Notre Dame has seen a rash of transfers out of its football program in the last few weeks. Davonte Neal, Justin Ferguson, Tee Shepard and quarterback Gunner Kiel have all either transferred or notified the school of their intent to do so. These men composed the top four signees from the 2012 recruiting class—a class that was ranked No. 9 nationally.
So what gives?
Before going into any kind of analysis, let's review the story for each transfer:
The young wide receiver out of Scottsdale, Ariz. has arguably the most legitimate reason to transfer. His father spoke about the situation to Jason Sapp of BlueandGold.com:
The reason for Davonte’s transfer is that he’s the father of a six-week old baby girl (Baylee) with his girlfriend (Marie Burton) that he has dated since seventh grade. The plan was to move his girlfriend and his baby to South Bend, but Davonte’ just felt the need to be closer to his family and his girlfriend’s family at this time.
Former 5-star-ranked cornerback Shepard enrolled early but left before playing a single game with no official reason being given. When asked by Stephanie Kuzydym of USAToday.com, coach Brian Kelly said:
"Tee is a special person and it's unfortunate it didn't work out here. Everyone at Notre Dame wishes him all the best in the future."
Ferguson, who played mostly on special teams last season, also did not give an official reason for leaving, but his father told Jason Sapp of BlueandGold.com:
"[U]nfortunately with this thing called football, it’s a business as well. And he has to make a decision that is the best for him in the long term. He’s going to have to continue making those tough decisions as he grows up and becomes a man."
Kiel had arguably the most dramatic journey to—and then away from—the Fighting Irish. The former 5-star recruit was committed to Indiana and then LSU before deciding at the last minute to attend Notre Dame. His decision to leave apparently came as a surprise to Coach Kelly, who told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune:
"We had kind of created an opportunity for (Kiel) to compete in the spring. ... So maybe (I'm) a little surprised from that standpoint because he was actually told that he would be given an opportunity to compete."
So why are they transferring? Here are some probable reasons:
The most likely reason for the transfers is that Notre Dame has a wealth of talent, creating logjams at many positions on the field.
Kiel is a perfect example of this. Although he was a highly touted 5-star recruit, he now finds himself a year behind Everett Golson, a freshman quarterback who took the team to the national championship. Had he stayed, he would have also had to contend with 2013 recruit Malik Zaire, who embodies the classic dual-threat quarterback Kelly is searching for.
2. Failure to Perform at the Next Level
Let's be honest, some of these guys did not exactly blow our hair back last season.
Neal caught a single reception last season for minus-five yards, while Ferguson was on special teams.
In case you need to be reminded, Notre Dame's special teams unit ranked a mind-blowing 116th in the nation in punt returns. Keep in mind, that's out of 120 teams. The Fighting Irish averaged an abysmal 2.19 yards per return.
It's pretty clear that the contributions made by these two will not have a tangible negative impact on the team's performance this fall.
I do not enjoy highlighting players' personal shortcomings in articles, but nonetheless, they are sometimes relevant when analyzing their motivation for major decisions.
The fact of the matter is that some of these players have a long track record of changing their minds about which school they want to be at.
Kiel was committed to Indiana and LSU before Notre Dame. His decommit from LSU would go down in college football infamy when, according to Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com, Tigers head coach Les Miles said that Kiel lacked the "chest" to lead his program.
Shepard attended three different high schools prior to graduating from Fresno, California's Washington Union High in December. Due to his many moves, Shepard was ineligible to play as a senior.
You get my drift. A few of these guys have a pattern of school hopping.
4. Thinning the Herd
It is also possible that Coach Kelly is encouraging some of the underperformers to make way for incoming talent. Their berth in the BCS title game gave the Irish a lot of exposure that will no doubt attract top talent in the 2014 recruiting cycle. The NCAA-mandated limit of 85 scholarships cannot be exceeded, so clearing out underperformers will allow the Irish to pursue more new top-tier talent.
So what is the takeaway from all of this?
There is no reason to worry, Irish fans. Transfers are a natural byproduct of any college football program, and Notre Dame is not immune. The good news is the team didn't lose anyone it can't afford to be without, so all is well in South Bend.