Pick your favorite adjective for Notre Dame freshman receiver Jaden Greathouse
SOUTH BEND — Jaden Greathouse, who should still be making plans for his Senior Prom at Austin’s Westlake High School, smiled slightly on a soggy Saturday afternoon upon hearing two particular words.
They stand out among the many his Notre Dame football position coach, former NFL wide receiver Chansi Stuckey, recently used to describe the early enrolled Texan’s game.
“Nifty” was the first one.
“Slippery” was the other.
The niftiness, Stuckey said a few days before this Saturday’s rain-marred Blue-Gold Game, shows in Greathouse’s ability to work himself free “in, around and through” zone defenses.
“He can be slippery and get around guys," Stuckey said, “but has enough power and quickness at the line of scrimmage to beat guys.”
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After making 11 catches on 13 targets, Greathouse was asked about those adjectives after his 108-yard receiving day in the Gold’s 24-0 intrasquad win. (Yeah, I know it said 118 yards on the stat sheet, but there was a clerical error on Sam Hartman’s first completion of a boffo afternoon.)
“I work on it every day,” Greathouse said. “I take a lot of pride in my route running. Just trying to improve in any way that I can.”
At 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, Greathouse is sturdily built with a maturity beyond his years.
“JG,” Stuckey said, “is just physically ready to play.”
Sam Hartman raves about receiver's 'natural hands"
The mental side of the game seems to favor Greathouse as well. He showed that in the very first receiving drill on the very first day of spring practice, exactly one month earlier.
Stuckey, who demands his receivers make all manner of difficult catches, was firing off-line passes at a succession of receivers as they worked through the exercise. On one of the first reps, Greathouse made a seemingly impossible catch that required him to contort his body as he leaped several feet off the ground.
A few minutes later, however, Greathouse dropped two straight passes from Stuckey, comparatively easy chances that could understandably be attributed to nerves.
“Go back. Go back,” Stuckey reassured the prodigy in a calming voice. "Relax. Relax."
On the third try, Greathouse made the catch. At this rate, he might never drop another ball again.
“Adjusting to the speed of the game has been a pretty big challenge,” Greathouse said. “It’s a lot faster than high school, but I’m slowly but surely getting there and I’m excited for this summer so I can work.”
The first four passes Greathouse caught on Saturday — totaling 41 yards — arrived sizzling via Hartman.
“Greathouse,” the Wake Forest grad transfer said a week into spring practice, “has some natural hands.”
In return, Greathouse called Hartman “a tremendous player,” noting the “similar positions” and “common ground” they have as newcomers to the Notre Dame scene.
The main difference, Greathouse admitted, is that Hartman “has played a lot more years in college than I have.”
Hoops helped: 68-4 in basketball
The final seven catches for Greathouse came via redshirt freshman quarterback Steve Angeli, the darling of last year’s spring game.
“The ball just kept coming to me, and I just kept trying to stay disciplined and do what I’m supposed to do,” Greathouse said. “They just kept coming my way. I’ll never complain about that. It’s all thanks to the quarterbacks giving me the ball in the first place.”
One certainly can’t blame them for looking No. 19’s way, especially when protection broke down and a play needed to be made. A standout guard in basketball, Greathouse long ago learned how to concentrate while levitating.
“His ball skills are out of control just from his basketball background and what they did at Westlake,” Stuckey said of the school that produced Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles. “You put him into the boundary, getting inside the 10-yard-line — any ball, anywhere, he’s going to make a play.”
Greathouse, who led the Chapparals to a 68-4 record on the hardwood in his final two hoops seasons, credits basketball as well.
“It’s definitely been helpful for as long as I can remember,” he said. “It keeps you in good shape for sure.”
And the body control?
“Just being able to stay centered, trying not to get outside of my frame, that helps a lot too,” he said. “Just the agility of everything and being able to bend my body in ways to where I can go and make a play has definitely been a big contributor.”
Here comes the J-Crew
Ball skills were in abundance for the Gold Team’s J-Crew on this wet, chilly afternoon.
Jaden Mickey, the sophomore cornerback, made a leaping interception against Tyler Buchner in the first quarter.
Jayden Thomas, the third-year sophomore, beat Clarence Lewis on a 46-yard post to haul in Hartman’s longest completion. Thomas also juked Junior Tuihalamaka after a short catch that turned into a 9-yard touchdown on the game’s first series.
Jaiden Ausberry, the early enrolled linebacker from Baton Rouge, might have added a pick-six to the ledger but he couldn’t hang on to another Buchner floater in the early going.
That’s OK. There will be other chances, and plenty of them, for the most precocious talents on a roster suddenly teeming with those.
“It’s crazy,” Greathouse said. “It’s a blessing for sure.”
The nifty/slippery one thought back to last year’s Blue-Gold Game and the sunny memories that came along with it.
“I remember a year ago, I was in the stands watching this game,” he said. “I’m just trying to make the best of the opportunity God gave me.”
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.