Chicago Colleges: Deontay Greenberry

Three Notre Dame players were named preseason All-Americans by college football guru Phil Steele, with linebacker Jaylon Smith leading the Irish pack by making the second team.

In what might come as a slightly bigger surprise, tight end Ben Koyack made the third team and cornerback KeiVarae Russell made the fourth team. Koyack's stock obviously is rising after a strong finish to last season, especially with Troy Niklas having left early for the NFL. Now a senior in the No. 1 tight end role, Koyack will be counted upon to become an integral part of the Irish's passing game, which has featured no shortage of tight end success in recent years. Steele obviously sees a lot in the Oil City, Pennsylvania, native, who caught 10 passes last season for 171 yards and three scores.

Russell, meanwhile, is coming off consecutive strong seasons at corner and, in keeping with his usual unfiltered self, has talked openly about trying to become the best cornerback in the country. Playing more press coverage under new coordinator Brian VanGorder should only help in that effort, and it would not be a huge shock if Russell were to play his way into first-team or second-team All-America status by season's end.

DaVaris Daniels, arguably the Irish's best skill player, did not make any of the 30-man teams, though receiver looks to be a ridiculously stacked position throughout the nation this year. If Daniels can pick up where left off with Everett Golson two years ago, and if his off-site training during his spring exile pays dividends, the redshirt junior figures to be one of the better receivers in the country.

One familiar name at receiver who did garner preseason All-America status was Deontay Greenberry, who was once committed to Notre Dame and enters his junior season at Houston on Steele's fourth team.

Florida State, which hosts Notre Dame Oct. 18 in the Irish's first true road game, led the nation with five first-teamers and 11 total players on Steele's list.

Rookie receivers making strong impression

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- National signing day never seemed so far away.

Back then, more than six months ago, the story line of Notre Dame's recruiting haul surrounded the player the Irish didn't get, as touted California wide receiver Deontay Greenberry flipped to Houston at the 11th hour. But with three receivers highlighting the group of nine freshmen who met the media for the first time, Monday's discussions shifted to those who will take the field for the Irish this fall.

And if reviews from 10 preseason practices are any indication, those freshman wideouts will, in fact, be seeing the field this fall.

"We're all looking to play early," Justin Ferguson said between practices 10 and 11. "The spots [are] open, and we just gotta make the best of our opportunities."

[+] EnlargeDavonte Neal
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comDavonte' Neal has been able to pick the brain of former Notre Dame star Michael Floyd.
Examples of that include Chris Brown's touchdown reception from Everett Golson last Wednesday that spanned more than half the field. Or Davonte' Neal learning the intricacies of the slot position from senior Robby Toma, while also trying to make his mark on the punt- and kick-return teams.

Neal, whose whirlwind recruitment ended with a commitment to the Irish three weeks after signing day -- and hours after failing to show at his former elementary school for his originally scheduled announcement because of what his father had said was a family issue -- used something of a cheat sheet before arriving on campus.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Scottsdale, Ariz., native enlisted the help of Cardinals first-round draft pick Michael Floyd this spring.

"It's a big help, just because Michael Floyd, he's a great receiver," Neal said. "And he has size on him, so he knows the size part of it and the swift part of it, and he's obviously under Larry Fitzgerald, who is another great receiver. So I feel I have a little advantage just because Michael Floyd has helped me out."

Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books before graduating, has left a considerable production hole to fill, though depth among the receiving unit has helped breed competition.

"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production, but as a unit we just gotta come together and fill that role," Brown said.

Brown, a high school track star, is the speediest of the trio. Neal, ESPN's No. 1 athlete from the class of 2012, is the most decorated. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Ferguson is the most physical of the new wideouts.

Each has described comfort with the playbook, which, as least thus far, has spared them from the inevitable wrath of their superiors.

"The coaches have been very supportive, we haven't gotten chewed out or anything," Ferguson said. "If we do something wrong — not politely — but they make sure we know what we're doing. They know the right way to get the message across, so they help us a lot."

Playmaking ability certainly helps, too.

With assistant Tony Alford in charge of the running backs and slot receivers this season, the line between each position will be further blurred, as both are expected to provide crucial elements to the passing game -- even if those passes are coming from just a few yards away.

"Coach [Brian] Kelly, he knows best, and coach Kelly knows what to do with the football," Neal said. "We have a lot of playmakers that can take that three-yard catch or three-yard run for 30 yards, 40 yards, and I just feel that I'm just another asset to the team."

Neal commits to ND, solidifies '12 class

February, 23, 2012
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Nearly three weeks after national signing day and nearly four hours after 600 elementary school kids missed class for an announcement that didn't come, Notre Dame got its man.

Five-star athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral), the last unsigned member of the ESPNU 150 (No. 8 overall), committed to the Irish on Tuesday over North Carolina, Arizona and Arkansas.

Neal is the lone five-star prospect to commit to the Irish, who now come in at No. 9 in ESPNU's 2012 recruiting class rankings. Five other ESPNU 150 players are a part of the class.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Neal played receiver in the Under Armour All-America Game, though he was picked for the event as a defensive back. As a senior, the two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year scored 30 touchdowns on offense, added three on special teams and starred in the secondary with 12 pass breakups. He finished as the No. 8 overall prospect nationally.

Neal is recruit No. 17 for Notre Dame, which had dealt with the de-commitments of four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac), three-star offensive tackle Taylor Decker (Vandalia, Ohio/Butler) and four-star wide receiver Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) in the month leading up to signing day. Greenberry, who flipped to Houston on signing day, was the most surprising of the defections, putting a damper on the Feb. 1 signing day for the Irish.

Twenty days later, they're singing a different tune in South Bend, Ind.

While his future position in the blue and gold remains unclear, Neal has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Irish in the return game, where Notre Dame averaged just 0.3 yards per punt return during the 2011 regular season.

Perhaps more importantly, Neal helps Notre Dame close the 2012 recruiting season on a strong note following a disappointing end to the 2011 football season and the ensuing de-commitments leading up to signing day.

Irish moving forward after losing big one

February, 1, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Recognizing the length of his question for Brian Kelly about Gunner Kiel, an inquiring reporter could not help but ask the coach if he had just asked a stupid question.

"It's a great question," Kelly immediately responded with a smile on his face. "All questions today are great questions."

The message, one Kelly would repeat throughout Wednesday's news conference, was clear: We won't worry about those who aren't at Notre Dame; we're happy with what we got.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireIrish head coach Brian Kelly speaks at a news conference for national signing day Wednesday.
Sporting a dark-grey suit and kelly-green tie, the Notre Dame football coach began his national signing day media session by praising those behind the scenes at the school -- the associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, the director of admissions, the V.P. for student affairs -- before getting into specifics about the Irish's incoming class, though questions about two players dominated the 47-minute discussion.

Headlining the newcomers is Kiel, the prized quarterback prospect from Columbus, Ind., who enrolled in January. Headlining national signing day, however, is Deontay Greenberry, the four-star wide receiver from Fresno, Calif., who stunned virtually everyone by signing with Houston, nearly nine months after he verbally pledged to Notre Dame.

"Again, I think we painted the picture being clear about what we were about, and we made sure this is what you're gonna get at Notre Dame," Kelly said when asked what happened with Greenberry. "And for me it's hard to be disappointed about something you never had or you never coached. I'm more excited about the guys that signed because they are the right kind of guys."

Greenberry's cousin is four-star cornerback Tee Shepard, who had already enrolled at Notre Dame in January and whom Kelly called the best cornerback in the country. The common belief was that Greenberry would commit to the same school as his cousin.

Kelly said he talked to Greenberry on Tuesday night before finding out he was Houston-bound Wednesday from Jeff Freitas, Greenberry's high school coach. The Irish coach said he knew from experience that he had to brace himself for surprises when dealing with high school kids.

"I don't know that anybody would think differently when 17- and 18-year-olds are making decisions for the next five years," Kelly said. "It's arguably the biggest decision they've ever made and they're putting themselves in that position for the first time, many of them. So I don't think you ever go into signing day and say, 'Ah, this thing's over with.'

"I've been doing it now 23 years, and I've had surprises every single recruiting day. And some are good, some are not so good. As it relates to this one, I'm happy about the guys that signed with us because they know why they're here, and that's really the most important thing."

Greenberry was the not-so good. The good, however, came 15 days earlier, when Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame after previous verbal commitments to LSU and Indiana.

Kelly said the expectations for Kiel, who will be competing with three others for the starting quarterback job, are the same as they are for every recruit. He stressed that he wanted recruits who wanted to compete, not those who wanted a free year to redshirt.

"Honestly, we never really felt like we were done recruiting," Kelly said of Kiel's commitment. "In terms of, even though Gunner had made his decision, there just seemed to be a connection there that we weren't ready to give up on. And we were right, because Gunner's happy, he's happy to be here. Those stories happen. Some don't. Some you know, it's over. We felt like this was the right place for him, and maybe it was our belief that this was the right place, Notre Dame, that kept us involved."

In all, Notre Dame announced the signing of 16 high school prospects, in addition to sophomore running back Amir Carlisle, a transfer from USC. While last year's recruiting centered around the power position, Kelly said, this year's centered on the secondary and receiving corp, something he believes was addressed despite the losses of Greenberry and four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac), who de-committed from the Irish nearly a month ago before signing with Florida State on Wednesday.

By the end of Wednesday's festivities, the Irish had walked away with eight new offensive players, seven new defensive players and a new long-snapper. Nine of them were rated four-star prospects by ESPNU, six were three-stars and one was a two-star. They came from 12 different states and from each region of the country, and they all signed with Kelly and his staff following the vetting process that determined they would be a right fit for Notre Dame.

"I think that our coaches do a great job, and it starts with making sure that we talk about our distinctions and not shy away from them," Kelly said. "We talk about a faith-based education. We talk about, 'You gotta live in the dorms.' We talk about those things as they relate to Notre Dame, because we don't want to get here and you've signed a letter of intent and it wasn't the right fit — you just got sold a bill of goods. It does you no good to get sold a bill of goods, you come to Notre Dame, and it's not the right fit for you. So that's why you have a signing day, because you're going to have to make a decision based upon what we are talking about in the recruiting process.

"So I think it starts with immediately talking about what our distinctions are, and I think I mentioned it earlier: We're not better than anybody else, but you're shopping down a different aisle. And we make sure that's clear in the process."

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