As Notre Dame football players prepare for their six-week summer school session from June 19-July28, roster shifts in the last month have left the team with 84 scholarship players, one short of the allowed 85 by the NCAA.
The breakdown is as follows:
• Four fifth year seniors — This group added to the original group of three (tackle Mike McGlinchey, tight end Durham Smythe and guard/tackle Hunter Bivin) when Arizona State graduate transfer receiver Cameron Smith announced earlier this month he would enroll for his fifth season of eligibility.
• 17 fourth-year seniors after tight end Tyler Luatua’s football career was ended because of concussion issues (his scholarship will be transferred to a general University fund so he can complete school).
This class also includes Michigan graduate transfer receiver Freddy Canteen, who actually has two years of eligibility left after earning his undergrad degree in three years (similar to former Irish receiver Corey Holmes, who will have two years of eligibility at Purdue).
• 20 juniors, after the departures of No. 2 center Tristen Hoge (BYU) and reserve linebacker Josh Barajas (Illinois State).
• 22 sophomores following the transfers of No. 3 center Parker Boudreaux (Central Florida) and Spencer Perry, but also the addition of former Navy safety Alohi Gilman, who will not be eligible until 2018 as an undergrad transfer.
• 21 incoming freshmen.
The next inevitable question is “How many scholarships will Notre Dame have to give to the 2018 recruiting class?”
It is currently at 12 with this week’s addition of tight end George Takacs and subtraction of wideout Braden Lenzy.
Hypothetically, if the team does not lose a single player from its current freshman, sophomore and junior classes, that would keep them at 63 — which means 22 scholarships for the 2018 freshman class could be available.
However, that does not take into account the 13 seniors in 2017 eligible for a fifth season in 2018: the aforementioned Canteen, quarterback Montgomery VanGorder, tight end Nic Weishar, offensive linemen Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher and Jimmy Byrne, defensive linemen Jonathan Bonner, Jay Hayes and Peter Mokwuah, cornerback Nick Watkins, safety Drue Tranquill and punter Tyler Newsome.
If all 13 returned that would put it at 76, meaning Notre Dame would have only nine scholarships to give to the Class of 2018 — and it already is at 12.
All 13, of course, will not return.
Notre Dame originally had 10 fifth-year candidates for the 2017 campaign, but seven either opted to use their fifth season as a graduate transfer elsewhere — a la quarterback Malik Zaire to Florida — try out for the NFL (running back Tarean Folston) or be finished with football (tight end Jacob Matuska). Only three returned, but that was before ASU’s Smith also joined, which has no bearing on the 2018 scholarship count.
Likewise, following this year’s campaign most of the current fourth-year seniors will turn pro (most notably Nelson), some will move on with life minus football and chances are a couple could use their fifth season of eligibility elsewhere.
If only six of the 13 fifth-year prospects return in 2018, that takes the scholarship count up to 16 for the 2018 recruiting haul.
Then the other factors enter.
Do players such as current juniors Equinameous St. Brown or Alize Mack turn pro early if they have strong seasons, as quarterback DeShone Kizer did this year?
Medical issues crop up all the time, as they did with Luatua this year, or receiver Corey Robinson and defensive end Doug Randolph last season.
For myriad reasons ranging from academic to disciplinary to personal, approximately two to six transfers per year have been the norm in the 30-plus years we have covered the Irish.
Will there be any other “decommits” among the current 12, as there were with Lenzy and cornerback Kalon Gervin?
Notre Dame the last five years has signed a minimum of 21 players in each cycle: 24 in 2013, 23 in 2014, 24 in 2015, 23 in 2016 and 21 this past February.
From the early looks of it in the middle of this June, matching the 21 of last year for the 2018 recruiting haul might seem a bit of a steeper climb. Still, keeping the door open for at least eight and perhaps 10 more players in 2018, especially at cornerback, offensive line and receiver is tenable. A bare minimum of two apiece are needed in those three position groups.
• Notre Dame has only five cornerbacks on scholarship for now, signed none this past February and with the loss of former 2018 verbal commit Gervin is battling again for numbers.
• There is only one offensive lineman left in the junior class (guard/center Trevor Ruhland) and two in the sophomore haul (tackles Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg). Four did sign this past winter, but the numbers need to be replenished, much like in 2013 (five signed) and 2014 (four signed) after inking only two in 2012 (Ronnie Stanley and Mark Harrell). It has two so far with John Dirksen and Cole Mabrey, but a full group of five can't be out of the discussion.
• With only two receivers landed in 2017 (Jafar Armstrong and Michael Young) and one so far (Micah Jones), this cupboard also needs to be restocked.
Beyond that, the numbers remain fluid daily.