Grad transfer Nick McCloud tapped into Notre Dame connections to realize Irish opportunity

Tyler James I South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Nick McCloud doesn’t remember much about his trip to Notre Dame in 2017.

As a sophomore cornerback for N.C. State, McCloud recorded four tackles and broke up a potential touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin Stepherson in a 35-14 loss to the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium.

McCloud does remember the weather though. The reported kickoff temperature on that October day was 40 degrees.

“That was probably the coldest game I ever played in,” McCloud said. “That’s what I remember the most.”

McCloud will have to adjust to that type of weather in South Bend. Earlier this week, McCloud announced his plan to graduate transfer to Notre Dame for the 2020 season.

McCloud would have preferred to revisit Notre Dame this spring while weighing his transfer options. But he was unable to make a visit to South Bend as campuses closed across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t make trips to Virginia and Pittsburgh either.

That didn’t stop McCloud from learning about the Irish from afar. Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph connected with McCloud. Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens did the same when he joined Notre Dame’s staff in March.

They helped outline an opportunity that McCloud wanted to take advantage of in his final year of NCAA eligibility.

“The depth chart, scheme and everything else I was looking for in a program — a place that has a winning tradition that’s going to help prepare me to get to the next level,” McCloud said of what Notre Dame offered.

The hole on the depth chart was obvious. Notre Dame has only two cornerbacks — sixth-year Shaun Crawford and junior TaRiq Bracy — with starting experience on its 2020 roster. The other six are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen with no high-leverage snaps.

McCloud’s size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds), skill set and experience will make him a top candidate for the starting boundary corner spot. Despite only playing in two games last season because of a partially torn MCL in his left knee, McCloud has played in more games (37) than the 5-9, 180-pound Crawford (25) and the 5-10, 170-pound Bracy (24).

McCloud liked how Mickens and Joseph explained the defensive scheme for their cornerbacks.

“They’re going to get up in your face and challenge you,” McCloud said. “That’s something I really wanted to get back to doing.”

McCloud described Joseph as straightforward, knowledgeable and a player’s coach. In Mickens, McCloud sees a relatable coach who knows how to play cornerback at a high level in the modern game from his career at Cincinnati (2005-08).

“He’s going to help with a lot of knowledge that can help us with what’s going on now,” McCloud said. “I like that.”

McCloud didn’t have to rely on the Notre Dame coaching staff to get a complete picture of the football program and university. He reached out to fellow Rock Hill, S.C., product Jeff Burris, a former All-American safety for the Irish. Burris’ brother, Pat, coached McCloud at South Pointe High School.

“I’ve known Jeff since I was little,” McCloud said. “Throughout this process, he definitely helped me with some good direction in terms of picking Notre Dame.”

McCloud also tapped into his relationship with former Notre Dame cornerback Troy Pride Jr., a fellow South Carolina product.

“Just like Jeff, he gave me some good feedback and talked about ND,” McCloud said. “It made me feel better about my decision.”

While plotting his next move, McCloud has continued to workout around Rock Hill or with a trainer in Charlotte. He’s also worked out with New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore, who won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award last season, is a fellow South Pointe grad.

“We’ve been close for a very long time,” McCloud said of Gilmore. “As far as football, anything that comes up when we’re working out, I can just pick his brain. Anything that he sees when I’m doing something good or bad, he let’s me know.”

McCloud said his knee feels good following last year’s injury. He didn’t expect his senior season to turn into a redshirt season, but it became unavoidable when he reaggravated his knee injury in November.

McCloud, who totaled 85 tackles, 15 pass breakups and three interceptions as a sophomore and junior, suffered the initial injury in the season opener against East Carolina. He returned 10 weeks later to play against Clemson but couldn’t finish the season.

“Looking back on it, I definitely wasn’t ready to go,” McCloud said. “I was just trying to do anything to try to help us win.”

The Wolfpack didn’t do much winning without McCloud. N.C. State finished the season 4-8, which led to significant turnover on the defensive coaching staff.

A redshirt year allowed McCloud the chance to play one more college season. In January, McCloud decided he wasn’t going to do that at N.C. State, but he wanted to finish his degree in business administration in May first.

“I don’t really want to get too much into detail on that,” McCloud said of his decision to leave N.C. State, “but I felt like it would be a better opportunity somewhere else.”

McCloud is confident that opportunity will come at Notre Dame. He’s ready to make some memories that last.

“I’m going to play harder than anybody on the field,” McCloud said, “be smarter than just about anybody on the field and give great effort.”

Former NC State cornerback Nick McCloud (right) is set to join his new team, Notre Dame, for on-campus workouts later this month.
Former N.C. State cornerback Nick McCloud, left, brings down Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross in 2018. McCloud plans to enroll at Notre Dame as a graduate transfer.