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March 27, 2013

Neal, Ferguson leave Irish

Davonte Neal's Irish career ended before it could really get started. The same goes for Justin Ferguson.

The sophomore receivers left Notre Dame less than a week into spring practice, Brian Kelly said on Wednesday.

The transfers follow Gunner Kiel quitting the Irish before the start of spring ball. When linked with Tee Shepard leaving the University barely two months into his college career, it means the top three prospects from the sophomore class have all left the program.

For Neal, the decision to leave Notre Dame after one season revolved around the birth of his daughter Baylee, who was born on Feb. 2 to Neal's longtime girlfriend in Arizona.

"Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson are no longer part of the football program and they wont be in the future," said head coach Brian Kelly. "We wish them the best in their future endeavors."

Neal appeared primed to make an impact last fall when the coaching staff manufactured a catch and a carry for the freshman in the opener against Navy. Those proved to be Neal's final touches outside of punt returns, where he averaged 2.2 yards on 21 attempts.

Neal's role appeared primed to expand this year as Notre Dame looks for a slot option following the graduations of Theo Riddick and Robby Toma. With Amir Carlisle sidelined by a collarbone injury, Neal's opportunity seemed ready to swell.

Kelly said CJ Prosise could be a candidate at slot receiver.

"We got next guy steps up," Kelly said. "You know me, next man in. We just fill it in. There will be a number of guys. CJ Prosise is doing a great job. He's been a very pleasant surprise … that's probably the wrong word. He's been what we thought he could be, he's just done it a lot quicker than we thought."

Kelly described his ideal slot receiver as a running back/receiver hybrid, something Neal played in high school when he went over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving as a senior. He was the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona and played in the Under Armour All-American Game.

Now he'll leave South Bend for a college destination closer to home. Neal will likely be forced to sit out next season to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements, although he could petition for a hardship waiver and immediate eligibility.

For Ferguson, playing time appeared distant despite Notre Dame's lack of depth at receiver. He played primarily on special teams last season and was the third of the three sophomore receivers behind Chris Brown and Neal. He also faced a challenge for reps this spring from early enrollees Corey Robinson and James Onwualu.

Ferguson made one catch for nine yards last season.

The Irish will continue spring practice with seven available scholarship receivers in TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Luke Massa, Daniels Smith, Brown, Onwualu and Robinson.


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