The number was supposed to say it all.
When’s the last time a great Notre Dame wide receiver wore it?
So when Kevin Stepherson took the field for his first spring practice wearing a jersey usually reserved for walk-ons or anonymous reserves, the thought was to look ahead to Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool coming this summer. Or maybe breaking down what kind of jump Miles Boykin, Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders could make as sophomores.
Forget all that.
Notre Dame might not have its next Will Fuller in Stepherson, but after one spring practice it seems safe to assume the Irish have a legit player in the Jacksonville, Fla., product. He was too good, too often during spring ball too overlook what might be in the former three-star.
Stepherson is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series. That No. 29 jersey may need an upgrade.
What we saw during spring practice wasn’t a mirage and Stepherson is the real deal. If that happens the Irish have a complementary wide out that can be a threat on the outside. Notre Dame’s offense will likely be built around the power run game this season considering both quarterbacks can activate it, which makes Stepherson a piece of the puzzle more than a go-to target. But Notre Dame needs more targets exactly like that considering all that was lost from last season. Remove Torii Hunter Jr. and the Irish return two catches for eight yards among their wide outs. Stepherson might be good for 20 receptions this season considering the opportunities within the depth chart.
Stepherson is part of the receiver rotation, but only in the typical freshman way under Brian Kelly where first-year players don’t get targeted and basically see the field on running plays. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing because it would mean Torii Hunter Jr. is having a Will Fuller-esque season and can’t come off the field. Kelly wanted to play Equanimeous St. Brown more last season as a freshman but didn’t want to sub out the first-round pick. Hunter doesn’t have that kind of rep going into this year, but it’s easy to see him becoming Notre Dame’s most valuable skill position target. If that happens, Stepherson will have a hard time finding reps.
Notre Dame has had an early enrollee receiver upend the depth chart before, but it happened in Brian Kelly’s first season when the roster was short on talent. TJ Jones showed up in January, grabbed a starting job in March and scored touchdowns in his first two games in September. If Stepherson can match Jones’ freshman year of 23 caches, 306 yards and three scores, it would be an outstanding debut.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
Before playing a game it looks like Stepherson will be a major recruiting rankings miss. Not only was he a consensus three-star prospect, Stepherson was barely a Top 100 talent at his position. Scout (No. 123) and 247 (No. 129) had Stepherson lowest. Rivals was the highest, all the way up at No. 66 among receivers. ESPN, which didn’t even bother to include Stepherson’s photo on his profile, put him No. 99 at his position. To understand the depths of this ranking, consider on Scout there were receivers who signed with Abilene Christian, Georgia Southern and San Jose State slotted higher.
Stepherson At His Best
Does the Blue-Gold Game count? Because Stepherson put up four catches for 70 yards in the spring exhibition and should have been even more productive, dropping a DeShone Kizer bomb too.
Quote To Note
“The way KJ has come in and stepped up and showed his potential, the things that he’s done in high school and is able to carry it over to the college field the way he has is really special. We’re expecting to get a lot of production out of him.” – DeShone Kizer during spring practicenull