Notre Dame

Notre Dame: Position change, more responsibility no problem for C.J. Prosise


Notre Dame: Position change, more responsibility no problem for C.J. Prosise

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — C.J. Prosise played plenty of different positions during his prep career at Woodberry Forest High School, which sits about 30 minutes outside Charlottesville, Va., where he’ll make his first career start at running back for Notre Dame on Saturday.

Prosise was a star safety — he succeeded former Stanford standout Ed Reynolds at that position in high school — a wide receiver, a punt returner and a kick returner. He played basketball — “He looked like Dwayne Wade,” Woodberry Forest football coach Clint Alexander said — and ran track, too.

So when Notre Dame coaches came to him earlier this year and told him he’d be moving from slot receiver to running back, Prosise was ready for the challenge.

“In my opinion only, the reason why he’s excelled so fast at the running back spot is he’s moved around a little bit, he’s incredibly unselfish, so when they’ve asked him to do something he’s done it,” Alexander told “He didn’t hang his head, he didn’t pout, he didn’t spend two weeks going, Oh man, this is BS, I’m doing so well at receiver, why’d they move me. He just went, okay, so how do I help the team. I think that’s why he’s made the progress he has is he didn’t resist. He said okay, if this is how I can help the team, I’m going to do it.”

The 6-foot, 220-pound Prosise was recruited to Notre Dame as an athlete without a pre-determined position. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco wanted him as a safety — he told Alexander he hadn’t seen any safety run sideline-to-sideline like Prosise did in high school — but Kelly mentioned during the recruiting process he might wind up as a receiver.

“I saw him dunking a basketball at his high school, and I saw this athlete, and I said, I don't know where he's going to play, but we've got to take him,” Kelly recalled. “He's just that good of an athlete. Loved his personality. Again, his makeup, great fit from a great school. We've just got to find a place for him to play.”

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After redshirting as a safety his freshman year, Prosise indeed was moved to slot receiver in 2013, where Notre Dame had a red-line need after losing Robby Toma to graduation and Davonte Neal to a transfer. He caught seven passes for 72 yards that year, then built off it with 29 receptions, 516 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.

But in the span of two years, Notre Dame went from having thin depth in the slot to a bulging group of players. Graduate student Amir Carlisle, redshirt sophomore Torii Hunter Jr. and true freshman C.J. Sanders were penciled in at the Z position, while Notre Dame had a need at running back behind Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.

So Prosise — not Carlisle, who had previous experience as a running back — was moved into the backfield, where he instantly impressed coaches with a strong combination of quickness and toughness.

“He just plays the game fast and physical,” Kelly said. “He doesn't think about it. He's not afraid of contact. He's somebody that, whether he's running the ball or he's catching the ball, he's always played that fearless kind of game. I just it's probably more about the way he competes more than anything else.”

Notre Dame expected Prosise to share time with Folston, an established No. 1 running back, this fall. But three plays into Saturday’s game against Texas, Folston suffered a torn ACL that ended his game and season. In stepped Prosise, who carried 20 times for 98 yards in his first game as a running back at any level.

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“Never did I think (Folston) would be done for the season,” Prosise said. “It definitely hurt me, and it definitely hurt our team because he’s such a great guy and a great leader for this team but in the same voice I knew I could step up and be the next man in, so I had to come in and do my job.”

Prosise’s job may not be to take 20 carries every Saturday between now and the end of November — Kelly & Co.’s gameplan won’t necessarily involve 50-plus runs as it did against Texas and LSU — but unless freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams pick up the offense ahead of schedule, it’ll be Prosise assuming the No. 1 running back duties vacated by the injured Folston.

The transition to running back hasn’t been without its hitches — there are certain fundamentals and nuances Prosise admitted he’s still picking up — but his experience as a slot receiver in the Irish offense proved invaluable in accelerating the process.

“Why he's been able to move into the position that he is in is because of his physical ability, his maturity, and understanding the offense,” Kelly said. “But it's certainly a work in progress as it related to the fundamentals. (We’re) not seeing some of the things fundamentally that need to continue to grow for him because they could end up hurting us down the road if we don't get better at them. And he knows that too.”

Despite Malik Zaire’s phenomenal home debut throwing the ball — 19/22 passing, 313 yards, three touchdowns — establishing the run remains paramount to the Irish offense. Not only does it allow Zaire to work effectively off play-action, but it also lessens the chances of Notre Dame committing the kind of game-ruining turnovers that burned this offense so badly in 2011, 2013 and 2014.

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Prosise’s task as Notre Dame’s top running back began Saturday night against Texas and will continue Saturday at Virginia, where he estimated about 20 friends and family, as well as Alexander, will be there.

What they’ll see is an athlete whose nomadic existence on both sides of the ball prepared him for the moment.

“I think C.J. can play anywhere on the offensive side of the ball and for him to be able to do it in the fashion he has and make it a little more smooth than a traditional Z would, it’s something that is attributed to him,” Zaire said. “He has the body to do whatever he wants to do. His transition has been pretty clean and it’s only getting better from here.”

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

A 4-8 season in 2016 has put Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly on the hot seat as he heads into his eighth season with the Fighting Irish.

In response to a tumultuous season, Kelly made major changes to his staff this past offseason by hiring new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Mike Elko, who previously led Wake Forest to an FBS Top-40 total defense ranking, was hired by Kelly to be Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, and Chip Long — former offensive coordinator at Memphis — will now be in charge of the Fighting Irish offense.

However, the biggest change and arguably the No. 1 factor in Kelly's long-term future in South Bend, will be the person under center in 2017.

Barring an unforeseen circumstance, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — a former Rivals four-star recruit — will lead Notre Dame out of the tunnel in Week 1 vs. Temple.

Wimbush has only thrown five passes during his time at Notre Dame, but showed what kind of talent he has with a 58-yard rushing touchdown as a freshman in 2015.

Wimbush was one of the focal points of a recent Rivals story regarding quarterbacks who will be facing pressure in 2017

Earlier this week, Rivals Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave his scouting report on the Notre Dame quarterback.

I’m a big fan of Wimbush but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s not that I didn’t like him when I first scouted him before his high school career took off, but what I saw way back when was a kid who had a rocket arm and zero touch. But throughout his high school career he improved every time I saw him, showed much more than just a strong arm and flashed impressive poise for his age.

I’ve seen very limited action when it comes to Wimbush in college as he hasn’t played often and his spring game performance had ups and downs, but I believe in this kid’s ability. He can extend the play, has that great arm and just needs to get comfortable in the Notre Dame offense and make sure he doesn’t try to use that cannon to fit the ball into tight spots. I can see him having some growing pains this season, but as he gets more comfortable and learns to take what the defense gives him while keeping defenses off balance with his athletic ability, I think he’ll finish strong.

Will Wimbush's rocket arm be enough to save Kelly from the hot seat?

That's still to be determined.

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

After a handful of late additions sent in their national letters of intent to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Notre Dame on Wednesday announced its 21-player recruiting class of 2017. There are a couple of ways to view the end of what was a volatile recruiting period for the Irish:

The glass-half-full take:

Two and a half months after wrapping up an embarrassing 4-8 season, Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class ranks 11th by 247 Sports, 13th by Rivals, 13th by Scout and 16th by ESPN. In fact, Notre Dame actually ranks higher this year in 247 Sports' composite rankings (11th) than it did in 2016 (15th), when the Irish were coming off a 10-win season and a Fiesta Bowl berth. 

Nearly scraping together a top-10 class after going 4-8 and losing four assistant coaches in Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock, Scott Booker and Keith Gilmore is an impressive feat (Greg Hudson was only an interim defensive coordinator, and Brian VanGorder was far from a reliable recruiter). Plenty of kudos should be extended the way of recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Mike Elston for heading up the program's efforts to keep what began as a pretty strong class from disintegrating. 

Additionally, coach Brian Kelly pointed to the work of the 15 verbally-committed players who stuck with their pledges even as Notre Dame sustained a string of confounding losses and significant coaching turnover. 

"We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish," Kelly said. "Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame."

Five of those players enrolled early — tight end Brock Wright, offensive linemen Robert Gainsay and Aaron Banks, running back C.J. Holmes and safety Isaiah Robertson, all of whom 247 sports rated as four-star recruits — and guys like tight end Cole Kmet, quarterback Avery Davis and offensive linemen Joshua Lugg never wavered, too. 

That those players stuck together helped Notre Dame maintain a good base after the NCAA-mandated dead period lifted after the College Football Playoff title game last month, and new coaches Brian Polian, Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Chip Long and DelVaughn Alexander were able to bring in six late additions to the class: safety Jordan Genmark Heath, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive lineman Kofi Wardlow. 

Armstrong, Tagovailoa and Wardlow all filled red-line positions of need, while adding more players to increase the pool of talent available to Elko is hardly a bad thing. 

But the optimistic viewpoint here is the deck was stacked against Notre Dame in recruiting, and they actually turned out a pretty good hand thanks to a complete effort from everyone in the athletic department. 

"Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, met with our recruits," Kelly said. "That's unusual. I don't think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet with recruits.

"In a lot of instances he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it's going. There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future. So having Jack's involvement in this was absolutely crucial to get to where we are."

Now, for the glass-half-empty take:

Notre Dame had six players decommit, five of whom were at positions of need (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver). Only four-star defensive end Robert Beal jumped ship before Notre Dame's fall tailspin was underway, and four of those six decommitting players were four-star recruits. 

Notre Dame wound up replacing them with six late commitments, but five of those late-deciding players were three-star recruits and one (Doerner) was a two-star player. That's a good recipe for slipping from having a top-10 class to one on the outside looking in. 

A common lament among fans is that Notre Dame has struggled to sign five-star recruits lately, and while it's true the Irish haven't done that since 2013 — Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield, as rated by 247 Sports — that's not as big an issue as it may seem. Just look at the disparity in college success between Smith and Redfield as a front-and-center example of how a five-star rating doesn't guarantee success in college. Signing more four/five-star recruits than two/three-star ones is far more important (more on that in a bit). 

But the bigger issue with Notre Dame's 2017 class perhaps has more to do with its 2016 class. Notre Dame lost ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks after the 2014 season and re-worked its entire recruiting operation in response, which led to little oomph in a 2016 class that, based on the prior season, should've been much better than it was. 

Last year's group could ultimately build a legacy as a less-heralded crop of recruits that went on to success — the strong debuts of 247 Sports three-stars in cornerback Julian Love and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson were good starts — but there's a long way to go there. 

If 2016 was supposed to be a more transitional recruiting class, though, then 2017 represents a massive missed opportunity. Going 4-8 with all the right recruiting machinations in place is a glaring shortcoming for the future of the program — even a nine-win season could've allowed Notre Dame to hang on to some of those four-star players it lost and earn a top-10 class ranking. 

More importantly than a top-10 class, though, is pulling in more four- and five-star recruits than two and-three star ones. Notre Dame didn't do that in 2017 (10 four-star recruits out of 21) or 2016 (10 four-star recruits out of 23) after hitting that benchmark each of the last three recruiting cycles. That's a worrying trend given the correlation between signing a majority of four- and five-star recruits and winning a championship

The last two recruiting cycles have been, in that context, significant disappointment. While strong classes in 2014 and 2015 could prop up a playoff run as soon as this fall, the future of the program may not be on solid footing even if the Irish engineer a major turnaround in 2017. Next year's class likely will be critical to the long-term success of the program under Kelly, presuming he's still around to usher in the next group of recruits in February of 2018.