NOTRE DAME — At this point, it’s hard to catch Brian Kelly off guard.
He said as much when he announced that receivers Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, two members of the 2012 recruiting class, transferred from Notre Dame.
“(They) are no longer part of the football program and they won’t be in the future,” Kelly said at a Wednesday, March 27 press conference. “We wish them the very best in their future endeavors.”
Neal and Ferguson become the third and fourth transfers from the 2012 class behind Gunner Kiel and Tee Shepard. Kelly wouldn’t go into details about the transfers, but says he isn’t surprised when players decide to part ways with the program.
“Nothing surprises me,” he said. “I just deal with strictly with, when I meet at 7 a.m., who are the guys that are here, who are the guys who are out there? The information will get where it needs to get to, but I focus strictly on the program and the guys that I coach.”
Neal was a popular candidate to fill in at slot-receiver, vacated by the graduated Robby Toma, after spending most of his freshman year as a punt returner.
But Kelly assures losing both players doesn’t kill any momentum on a team that hasn’t developed a big-name receiver since Michael Floyd.
“There will be more guys leaving, there will be more guys coming,” he said. “This is a process that every year you go through that you’re going to have some additions, you’re going to have some deletions. But we didn’t miss a step. Our guys are going to go out and compete. They know. They’re prepared for the next man in. They didn’t blink, nor do I, nor the staff.
Blue & Gold Illustrated first broke the story on Neal late Tuesday night.
Neal’s father, Luke Neal, talked to Blue & Gold about his son’s decision.
“The reason for Davonte’s transfer is that he’s the father of a six-week old baby girl (Baylee) with his girlfriend (Marie Burton) that he has dated since seventh grade,” said Luke Neal, Davonte’s father, of his granddaughter that was born on Feb. 2. “The plan was to move his girlfriend and his baby to South Bend, but Davonte’ just felt the need to be closer to his family and his girlfriend’s family at this time,” Luke Neal told Blue & Gold.
“It’s a situation that I’ve been talking to Davonte’ about the past four months through his girlfriend’s pregnancy, and he’s finally realized he wants to be involved in his daughter’s life closer than from a distance at Notre Dame.”
Kelly said Amir Carlisle and CJ Prosise are two up-and-coming players who may fill in for Neal at slot receiver. Carlisle suffered a broken collarbone in contact drills earlier this week and will be out for spring practice.
Early enrollee Corey Robinson has also been turning heads this spring.
“He catches everything in his area code,” Kelly said. “We’ve just got to get him stronger. We’re going to continue to work with him. He’s been very impressive. I just really like the young guys.”
Kelly said TJ Jones “and a host of others” were in the running to replace Neal on punt return duties.