Grad transfer Nick McCloud looks to be an answer in a CB room filled with question marks

Carter Karels | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

The only time Nick McCloud had ever been to Notre Dame’s campus prior to completing his transfer there in June was what he remembers as a notably brisk late October afternoon in 2017.

And it was as an opposing player at Notre Dame Stadium, not as a recruiting visitor.

His taste of Irish football in a 35-14 ND rout of NC State as a starting cornerback for the Wolfpack stayed with him when he emerged from the transfer portal in May after four months of limbo.

“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 the appeal of Notre Dame, a school he chose over the likes of Pitt and Virginia.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCloud wasn’t able to visit any of his finalist schools in person.

McCloud made four tackles and broke up a potential touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin Stepherson in his only game to date at Notre Dame Stadium, back in 2017.

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

His hope is to create more pleasant memories in the season ahead as one of four grad transfers on the 2020 Irish roster.

The ND coaches wouldn’t have added him if they didn’t think he had the potential to start, or at least be a significant contributor.

“Just the makeup. He’s a competitive kid as well,” said first-year ND cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens on what made a one-year flier on McCloud attractive.

“I think he will fit into the group well that way. He’s an older kid, being a grad transfer. I think he fits the group as wanting the same things and what the guys go through every day, wanting to win a national championship and compete at the highest level.

“I think he’s fitting in right with them, and that’s kind of the mindset we want in our program.”

The Irish lost their top corner, Troy Pride Jr., to the Carolina Panthers. He was a fourth-round in the 2020 NFL Draft in April.

That leaves the 6-foot-1, 190-pound McCloud as the most experienced cornerback on the roster. His 37 game appearances are more than sixth-year graduate senior Shaun Crawford (25) or junior TaRiq Bracy (24), the two corners who started the aborted spring session as projected starters.

The other six cornerbacks on the roster are either redshirt (KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford and converted wide receiver Cam Hart) or true freshmen (Caleb Offord, Ramon Henderson and Clarence Lewis), with not a single high-leverage snap in college among them.

So while Notre Dame has numbers, do the Irish have answers?

Hart is intriguing because of his size (6-3, 205) and his experience playing defensive back at a high level in high school.

“I’m excited to see him,” Mickens said. “In meetings, he’s focused. So we’re excited to see him compete, get out there and get after it as well.”

Keeping the top of the depth chart healthy is key.

A partially torn MCL in his left knee limited McCloud to two games last season. He suffered the injury in the season opener against East Carolina, then attempted to play 10 weeks later against Clemson and reaggravated the injury.

In his two seasons before the injury, McCloud tallied a combined 85 tackles, 15 pass breakups and three interceptions.

Crawford had his own injury history, with a dislocated left elbow that kept him out two games in 2019 and three seasons prior to last year in which his season ended before mid-September, each time with a serious leg injury.

When he was healthy, Crawford played cornerback, nickel and even a little safety and registered 28 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.

“He’s very mature,” Mickens said. “He’s had a lot of experience, being here and going into his sixth year. We’re going to lean on him, as a group, and have him help mentor these young men too, because he’s been through it as well.”

Collective inexperience doesn’t mean the Irish won’t be aggressive. In fact, defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Terry Joseph and Mickens sold McCloud on their approach to do just the opposite.

“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.”

Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford (20) is back for a sixth year for the Irish.


28 TaRiq Bracy 5-10 180 Jr.
4 Nick McCloud 6-1 190 Gr.
5 Cam Hart 6-3 205 So.
16 KJ Wallace 5-10 185 So.
11 Ramon Henderson 6-1 182 Fr.


20 Shaun Crawford 5-9 180 Gr.
15 Isaiah Rutherford 6-1 189 So.
26 Clarence Lewis 6-0 185 Fr.
21 Caleb Offord 6-1 184 Fr.


20 Shaun Crawford 5-9 180 Gr.
16 KJ Wallace 5-10 185 So.
26 Clarence Lewis 6-0 185 Fr.