"You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."
California has always been an important state for Notre Dame recruiting stretching back decades. In modern times, the annual series with Stanford was propped up so it could alternate with USC every-other-year to finish the regular season in California thus allowing the coaches to recruit the area immediately afterwards. Of course, Notre Dame could always send out coaches to California every-other-year for some extra pocket change compared to the overall recruiting budget, but it's always been an important selling point for playing Stanford when it really masks the fact that Notre Dame pretty much fell in love with Stanford as an aspirational peer back in the 1990's.
This is a discussion for another time.
Just a couple days ago rising junior tight end Tyler Luatua announced his plans to transfer from Notre Dame and with him another Californian leaves South Bend. The allure of all the talent in the Golden State keeps the Irish coming back year after year but the fruits of those efforts have left a lot to be desired.
Today, we look back at all of the recruits from California who have signed a National Letter of Intent with Notre Dame in the Rivals era since 2002.
29. DT Eddie Vanderdoes (2013)
The mere mention of his name can send Notre Dame fans up the wall with fury. As I'm sure you recall, Vanderdoes was a Signing Day commit for Notre Dame only to renege on his Letter of Intent during the summer. Amidst a swirl of controversy and rumor the Sacramento Bee assured the world that the truth for the switch would come out. Zero people were surprised when Joe Davidson couldn't come through with the reporting but what was surprising was the NCAA ruling in favor of Vanderdoes who then ran off to UCLA.
Eddie Vanderdoes wanted release from LOI for myriad reasons. Will report and detail on that. It's more than mere "change of heart"— Joe Davidson (@SacBee_JoeD) July 31, 2013
Vanderdoes has had a productive career with the Bruins but missed most of 2015 with a knee injury.
28. DE Brandon Nicolas (2004)
Nicolas was a 3-star prospect out of Mater Dei High School who had a very brief stint at Notre Dame. Following a redshirt as a freshman he transferred to Colorado. After gaining some weight while sitting out 2005, Nicolas had a productive career as a tackle finishing with 126 tackles and 22 tackles for loss.
27. CB Tee Shepard (2012)
Shepard was the only California signing for 2012 thanks to a Signing Day defection to Houston by close friend Deontay Greenberry. The 4-star corner endeared himself to fans as he looked to overcome hearing loss problems but he was gone almost before the ink dried on his first college quizzes.
Shepard was an early enrollee who left Notre Dame before the start of spring practice in what has been rumored to be a significant test discrepancy from his transcripts. After sitting out 2012, Shepard played at Holmes Community College for a year before signing with Ole Miss in 2014. He was injured for '14 and played sparingly in '15 before leaving the team in October. Shepard graduated from Ole Miss and will play his final season with Chuck Martin at Miami-Ohio.
26. RB Cam Roberson (2010)
Roberson was one of the late additions to Brian Kelly's first recruiting class. Unfortunately, his career did not go as planned after he was placed on medical scholarship. He made it through a couple of years without any carries and couldn't overcome a knee injury which led to his retirement prior to the 2012 season.
25. QB Darrin Bragg (2004)
Recruited as a quarterback out of San Jose but was switched to receiver once Charlie Weis was hired in 2005. Bragg was unable to see the field at wideout and left the program after 2006 to work in the film industry only to come back as a backup quarterback again for his final year of eligibility in 2007.
24. CB Josh Atkinson (2011)
Came to Notre Dame with twin brother George and spent his first 3 years on campus in a special teams role. Sat out his senior year before finishing up his career in 2015 with Division-II Azusa Pacific in the Los Angeles area.
23. TE Joseph Fauria (2008)
Fauria played in 3 games as a freshman but had a run in with ResLife before 2009 and ultimately left Notre Dame. He landed at UCLA where he would end up catching 87 passes and 20 touchdowns. Spent 2 years with the Detroit Lions but was a practice squad player with the Patriots before his release in December.
22. DB Freddie Parish (2003)
Parish came out of Long Beach Poly and played sparingly before academic troubles hit as Charlie Weis was set to begin his first season. He transferred to I-AA Stephen F. Austin where he was immediately eligible and finished his career.
21. TE Konrad Reuland (2006)
Saw the field for a couple seasons but failed to make a big impact. Sat out the 2008 season after transferring to Stanford. Reuland caught 26 passes for the Cardinal and has been kicking around NFL practice squads for the last 5 years.
20. WR Shaq Evans (2009)
Evans was supposed to be the next best receiver at Notre Dame and made a small impact as a freshman with 7 receptions. After Kelly was hired he became frustrated with playing time in the off-season and transferred to UCLA. With the Bruins he flourished totaling 126 catches and 14 touchdowns.
19. OL James Bonelli (2002)
Bonelli was a 4-star lineman out of St. Bonaventure High School and no one would have blamed him had he transferred after 3 years of virtually zero playing time. Nevertheless, he stuck around for 2 more seasons and finished his career at Notre Dame as a backup lineman.
18. TE Will Yeatman (2006)
Yeatman was a 3-star tight end but star lacrosse player who pulled double duty with Irish before an under-aged drinking arrest in early 2008 slammed his career shut in South Bend. Played in both his seasons with Notre Dame, catching 3 passes as a sophomore, and never blossomed in football with the Terps. In his lacrosse career he notched 96 points in 46 games then went on to have a cup of coffee in the NFL.
17. WR Equanimeous St. Brown (2015)
The tall receiver just finished his freshman season and a blocked punt basically shot him up this far in the rankings. St. Brown also caught one pass but missed the last third of the season following a shoulder injury.
16. LB Anthony McDonald (2008)
McDonald was nagged by injuries for most of his career and could never break through the rotation at linebacker. He finished his career with Notre Dame totaling just 23 tackles. For a graduate season he followed Charlie Weis to Kansas and made 29 tackles.
15. LB Anthony Vernaglia (2004)
Vernaglia took a redshirt as a freshman then spent 2005-07 as a backup linebacker. He totaled 25 tackles and could never find much playing time on some decent defenses. He ended up spending a graduate year at Hofstra.
14. DE Chris Frome (2002)
Frome didn't do much in his first 3 years then began 2005 as the starting defensive end before missing the second half of the season due to injury. Finished his career with 39 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
13. DT Justin Utupo (2010)
A classic journeyman who didn't get regular snaps until late in his senior season. Utupo came back for a 5th season in 2014 and made a nice contribution with 23 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.
12. TE Tyler Luatua (2014)
The recently transferred Luatua played a lot through 2 seasons with Notre Dame but wasn't breaking through as a starter and failed to catch a pass.
11. WR C.J. Sanders (2015)
The true freshman transferred to Notre Dame High School as a senior so technically we're counting him. He made his mark almost exclusively on special teams where he totaled 822 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown in both the punt and kick return game.
10. QB Dayne Crist (2008)
Crist was the 5-star quarterback who ascended to the starting position in 2010 and played reasonably well before a season-ending knee injury. It was never the same after that as he lost his job in the 2011 opener and finished the season with just 24 pass attempts. Crist transferred to Kansas where he eventually lost the starting position there, too.
9. S Max Redfield (2013)
Another 5-star from California that came into the fold but played sparingly as a freshman. Over the past two years he's held down the starting free safety spot (with some hiccups in there too) while totaling 143 tackles and 4 pass break-ups.
8. OL Taylor Dever (2007)
It looked like Dever was going to be a journeyman then he was able to break through and finish his career starting the last two seasons with the Irish.
7. RB George Atkinson III (2011)
Atkinson was an enigma at times but used his big-play ability and speed to make his mark at Notre Dame. Although never becoming the starter at running back he totaled just under 1,000 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns, plus his 2,136 kick return yards and 2 more scores brought some memorable moments. Atkinson left a year early and was an undrafted free agent who has been kicking around on the Raiders practice squad for a couple seasons.
6. TE Troy Niklas (2011)
The jumbo athlete started out as an outside linebacker in his freshman year then converted to tight end where he slowly flourished. As the starter in 2013, he finished with 498 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns before bolting early to the NFL where he became a 2nd round pick. He's yet to break out in the NFL with just 7 catches through 2 seasons.
5. DB Terrail Lambert (2004)
Lambert never became a star but he played a ton of football for Notre Dame. He finished his career starting at corner for the bulk of his final 3 seasons and totaled 115 tackles with 4 interceptions.
4. RB Cierre Wood (2009)
Wood took a redshirt during Charlie Weis' final season and then became a major weapon in the early Brian Kelly years. For his career he totaled 2,447 rushing yards and scored 18 total touchdowns. He passed up a graduate season and has bounced around on a few NFL teams with 5 career carries.
3. WR Rhema McKnight (2002)
McKnight probably had the most complete career out of any of these California recruits. He made a small impact as a true freshman and then put up very good numbers over his next two seasons. McKnight was injured early in 2005 but came back with a monster 2006 campaign. For his career he finished with 170 receptions, 2,277 yards, and 22 touchdowns.
2. DT Derek Landri (2002)
This '02 class panned out pretty well with the kids from California as Landri lived up to his hype as a recruit. He finished with 161 tackles, 34.0 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks for his career and went on to play 7 years in the NFL.
1. QB Jimmy Clausen (2007)
You could make the case that Clausen had the most potential to flake out among any of these California recruits. While his overall career and numbers might not be as impressive as McKnight or Landri his 2009 performance still stands as one of the greatest single performances in school history.
Joe Schmidt, who came to Notre Dame as a preferred walk-on and eventually earned a scholarship, is obviously No. 1 in all of our hearts. He finished his wild ride of a career with 164 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss.