“Isaiah is very similar to those three guys in the type of person he is on and off the field,” said IMG head football coach Kevin Wright. “When you talk about Notre Dame, Notre Dame is a special fit. … I think he would be a good fit at Notre Dame.”

IMG Academy and Ohio State were among those that received contact from the Irish about Pryor.

Only four graduate transfers have landed with the Irish: wide receivers Cam Smith (Arizona State) and Freddy Canteen (Michigan), cornerback Cody Riggs (Florida) and safety Avery Sebastian (California).

The Irish flirted with receiver Eric Kumah in the spring but ultimately passed on the Virginia Tech graduate transfer. Kumah trekked to Notre Dame before hitting a few more spots and eventually chose Old Dominion.

Notre Dame also comes first for Pryor. There’s a chance he may commit this weekend. Richard Pryor, Isaiah’s father, said they have not scheduled another visit.

“He’s not going to drag this out, but he wants to take his time and really talk to all the coaches, really get to know the university,” Richard said. “Most of these schools, he played or was in camp with a lot of the players. He knows a lot of the coaches.”

Alabama, LSU, Clemson and Georgia were among schools to extend scholarship offers to Pryor as a recruit. Notre Dame also offered Pryor, who remembers Irish head coach Brian Kelly and assistants Mike Elston and Todd Lyght from the recruiting process.

Pryor attended the 2015 Blue-Gold Game before becoming an Under Armour All-American. He also finished as a finalist for the Watkins Award, which honors the nation’s top African American high school student-athletes.

“We had a really, really good visit when we were there,” Richard said. “Notre Dame was one of his top schools. “He said that coach Kelly had a scholarship offer the minute he walked through the door.

“Nobody has done that in all of the visits he’s ever had.”

Academics continue to be a high priority for Isaiah. He would start work toward his master’s degree at Notre Dame in January and may look to work toward a doctorate.

“I’m also excited to get down there to really understand what their defense is and what they are doing, so I can better understand what exactly they want me to do,” Pryor said.

Ohio State graduate transfer safety Isaiah Pryor (14) plans to visit Notre Dame again for its Nov. 2 home game against Virginia Tech.