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Is Duke Quarterback Riley Leonard Notre Dame Bound?

Riley Leonard

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard entered the transfer portal on Wednesday ahead of his final year of eligibility. A likely landing place could very well be Notre Dame, which is looking to replace Sam Hartman next season. The Irish have recent experience with the transfer portal. They secured the services of Hartman, a Wake Forest transfer, through the portal a year ago.

Considered one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation, Leonard emerged as a dual-threat quarterback for Mile Elko’s Duke Blue Devils. Elko is headed to Texas A&M, and that could also be a possible destination for Leonard. Incidentally, the Irish open their 2024 campaign against the Aggies.

While Leonard failed to deliver on the high expectations that he entered the season with, in large part due to injuries, he was productive at times. He missed multiple games this season he still managed some flash moments in the seven games he played. A two-year starter for Duke, Leonard completed 95 of 165 pass attempts (57.6%) for 1,102 yards this season. He threw three touchdowns and three interceptions. His longest completion of the season covered 47 yards. Leonard’s best game in 2023 came in a 41-7 Duke win over UConn in week two. Leonard went 15-of-20 for 248 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, he rushed for 97 yards in a season-opening victory over Northwestern.

Leonard’s stat line was more impressive in 2022 when he started all 13 games. He completed 250 of 391 attempts for 2,967 yards with 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He also added 699 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns and was an All-ACC honorable mention.

Riley Leonard’s No Stranger to the Irish

Notre Dame is familiar with Leonard after beating him and the Duke Blue Devils 21-14 in September. A dual-threat, Leonard finished that contest 12-of-27 passing (44.4%) for 134 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception against the Irish and rushed 18 times for 88 yards. Leonard suffered a high ankle sprain on Duke’s final offensive play of the game with nose tackle Howard Cross III sacking and stripping the ball away from him.

“You’re always evaluating the top quarterbacks in the country,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said at his Monday press conference. “If you wait until every quarterback enters the portal to say, ‘OK, let’s evaluate him.’ It’s going to be too late. The timeframe for when a young man enters the portal to when they decide what school they’re going to, every second counts, and every second matters.

“We’ve evaluated a lot of quarterbacks,” Freeman added. ‘We’ve evaluated a lot of different positions that could possibly enter the portal that we know would have another year. As those guys enter the portal, we have to be able to make a decision right away, is this somebody that we feel fits our program? That’s in terms of athletic ability. The other side of that is going to be is their personality a fit for what we want here at Notre Dame. We have to make sure we bring in the right guys to our football program, too.”

On The Way Out

Following Notre Dame’s 9-3 regular season, a host of Irish players will be on another team next year.  The Irish’s leading wide receiver Chris Tyree is among them. Tyree led all Irish pass catchers with 484 yards on 26 receptions (18.6 average yards per catch). He also scored three touchdowns. Tyree is the fourth player in Notre Dame history to score via a punt return, kick return, reception, and rush, joining Julius Jones, Rocket Ismail, and Tim Brown.

Fifth-year defensive end Nano Osafo Mensah will play a sixth season at another school. He played in 39 career games at Notre Dame and recorded a career-high 20 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss, and three sacks this season. Also leaving Notre Dame are starting center Zeke Correll and wide receiver Tobias Merriweather. Correll started 31 games in five seasons. He missed the final two regular-season games this year with a concussion. Merriweather, who caught 14 passes for 284 yards with two touchdowns, and Tyree leave the program following the departure of receivers coach Chansi Stuckey, who was let go earlier in the week.

 

Riley Leonard
Photo courtesy: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

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