Notre Dame recently suffered a loss on the roster when sophomore quarterback Gunner Kiel decided to transfer from the program.
Neal had 21 punt returns for 46 yards (long of 11 yards) in the 2012 season.
BlueandGold.com can report that there is yet another player leaving the team.
Sophomore wide receiver Davonte’ Neal, who was the punt returner for the Irish in 2012, has decided to take his talents to a different program.
“The reason for Davonte’s transfer is that he’s the father of a 6-week-old baby girl [Baylee] with his girlfriend [Marie Burton] that he has dated since seventh grade,” said Luke Neal, Davonte’s father, of his granddaughter that was born on Feb. 2. “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.
“It’s a situation that I’ve been talking to Davonte’ about the past four months, and he’s finally realized he wants to be involved in his daughter’s life closer than from a distance at Notre Dame.”
The 5-9, 171-pound player arrived at Notre Dame as a touted post-National Signing Day addition to the 2012 class after being named a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona (2010-11, 2011-12).
While he had the opportunity to be on the field on Saturdays throughout the Notre Dame season, the expectation for his level of contributions were set much higher.
“I feel that his production level, as his father and his trainer, had declined just because of the mental part of what he was going through — being a new father and knowing the baby was on the way while he was away from home,” Luke said. “He had a lot on his mind that really couldn’t help him to be as productive as he wanted to be when he got to Notre Dame.”
The former Irish player has notified head coach Brian Kelly and assistants Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks of his decision. He’s currently gathering his items to head back to Arizona on Thursday on a one-way ticket home.
While there aren’t many restrictions on where he could play next besides opponents on the Irish schedule, Neal looks to be favoring playing for a Pac-12 program to be closer to his family.
“A school in California would most likely be a better fit for Davonte’ because of my relationships there and being from there,” Luke said.
Neal will be required to sit out the 2013 season and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
There are mixed emotions for the elder Neal about his son’s decision to leave the program.
“I’m hurt, but at the same time I’m happy,” Luke said. “I’m hurt because he has to leave a program that he’s bonded with, but I’m happy because he’s going to be a part of his daughter’s life on a daily basis instead of a quarterly basis.”
Either way, there are no hard feelings moving forward and the reasons why the Neal family selected Notre Dame will always remain intact.
“Thanks to all of Notre Dame nation for welcoming us to the family and Notre Dame will always be a part of our family,” Luke said. “The university has been extremely helpful and supportive in the decision-making process. We couldn’t have asked for a better first year and we thank Notre Dame tremendously for the man that they have helped Davonte’ become.
“We didn’t come to Notre Dame to play football. We came to Notre Dame for the experience over the next 40 years. And in the first year that he’s been there, he’s got 39 of them already done.”