Notre Dame’s 2012 recruiting class, which featured 17 players and ranked 12th nationally per 247Sports, saw its second and third defection this spring and fourth since last March. As first reported by BlueandGold.com, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed Wednesday that sophomore receivers Davonte’ Neal and Justin Ferguson were no longer with the program.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has lost three players to transfer this spring and four total from the class of 2012.
Neal’s father, Luke, explained his son’s departure as a desire to be closer to his home state of Arizona in order to be near his 6-week-old daughter. Neal (5-9, 178 pounds) fielded 21 punts as a freshman for 46 yards (2.2 average), and was expected to work back there again this fall, as well as see more time at the slot position.
Ferguson (6-0, 192) caught one pass for nine yards and appeared on the front line of the kickoff return team last season. The Floridian’s comfort level in South Bend, according to his father, Jason, wasn’t where it needed to be.
“Davonte’ Neal and Justin Ferguson are no longer a part of the football program, and they won’t be in the future,” Kelly said. “We wish them the very best in their future endeavors. I’m not going to get into the specifics of it other than they’re no longer with us. When we break to start stretch and they’re not out there, they’re no longer on the roster.”
Prized quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel also decided to transfer prior to the start of spring practices before ever playing a down for the Fighting Irish. Defensive end Aaron Lynch, who performed at a very high level as a freshman in 2011 (33 tackles, seven for loss) eventually transferred to South Florida in his native state after leaving school last spring. He sat out the 2012 season and will be eligible to play for the Bulls this fall.
Kelly isn’t concerned with the attrition, noting that’s part of the game.
“There will be more guys leaving and more guys coming,” he explained. “This is a process that every year you go through.”
The holes are often filled with strategic redshirts, Kelly added.
As for who will replace Neal at punt return and in the slot, things are fairly wide open. Senior receiver TJ Jones is getting a look on special teams, keeping with Kelly’s proclamation that frontline players will be used in all facets of the game. Sophomore C.J. Prosise, who has been cross-training at safety and slot receiver, will likely turn his focus solely to offense.
“He’s been what we thought he could be, he’s just done it a lot quicker than we thought,” Kelly said of Prosise, who did not play as a freshman. “Again, you’re talking about a slot receiver who’s  pounds with nice hands, deceptive speed — he can pull away.”
Junior defensive end Chase Hounshell (6-4, 271) was lost for the year last week after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder that will require surgery. It’s the same exact injury that cost the junior all of 2012, and it’s his third shoulder injury since arriving in South Bend. He competed in seven games in 2011 (four tackles).
Junior running back Amir Carlisle will miss the rest of spring ball after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair a broken collarbone. He’s expected to miss four weeks and be 100 percent at the start of fall camp.
“A minor setback,” Kelly said of Carlisle, who transferred to Notre Dame from USC and missed following his freshman year in 2011. “Amir has had a great spring; we’ve seen what we need to see out of him. He’ll be a very important player for us.
“… Certainly feel terrible for Chase because he’s worked so hard. After a second injury, you can imagine how disappointing it is for him and for us [after] he’s put in so much time and effort getting back from that.”