Freshman WR Lorenzo Styles just scratching surface of his potential at Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — Lorenzo Styles set a career-high in receiving yards in Notre Dame’s 44-34 victory over North Carolina last Saturday. The freshman wide receiver turned his three catches into 74 yards to lead the Irish in receiving yardage for the second consecutive week.
The most productive performance of his Notre Dame career included a 40-yard catch and run against the Tar Heels. But the play Styles was most proud of when speaking with reporters for the first time at Notre Dame on Tuesday didn’t even happen on offense.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Styles retweeted footage of the play, which was highlighted by Greg Flammang of UHND.com (@greg2126), on Monday. It showed how Styles not only fulfilled his role as a “vicer” on the punt return team by blocking one of North Carolina’s gunners clear out of the picture away from punt returner Kyren Williams, but he re-emerged into the picture in a sprint to get ahead of Williams and throw another block on the 47-yard return in the first quarter.
“I love special teams,” Styles said. “The most hype play for me the last game was making that block for Kyren.”
Styles knows the importance of blocks on special teams. He returned punt and kickoffs at Pickerington (Ohio) Central High School and scored four touchdowns (three punts and one kickoff) in that role. Prior to Notre Dame, Styles had never been a blocker on special teams. But before his freshman season started, Styles made sure special teams coordinator Brian Polian knew he was willing to take on any special teams role.
“The dudes are faster, like a lot faster,” Styles said of the gunners he’s been asked to block for punt returns. “So they’re running down pretty fast. Now I see why they double them in the NFL. But yeah, it’s been a fun role for me.”
Styles has plenty of speed himself. That much was clear when he zoomed past Williams to block North Carolina’s punter. The Irish have found ways to utilize that speed on offense even more as the season has progressed.
After catching just two passes for 16 yards in the first six games of the season, Styles put together six catches for 131 yards in the last two games against USC and UNC.
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The time that Styles and starting quarterback Jack Coan spent working together in the offseason is finally starting to show up on Saturdays. Coan, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin, and Styles, a four-star recruit, both enrolled at Notre Dame in February. That allowed the two to get a head start on building chemistry.
“He’s just a guy I know I can trust because of all of those extra reps,” Coan said. “He’s going to continue to put his head down and work and he’s a special player.
“He’s an amazing athlete. You get him the ball in space and he’s going to get yards after catch and make plays. He’s super fast.”
When some first-year players would be hitting the freshman wall, Styles seems to be accelerating through it.
“When I first came in, it’s easy to come in trying to work hard, trying to be great every single day,” Styles said. “But then when life builds up on you, a lot of dudes starting giving up or not going as hard. I’ve always been the same person every single day. I’m trying to be the best.”
From Ohio to Notre Dame
Outsiders probably figured Styles would end up at Ohio State.
That’s where his father, also Lorenzo, played from 1992-94 and ended his career as an All-Big Ten linebacker before being selected in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. Styles Sr. played two seasons for the Atlanta Falcons and four more for the St. Louis Rams, including a Super Bowl XXXIV championship.
Styles Sr. later took his football knowledge into coaching at the high school, college and arena levels. The younger Styles played his high school football 30 minutes away from Ohio Stadium at Pickerington Central with his dad on the coaching staff. But fulfilling a Buckeye legacy wasn’t a strong enough pull for Styles Jr.
“My dad hadn’t even been back to Ohio State until my recruiting," Styles Jr. said. "So, I wouldn’t really say we were an Ohio State family. Of course being from Ohio, when it is Saturday, most people are watching the Ohio State game.”
What Styles Jr. did inherit from both his father and mother, Laverna, was a competitive drive and high expectations.
“My parents, both my mom and my dad, they demand a lot out of me,” Styles Jr. said. “So, they always put that pressure on me since I was a young kid. I put that pressure on myself. With those two things going together, it turned out really well for me.”
Styles Jr. starred at Pickerington Central, where he ended his junior season with a game-winning touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of the Division I state championship. By that time, he had already given Notre Dame his verbal commitment, because he wanted to do something different than his father.
Styles Jr. received plenty of encouragement from his mother too. He made a point to make sure he shouted her out during his interview on Tuesday, which came a day after her birthday. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had already given her praise in his Monday press conference.
“She is an incredible mother and a strong figure in that family that, in my eyes, has created such a discipline in how Lorenzo acts on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “When he comes to practice, he's prepared, he's ready, he's disciplined. He does that in the classroom, and he brings that to the football field.
“A lot of that is the parents and what they do in the home. That is reflected in the way he's developed. His parents have definitely influenced him a lot.”
That influence made way to Styles Jr. confidently picking the school of his choice while knowing his parents would back his decision.
“My dad’s just really super proud of me,” Styles Jr. said. “It feels good for my dad to be proud of my decision and proud of what I’m doing. That’s really encouraging. I really appreciate my parents for all the endless support.”
The recruiting pressure now rests with younger brother, Sonny, a junior, do-everything defender at Pickerington Central. Rivals rates Sonny as a five-star prospect and the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2023 class. 247Sports hasn’t given him a fifth star yet, but he’s positioned at No. 12 overall in the class.
Sonny, who has offers from power programs across the country, will be on Notre Dame’s campus to watch his older brother play against Navy (2-6) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. on NBC).
But Styles Jr. won't pressure Sonny into joining him for good.
“From a brother standpoint, of course I would love to have my brother come here and play,” Styles Jr. said. “That would be pretty amazing. But as a recruiter, I’m not even trying to force him or push him to come here.
“He should do what’s best for him. If I try to do that – everyone tried to push me to go to Ohio State, all my friends, everyone from back home. But this was the best fit for me. I’m going to let him do the same thing.”
Breaking through as a freshman
Lorenzo Styles’ teammates might as well have been trying to communicate to him in Morse code.
The Irish freshman tried to learn as much of the offensive playbook as possible in preparing for spring practice earlier this year, but he wasn’t quite ready to ace a test on the signals used to communicate the plays from the sideline.
“First, I had to learn all of the playbook,” Styles said. “And then the signals just looked like gibberish. I was like, ‘What are they doing?’ I never did that in high school.”
Fortunately, Styles was paired with freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner as dorm roommates. Buchner needed to know the signals even more than Styles did, so the two were able to help each other become proficient in what they meant.
In the recruiting process, Styles heard the negative recruiting rap on Notre Dame’s inability to find production in freshman wide receivers. As he was going through his first semester, Styles started to get a sense for how freshmen can get lost in the shuffle. Not only was he trying to learn the playbook and its signals and sharpen his technique as a wide receiver, he was transitioning into a whole new world for himself.
“I’m really trying to navigate through life,” Styles said. “I have school, friends, football, all that together. Sometimes everything gets a little fuzzy.”
While it may have slowed Styles down, the speed bumps didn’t last. Styles already has more catches this season (eight for 147 yards) than any Notre Dame freshman wide receiver since Kevin Stepherson finished with 25 catches for 462 yards and five touchdowns in 2016.
When fellow freshman Deion Colzie caught a seven-yard pass in the second game of the season against Toledo, he recorded Notre Dame's first reception by a freshman wide receiver since Kevin Austin Jr. in 2018. Styles caught a two-yard pass on the very next play.
The opportunities for Styles last we against North Carolina increased with senior Braden Lenzy sidelined with a concussion at his position. Styles delivered, even if he dropped a pass that would have gone for at least 40 yards early in the third quarter. Coan went right back to him four plays later for a 25-yard reception.
“He's going to continue to impact,” Kelly said of Styles. “He has a great demeanor. His work ethic is outstanding during the week. His volume is amazing. We can throw a lot of volume on him. And he's explosive. You can see him, right? When he touches the ball, he's explosive.”
As Styles tells it, he’s only scratching the surface too. He wants to get better at the top of his routes. He needs to be more precise in the depths of his routes. All of that should come with time.
Meanwhile, the unfinished product can still get the job done.
“I’m nowhere near my ceiling right now,” Styles said. “I still have so much potential. I don’t know a bunch of technical, fine stuff about playing receiver.
“Right now, I can just get the ball in my hands and be pretty explosive. Once I can become a great receiver, things will be looking really good for me.”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.