Attrition, thy name is 2012

Nearly one-third of the players in Notre Dame's 17-member recruiting class of 2012 have departed before the start of their junior seasons.

81 scholarship football players are expected to represent Notre Dame at the LaBar Practice Complex next month, 12 of them juniors scholastically. The good news is, the vast majority of those 12 have evolved into major contributors for Brian Kelly's 2014 Irish.

The bad news? There used to be 17 of them, and most of the missing quintet reads like a who's who of recent Notre Dame recruiting battles over the last four cycles.

Five-star cornerback prospect Tee Shepard. Five-star quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel. Four-star wide receiver/cornerback prospect DaVonte Neal (pictured above). Four-star running back prospect Will Mahone. Three-star wide receiver prospect Justin Ferguson.

A combined 21 recruiting stars among them…an aggregate 11 yards gained from scrimmage for the University of Notre Dame's football team during their truncated tenures.

Zero points produced. No tackles, no turnovers, no defensive statistics accrued. Four transfers and a dismissal.

As a result of Will Mahone's mid-June arrest and the resulting three felony charges pending, the Youngstown, Ohio product is the most recent member of the 2012 recruiting class to exit South Bend. Like four others, it was without an impact on the field or a degree in hand. Each former Irish athlete can obtain the latter necessity elsewhere. Each, it could be argued, could also make a future impact on the gridiron.

Examined individually, touted prospects such as Shepard, Kiel, and Neal represent cautionary tales for those that live and die with each prep prospect's whims and wishes. Notre Dame landed them all -- it has Neal's 46 return yards following 21 punted footballs to show for it. That's roughly the equivalent of Neal falling forward after each punt he fielded during his lone season (2012) in South Bend.

Like Neal, Ferguson played most of the 2012 season as a member of the special teams. He did not record a tackle and he blocked for the No. 116 ranked punt return unit and 93rd ranked kickoff return group that fall.

Neal appeared in 13 games, Ferguson 11, Mahone 2. Kiel and Shepard, famously zero.

Their 12 classmates that remain, however, will play a major role in the next two seasons of Irish football, with the 2015 squad possessing legitimate national title aspirations.

2012 Leftovers: Standing Strong

What the remaining 12-player collection lacks in numbers it makes up for in projected impact for 2014 and beyond:

DT Sheldon Day: A key contributor to the program's best defensive line in more than a decade as a true freshman in 2012, Day battled a high ankle sprain for much of 2013. He enters 2014 as the team's best "on-ball" defender according to head coach Brian Kelly. A sleeper All-America candidate this fall and eligible through the 2015 season.

CB Keivarae Russell: Has started each of 26 games played as a member of the squad. A pre-season All-America candidate, potential team captain, and among the team's three best players entering the season. Eligible through 2015 and easily the most likely member to take a shot at early NFL entry following the 2014 campaign.

OL Ronnie Stanley: 13-game starter at right tackle in 2013 and projected to start at left tackle this fall. Likely one of the five best football players on the roster. Eligible through 2016.

NT Jarron Jones: Concluded the 2013 season as the team's starting nose guard and will resume that role, now as a 4-3 nose tackle, for 2014. Among the team's five most important players for the upcoming season, Jones is eligible through 2016.

DE Romeo Okwara: Has appeared in all 26 games over his first two seasons, both as a member of special teams and as a cat linebacker and situational (dime package) defensive tackle. Okwara will start at defensive end in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme. Eligible through 2015.

WR Chris Brown: Projected as one of three starting receivers for 2014 after starting x games last season. Played as a true freshman in 2012, contributing to the team's upset win at Oklahoma in late October. Eligible through 2015.

Slot Receiver C.J. Prosise: Redshirted in 2012 as a true freshman safety (and dog linebacker) before moving to slot receiver for 2013. Enters 2014 as No. 1A or 1B at the position in competition with former running back Amir Carlisle. Prosise is eligible through 2016.

LB John Turner: Exited spring ball as the projected starter at sam linebacker. Appeared in all 13 games last season, primarily as a member of the Irish coverage units. Turner did not play in 2012 and is thus eligible through 2016.

S Elijah Shumate: The team's nickel defender in 2012 and an x-game starter at safety last season, Shumate will contend with 5th-year senior starter Austin Collinsworth for playing time throughout the season while likely serving as a mainstay in the two-deep defensively. Eligible through 2015.

S Nicky Baratti: Played all 13 games as a true freshman in 2012 then missed the entire 2013 season following two shoulder surgeries (two injuries to his left shoulder). Baratti will wear a harness on his right shoulder, injured during the Blue Gold game last April, for 2014 while contending for a two-deep role in the secondary. Eligible through 2016.

LS Scott Daly: Served as the team's long- and short-snapper in 2013 after redshirting in 2012. Will hold down both roles until graduation or until the conclusion of his fifth-season of

OL Mark Harrell: The lone member of the class not expected to be part of the 2014 two-deep at his position, Harrell provides depth at both center and guard. Appeared in two games last season, at Air Force in the Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers. Eligible through 2016.


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