Notre Dame was Amir Carlisle’s second choice for a college destination in the winter of 2011. Today, South Bend is his home and the University will become his alma mater later next week as Carlisle graduates with his class. Next fall, the former USC running back-turned Irish slot receiver is expected to be one of six, perhaps seven fifth-year seniors on head coach Brian Kelly’s 2015 Irish.
Carlisle started at running back for Kelly at the outset of 2013, then did the same in the slot last season. He’s expected to reprise that role in 2015 while again serving as the team’s leading kick returner.
Irish Illustrated continues its ND A-to-Z series with the explosive but inconsistent playmaker from California.
Carlisle maintains a stranglehold on the slot receiver position allowing C.J. Prosise to aid both the offensive backfield and spell the fifth-year senior in the passing game. With Will Fuller established at one wideout position, Carlisle picks up where he left off prior to a Week Three injury suffered vs. Purdue last season – as the surprise No. 2 option in Notre Dame’s passing attack.
Additionally, Carlisle continues to attack opposing kickoff coverage teams with the same aggression he showcased for much of 2014 – only this time his unit’s blockers up front offer him a chance to make game-breaking plays through the first wave of tacklers.
At his best, Carlisle could finish with twice as many receptions as the 23 (and three scores) he hauled in last fall.
The transfer of Everett Golson elicits a relative “move back” to the slot from C.J. Prosise, whose big body is now needed to help open perimeter running lanes in Notre Dame’s ball control offense. Carlisle’s role is further marginalized by the usage of two tight end sets, another consequence of a run-first, pass-if-needed attack.
As well, Carlisle has not yet shown he can play as aggressively post-injury, and most skill position players absorb nicks and bruises over the course of the August-end-November gauntlet. If Carlisle doesn’t bounce back quickly from this year’s inevitable malady, Torii Hunter Jr. could settle in as a slot option while myriad kick returners would suddenly likewise be in play.
Though their body types are disparate, former Notre Dame athlete-turned New England Patriots Super Bowl champion David Givens (6’3” 212 pounds at ND) shows similar career numbers to Carlisle through the first two full seasons of their respective college careers.
Playing largely as a “flanker/slot” as he was deemed at the time, Givens carried the ball 30 times for 114 yards with three touchdowns for Bob Davie’s Irish while securing 39 passes for 497 yards and three more scores as a sophomore and junior in 1999-2000, starting nine of 23 games he played.
Over the last two seasons since sitting out as a true sophomore, the 5’10” 192-pound Carlisle has collected 30 passes for 339 yards with three scores while rushing 54 times for 251 yards, starting 10 of 25 games over the last two seasons.
Carlisle was a four-star running back and the 140th ranked prospect overall per Scout.com. The Kings Academy (Sunnyvale, Calif.) product was the second-ranked running back in California and was deemed 15th best nationally.
Carlisle’s pledge to USC resulted in freshman year playing time as a kick returner while he likewise found mop-up duty from scrimmage. He transferred to Notre Dame and received a hardship waiver to be eligible for the 2012 season but an off-the-field foot injury suffered during spring practice required surgery, shelving him for the season.
After a 2013 campaign spent at running back, Carlisle moved to slot receiver for 2014 where he fared well considering the drastic position change.
It’s fair to say Carlisle in no way resembles a running back playing wide receiver at this point – he’s adept at his new craft. But it’s likewise worth noting that as a fifth-year senior, Carlisle has not yet made the impact most expected after he left the prep ranks.
Was there a better wide receiver for Notre Dame in Games 1 and 2 last year than Carlisle? The neophyte slot receiver posted 9 receptions on 9 pass targets, converting seven into first downs for a combined 115 yards and two touchdowns. Three of those nine catches gained at least 20 yards.
A knee injury impacted his season shortly thereafter but not before Carlisle posted a career-high seven receptions for 67 yards and two scores in a Sept. 6 bundling of former rival Michigan.
Though Carlisle later showed well in the Desert (three receptions, one touchdown, 92 yards) vs. Arizona State, he was never as essential an offensive cog as that wild night against the Wolverines.
“I think Amir Carlisle has probably had the best spring in terms of growth at the position. Understanding the position.” – Brian Kelly with one week remaining in Spring Ball 2015.