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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame lands Duke QB Riley Leonard from transfer portal

Riley Leonard
Duke quarterback Riley Leonard attempts to elude Irish sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison during Notre Dame's 21-14 win over Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium on Sept. 30.

For the third time in four seasons, Notre Dame is poised to welcome a transfer into its quarterback room. After former Wisconsin Badger Jack Coan and Wake Forest Demon Deacon Sam Hartman took the reigns in 2021 and 2023, the Irish dipped back into the portal, adding Duke's Riley Leonard to the program Tuesday.

Leonard spent the first three seasons of his collegiate career with the Blue Devils. He played sporadically as a freshman before taking over the starting job as a sophomore. He spent the last two seasons playing for former Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who left Duke after the regular season ended to become the head coach at Texas A&M. In his first year as Duke's starter, Leonard threw for 2,967 yards at a 64% completion rate, accounting for 20 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also rushed for just under 700 yards and another 13 scores. The Blue Devils finished the year 9-4, their best record since 2014.

Leonard's junior year was limited to just seven games due to two injuries. The first was a high ankle sprain that occurred when Leonard was strip-sacked to seal Notre Dame's 21-14 win over the Blue Devils on Sept. 30. He returned for two games before suffering a season-ending toe injury on Oct. 28 against Louisville. Leonard finished the year with 1,102 passing yards and a 58% completion rate, throwing for 3 touchdowns and as many interceptions. He also ran for 352 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Leonard is a bit different than the previous quarterback transfers to come to South Bend. First, he is not a graduate transfer, and, as such, possesses less experience than either Coan or Hartman. Both of those players were heavy favorites to be Notre Dame's QB1 as well. Though Coan split snaps with Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner, he started every game of Notre Dame's 2021 campaign. Hartman did the same in 2023.

Leonard will have competition for the starting job when Notre Dame starts its season on Aug. 31 against Leonard's former coach at Texas A&M. Sophomore Steve Angeli will be the main player pushing Leonard as he firmly settled in as QB2 in 2023. Angeli completed 19 of 25 passes across 7 games this year, throwing for 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. Freshman Kenny Minchey also received some playing time.

There's also the arrival of four-star recruit CJ Carr to consider. Carr is rated as the fifth-best quarterback prospect in the class of 2024, according to 247Sports. Notre Dame hasn't started a freshman at quarterback since Tommy Rees in 2010, and that was the result of injury.

Either way, Leonard adds another element to an Irish offense that struggled to consistently thrive in 2023. Leonard brings a more dynamic, dual-threat playstyle to the mix and was a fairly accomplished passer in 2022 before regressing this year. Notre Dame is betting that he can reach his ceiling in 2024 and help the Irish offense take a step forward.

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