Class of 2012: Bouncing Back

Hit early by high-profile defections, the 2012 recruiting class has been buoyed by the success of those that remained.

Though smallish in number, both initially and due to annual attrition since, Brian Kelly’s second full recruiting class at Notre Dame has enjoyed an enviable success rate among those that stayed under the Dome.

Of the 17 original pledges from the class of 2012, only 11 suited up for the Irish in 2014 and one of those, Nicky Baratti, missed the bulk of the season due to injury. But of those 11, seven were starters and two others special teams regulars on multiple units.

Projecting forward for 2015, and assuming the return of KeiVarae Russell from suspension, eight of the remaining 12 will be starters for a class that’s won 29 of 39 games played to date.

Below is a look at the recruiting class of 2012, both the dozen that remain in South Bend and the quintet that long ago moved on.

Two of the class’s trio of five-star prospects never played a down for the Irish; one never took part in an official practice despite early enrollment.

(*5) Gunner Kiel – Spent the 2012 season tutoring part-time with the varsity and scout team and made it through winter conditioning before transferring to Cincinnati during Spring Practice 2013. Kiel threw 31 touchdown passes last season for the Bearcats, his first collegiate action after sitting out the 2013 campaign.

(*5) Tee Shepard – Enrolled early for spring semester 2012 but left the program without taking part in an official practice. Shepard has since attended Holmes Community College and the University Mississippi where he enters his senior season. Shepard did not play last season after tearing a tendon in his toe but did enjoy a milestone: he heard his first whistle.

Two transfers and a dismissal greatly reduced the squad’s wide receiver ranks, though the position ranks now among the deepest and most competitive on Kelly’s roster.

(*4) DaVonte Neal – Began as a slot receiver and earned time as a true freshman for the 2012 Irish, mainly as the team’s lead punt returner. Transferred to Arizona midway through Spring Ball 2013 for personal reasons. Neal started 10 games at wide receiver for the Wildcats last fall but is listed as a cornerback on his current team bio – his projected position per during the 2012 cycle.

(*3) Justin Ferguson – Earned a monogram as a freshman serving largely as a blocker on the team’s kick return unit. Ferguson’s transfer was announced the same day as was Neal’s in the spring of 2013. He’s now listed at safety as a redshirt-junior at Western Michigan.
(*4) Will Mahone – Redshirted as a freshman and moved to slot receiver for his sophomore season (2013) but played sparingly after suffering a foot injury in August. Mahone was dismissed from the team following a violent, alcohol-related altercation and arrest in June 2014.

He enrolled as a walk-on outside linebacker at Youngstown State last August but was ineligible to play per the decision of former head coach Eric Wolford.

Mahone is not listed on Youngstown State’s 2015 spring roster.

Of the four, only Nicky Baratti was expected to produce at a higher level than individually achieved to date, and injuries waylaid his career. Each member of the quartet has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

(*3) Mark Harrell – Entering his senior season, Harrell has served as a backup center, guard, and most recently, right tackle, for Harry Hiestand’s offensive front.

(*3) John Turner – A two-year contributor on special teams, Turner is expected to return to that role as a senior next fall. He’s played in 26 consecutive games after redshirting as a true freshman in 2012. Turner began his career as a safety, moved to Sam linebacker last spring, and has since returned to safety for the 2015 campaign.

(*3) Nicky Baratti – A contributor from the outset as a freshman, Baratti’s sophomore season was eliminated, and his junior season truncated by persistent shoulder injuries. The redshirt-junior made it through light contact in the spring and will be put to the test this August in an effort to gauge his availability for 2015.

(*2) Scott Daly – Has started as the team’s long snapper since his sophomore season of 2013. Daly has a redshirt season available from 2012 should the staff choose to keep him for a fifth year.

Five starters or part-time starters from 2014 – with the possible exception of the still-recovering Jarron Jones, each is expected to have a career year this fall.

(*3) Romeo Okwara – Not yet 20-years-old, Okwara played as a true freshman in 2012, then emerged last fall as starter 1A in rotation with freshman Andrew Trumbetti at Rush End.

The three-year vet of the trenches could have benefitted from a redshirt season as a freshman but was thrust into action early as a potential dog linebacker due to the then undetermined, career-threatening illness incurred by Danny Spond. (Spond recovered and starred for the Irish in 2012 but Okwara’s redshirt was burned.)

(*4) C.J. Prosise – The team’s most intriguing player this spring, Prosise has two seasons of eligibility remaining after spending 2012 as a redshirt scout team safety. Now a dual-threat receiver/runner, Prosise came close to playing midway through 2012 but was wisely kept from action, a move that could benefit him greatly in 2016.

(*4) Elijah Shumate – An immediate contributor as a freshman nickel, Shumate’s best is purportedly yet to come. If not, the Irish defense won’t reach its potential next fall as the group is dangerously thin on the back end and can no longer afford inconsistent play from the veteran hitter.

(*3) Chris Brown – Served as a full-time starter for the first time last season after first making a splash late in his freshman season of 2012 with a game-changing 50-yard reception at Oklahoma. Brown is poised to serve as a chief compliment this season to deep threat Will Fuller.
(*4) Jarron Jones – Jones’ legacy will likely be defined by his presence – in South Bend or in the NFL – for the 2016, what could be his fifth at Notre Dame. A mandatory redshirt as a freshman in 2012 (Jones could not have physically competed), the gentle giant gained steam as a prospect midway through last season when he tore up Florida State’s offensive front – just one year removed from time on the scout team during his sophomore season.

Ample seasoning remains, but you can’t teach six-foot-five, 315 pounds and long, powerful arms.

Three potential All-Americans as they enter their final seasons in South Bend…

(*4) KeiVarae Russell – The upside to Russell’s 2014 suspension? He’s in the fold for 2015 rather than in an NFL mini-camp. The downside? A sobering 0-4 November record last fall. The sky is the limit this season for the athletic former running back with 26 career starts.

(*4) Ronnie Stanley – A potential Top 10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Stanley technically has two seasons of eligibility remaining after an elbow injury truncated his freshman season (2012). There’s little question that he’ll play in the NFL next season but it’s more important for Irish fans that his best – get ahold of the LSU game tape – is yet to come. Stanley could go from “good” to great.

(*5) Sheldon Day – Arguably ranked as the team’s most consistent player (at any position) over the first 10.5 games of the 2014 season before losing time for a second straight season to injury. Day needs a repeat effort in 2015 with a heavy influx of big plays added to his end-season resume. An early enrollee in 2012, Day has been a fixture on the Irish defensive front from the outset.


The persistent downward spiral of head coach Brian Kelly’s first full crop of recruits to Notre Dame continued over the weekend with the transfer of Everett Golson. Though a happy ending remains likely for a handful of its members (and add-ons), attrition has defined the 2011 haul to date. Top Stories