Notre Dame’s Best California Defensive Backs
For the fourth consecutive recruiting cycle, Notre Dame has landed a verbal commitment from a California defensive back. Seldom is that achieved from any state, never mind one more than halfway around the country.
Wednesday’s pledge from 6-1, 170-pound Encino, Calif., 2021 cornerback recruit Chance Tucker continued a trend that began with current junior TaRiq Bracy (Milpitas) in 2018, continued with Isaiah Rutherford (Sacramento) in 2019 and carried over to Ramon Henderson (Bakersfield) in 2020.
Bracy led the team in passes broken up last year with seven, and Rutherford made off-season strides in his freshman season that has defensive coordinator Clark Lea believing he could complement the corner contingent this season. Henderson enrolled early this January. His opportunity for advancement, as with everyone else’s, was cut short this spring.
While California always has been one of the most fertile areas in Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts — part of why the USC and Stanford rivalries have been so important before getting temporarily cut off this year because of the coronavirus — such quantity in one position group has been unusual.
Other than Pennsylvania, no state has been more prominent at producing top quarterback prospects for Notre Dame than California. In the 60 seasons since 1960, current graduate student Ian Book is the eighth different quarterback from the Golden State to start at signal-caller for the Irish, with 2020 his third straight season in that role.
As for the best defensive backs from California, here’s our countdown:
Honorable Mention: Willie Clark (Wheatland, 1990-93)
A speed merchant who nearly rivaled Raghib “Rocket” Ismail’s fleetness while at Notre Dame, Clark became the starting free safety late in his freshman year and a starting cornerback as a sophomore after a stint at running back. An injury derailed his junior season and he was a backup as a senior.
However, he still was a third-round selection — and his five-year career in the NFL is the longest by an Irish defensive back from California.
5. TaRiq Bracy (Milpitas, 2018-present)
It’s premature at this point to place him higher, but the under-the-radar recruit in 2018 surprised many by becoming a regular as a freshman (18 tackles) for the College Football Playoff team two years ago. He then paced the 11-2 squad in passes broken up last year (seven) despite only two starts.
Depending on how his final two seasons progress, he could move into the top three now that he is a feature performer on the defense.
4. Terrail Lambert (Oxnard, 2005-08)
Redshirted as a 2004 freshman, Lambert had a roller-coaster career thereafter while recording 115 career tackles and four interceptions.
The highlight was receiving national defensive player of the week honors in Notre Dame’s dramatic 40-37 comeback win at Michigan State in 2006 after the Irish had trailed 37-21 in the fourth quarter. Lambert returned an interception 23 yards for the game-winning touchdown with about three minutes left, and added an interception the next series to seal the verdict.
Although not drafted, he was on various NFL practice squads.
3. Max Redfield (Mission Viejo, 2013-15)
What might have been. The five-star recruit made 11 starts as a sophomore free safety in 2014, recording 68 tackles and making various All-Bowl teams following a 31-28 Music City Bowl victory versus LSU in which he made 13 stops.
He also started for the 10-3 Irish in 2015, totaling 64 tackles. Primed to excel as a senior, he was dismissed from school in August 2016 after a routine traffic stop that resulted in a misdemeanor charge for possession, but more importantly a major charge while carrying a hand gun without a license.
He transferred to Division II Indiana University Pennsylvania and was a first-team All-American as a senior with 78 tackles, nine passes broken up and four interceptions.
2. Tom MacDonald (Downey, 1961-63)
Overshadowed because of a difficult era in the program’s history,
MacDonald’s 15 career interceptions are second on the school’s all-time chart, behind Luther Bradley’s 17.
Nine of McDonald’s picks came during the 5-5 season in 1962 as a junior. That is still the second-highest total at Notre Dame in a season, behind Mike Townsend’s 10 in 1972. MacDonald was a 13th-round selection in 1964 but did not play in the NFL.
1. Shane Walton (San Diego, 1999-2002)
One of the greatest walk-on stories in Notre Dame annals.
After earning All-Big East honors and Big East Freshman of the Year honors as the leading scorer for the Fighting Irish men’s soccer team, Walton decided to relinquish a promising career there to try his hand at football the following season.
By 2000 he was a starter, and that year he intercepted a Drew Brees pass and returned it for a 60-yard touchdown in a 23-21 win victory over Big Ten champ Purdue, helping the Irish to a Fiesta Bowl bid.
Walton earned unanimous All-America honors in 2002 when he recorded 68 tackles, seven interceptions (two returned for scores) and seven passes broken up — not including a two-point attempt by Michigan in a 25-23 Notre Dame win.
An exceptional leader, he was named a 2002 captain before becoming a fifth-round NFL pick.