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Leftovers & Links: Trio of early-enrolling Notre Dame receivers most likely of dozen arrivals to impact 2023


The well-intentioned instinct is to insist the dozen freshmen enrolling early at Notre Dame this week are unlikely to make a noticeable impact in the fall. Starting their collegiate courseloads Tuesday and strength and conditioning work six months ahead of their classmates will have benefits, but those typically do not show themselves via touchdowns and tackles in the immediate fall.

Irish head coach Marcus Freeman made it a point during December’s signing period to highlight how few of last year’s freshmen played notable roles in 2022. Only five players burned a season of eligibility, and only cornerbacks Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey were regular contributors all season long. For that matter, while Mickey enrolled early a year ago and impressed in the spring, it was the summertime-arrival Morrison who earned freshman All-American honors.

“When you bring these guys in, it’s going to take a little bit of time to really be able to run out there at Notre Dame Stadium and have a huge impact on our program,” Freeman said. “It takes time. Very few guys can come in here and play and start right away.”

That is the well-intentioned instinct, to once again echo Freeman.

But one position group should be the exception in 2023. Maybe no freshman receiver will star in as many highlights as Morrison did as he intercepted six passes in the last five games of the year, but with three receivers enrolling early this week and the position group desperately needing more of a rotation, they should impact 2023.

As is, only rising juniors Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas, and rising sophomore Tobias Merriweather return for Notre Dame, along with former walk-on, sixth-year Matt Salerno. Combined, they caught 70 passes for 997 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Irish would rather one receiver put up that kind of stat line.

That should not be expected from Jaden Greathouse, Rico Flores or Braylon James, but even just running a handful of routes each week will give Notre Dame some receiver depth it hasn’t enjoyed in a couple years and desperately needs.

“That’s what the coaches have been telling me, is that they want to be throwing the ball all over the field,” Greathouse said to Inside ND Sports. “And I think once our recruiting class starts making an impact, we’ll definitely be able to start doing that.

“So, why not start that process as soon as possible? I’m excited. I trust the coaches, for sure. They definitely know what they’re doing, and I can’t wait to get it rolling.”

The early-enrolling freshmen trio of receivers will be all the more vital given the most notable arrival for Notre Dame this semester. Little may be outright expected from the dozen freshmen beginning classes this week, but much is wanted from the five incoming transfers, most notably quarterback Sam Hartman and receiver Kaleb Smith.

As college football has undergone some rapid changes in the last couple of seasons as it pertains to roster management, spring practices have found a renewed importance. A sixth-year quarterback who will turn 24 in late July, Hartman will need the 15 practices to learn Tommy Rees’ offense. He has not had years of percolating to do so as would usually be the case with a new starting quarterback. The reps will have even more value than they did, say, a year ago as Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne competed to be the starting quarterback.

INCOMING EARLY ENROLLEES: Greathouse, Flores, James, quarterback Kenny Minchey, offensive lineman Sam Pendleton, safeties Ben Minich and Adon Shuler, cornerback Christian Gray, linebackers Jaiden Ausberry, Drayk Bowen and Preston Zinter, and defensive tackle Devan Houstan.

INCOMING TRANSFERS: Hartman, Smith, safety Thomas Harper, defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste, kicker Spencer Shrader.

Hartman’s first chance to shine in a gold helmet — well, a gold helmet that does not have a “WF” on it — will come in the Blue-Gold Game, officially set for April 22.

For the third year in a row, the spring finale will be broadcast exclusively on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.

Opening 2023 title odds paint similar picture for Notre Dame next seasonAnd In That Corner … A deep dive into former Wake Forest, new Notre Dame QB Sam HartmanOhio State DE Javontae Jean-Baptiste transfers to Notre Dame

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