Brian Kelly got serious with Notre Dame’s special teams this off-season.
First, the Irish head coach hired Brian Polian to rebuild those units after a disastrous season, making Notre Dame one of just a few Power 5 programs with a dedicated special teams coach. Now Kelly has gone a step further, investing in kicker Jonathan Doerer with a scholarship offer that flipped the product of Charlotte, N.C., from his original commitment to Maryland.
Doerer visited Notre Dame this weekend, just days before National Signing Day. After returning home, he made the decision to go Irish. Doerer made the visit with both parents and his sister.
“Hearing the numbers academically and the academic opportunities was part of it,” Doerer said. “Also being Catholic, raised that way my entire life. I felt I had to act in my best interests and the interests of my family.”
Notre Dame started to show interest in Doerer last week and offered him over the phone before the visit, contingent on him meeting with Kelly and admissions while on campus. Once he checked both those boxes, the offer became official.
The Irish staff expects Doerer to start earning that scholarship his fall on kickoffs, with rising junior Justin Yoon reportedly facing a medical layoff for at least part of this off-season.
“I plan to come in and compete immediately,” Doerer said. “The plan is to come in on kickoffs immediately and they will give me the opportunity to battle on field goals and we’ll see how that goes.
“I’d have to say kickoff is definitely my strong suit. A lot of people want to see that, and it becomes a play they don’t have to worry about as part of the field position battle.”
The 6-foot-3, 188-pound athlete from South Mecklenburg had a 90-percent touchback percentage during his final three prep seasons. He also kicked 12 field goals of at least 40 yards.
Notre Dame was one of just eight programs to allow multiple kickoff return touchdowns last season, giving those up in losses to Duke and USC. The Irish ranked 96th nationally in kickoff return defense and slightly better in raw kickoff yardage at 75th nationally (60.7 yards per attempt).
Doerer committed to Maryland last summer and held just one other offer before Notre Dame came calling. Alabama and Clemson had also shown late interest.
Flipping from Maryland was hard, even if picking Notre Dame was easy.
“That was very difficult to go through that process.” Doerer said. “Obviously I have a tremendous amount of respect for that coaching staff over there and they’re doing a great job. I just felt I had to act in my own best interests.”