Notre Dame loses pair of highly-rated receivers as transfers pile up

Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Davonte' Neal (19) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Landon Collins (26) on a punt return during the first half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Davonte’ Neal (19) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Landon Collins (26) on a punt return during the first half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

The future of the Notre Dame football program is walking out the front door, literally. It was recently announced that former five-star quarterback and the Irish’s second-highest rated recruit in 2012, Gunner Kiel, would be transferring to a school where he would be the guaranteed starter under center.

[Related: Where are the top 10 places Gunner Keil may end up?]

On Wednesday, Matt Fortuna of ESPN reported that the two main weapons Kiel was supposed to be throwing to in South Bend in 2014 and beyond are set to transfer as well.

First, Davonte’ Neal, an Arizona native who decided to play for coach Brian Kelly after being rated the No. 1 athlete in the entire nation as a high school senior, decided to take his talents elsewhere. As a freshman, the 5-foot-9, 171-pound Neal served as the team’s primary punt returner, taking 21 attempts for 46 yards with a long return of 11 yards. He also ran the ball once for seven yards and caught a screen pass but lost five yards.

Neal was the top-rated member of Kelly’s 2012 recruiting class, while Justin Ferguson was the third-rated as a consensus four-star recruit. The two sandwiched Kiel in terms of ratings and, again, were supposed to be his main weapons.

However, the 6-foot, 192-pound Ferguson is also set to transfer. A Florida native, Ferguson caught one pass for nine yards in his freshman season.

Interestingly, both Neal and Ferguson hail from far warmer climates than the frigid winters Indiana offers.

As of reporting, however, there is no word on whether the weather had anything to do with Ferguson’s decision to leave South Bend.

Neal’s father, Luke, on the other hand, spoke to 247Sports regarding his son’s rationale and the website got a straight answer: Neal’s girlfriend gave birth to their daughter roughly six weeks prior to the transfer announcement. The young, potential star wants to be closer to both of them.

Cornerback Tee Shepard was the fourth-highest rated player in the Irish’s 2012 class, but he left school only two months into his career for undisclosed reasons.

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