Will Fuller walked up to the LaBar Practice Complex three years ago and just waited.
Back then Fuller was a Penn State commitment with an eye on Notre Dame. He was making a spring practice visit to South Bend but forgot to alert the recruiting office that he’d arrived. So instead of getting preferred treatment, Fuller stood around with a group of reporters waiting for practice to start.
Eventually someone from the recruiting office fetched Fuller and offered an all-access pass. He’d commit to Notre Dame soon after. Now two years into his Irish career, Fuller no longer passes anonymously around campus. He’s on pace to set Irish records if he sticks around long enough to break marks by Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and Jeff Samardzija.
Our A-to-Z series moves to Notre Dame’s biggest big play threat.
The moment was supposed to be a Blue-Gold Game throwaway, Fuller’s 68-yard touchdown from Malik Zaire just another snap in Notre Dame’s spring exhibition. Instead, that bomb can be the start of a serious relationship with Everett Golson off the roster. The best-case scenario for Fuller might not be matching his sophomore numbers, but he could see his yards per reception jump as the offense gets more vertical in the play action game. Fuller averaged 14.4 yards per catch last season, second to C.J. Prosise (17.8). Another 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season feels like the high end for Fuller, with some Biletnikoff recognition to go with it.
Fuller never gets in sync with Zaire, although that’s a bad bet on paper. Maybe Zaire can’t make all the throws, but he can hit shots deep and gets the ball out quickly short. Fuller thrives in both those spaces, able to blow past cornerbacks and beat defenses short on screens. Barring a complete collapse of the passing game, Fuller will put up numbers this season. Maybe he doesn’t match his sophomore season in touchdowns with the emphasis shifting to the run game, but he’ll be heard from in the box score. Fuller is Notre Dame’s best receiver by a wide margin. The offense will show it.
It doesn’t get much better than Golden Tate, whose career through two seasons mirrors Fuller. Both players had six receptions as freshmen before blowing up as sophomores. Fuller caught 76 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns; Tate put up 58 catches for 1,080 yards and 10 scores. Of course, that means Fuller would be due for a ridiculous junior season that ends with the Biletnikoff Award and an early jump to the NFL. Kelly would probably be fine with that if Fuller posts about 100 catches and 1,500 yards this season.
Scout and Rivals both ranked Fuller in similar terms. He was the nation’s No. 22 receiver on Scout (No. 179 overall). He ranked as the nation’s No. 17 receiver on Rivals (No. 176 overall). But even those rankings have undersold Fuller’s big-play ability. Believe it or not, Fuller wasn’t a consensus four-star prospect, with ESPN tagging him as a three-star and the nation’s No. 172 receiver. How off was ESPN? It slotted Fuller as the worst prospect in Notre Dame’s class that cycle.
Sure, Notre Dame probably would have beaten Syracuse without Fuller, but that game in the Meadowlands announced him as a lethal threat. First, he scored on a slip screen that became a staple of the offense. Barely two minutes later he blew the top off the Orange defense for a 72-yard touchdown on play action. Fuller finished with six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns that night, making the jump from solid to star.
“Will’s biggest thing is there’s nothing that can stop him from being really great … except himself. He stops himself because his mind sometimes floats. When he’s mentally locked in and consistent all the time, you can’t bump him or he’ll tear you to pieces.” – Mike Denbrock on Fuller during spring practice