Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez has landed standout recruit Davonte’ Neal the second time around.
Neal, who returned punts last season as a true freshman at Notre Dame, has decided to transfer to Arizona and will apply to the NCAA for a hardship waiver to be immediately eligible for the 2013 season.
The story was first reported Tuesday night by Blue and Gold Illustrated, part of the 247Sports network.
The basis for the application of the hardship waiver will be that Neal, who attended Scottsdale Chaparral High School, left Notre Dame last month to be closer to his long-time girlfriend and their nine-week old daughter.
“The primary reason I chose Arizona was because it was close to my family and my daughter can come see me everyday — that was the most important to me and having that family support,” Neal told 247Sports.
Neal, at 5-9 and 171 pounds, is best suited for a slot position in Rodriguez’s offense. The Cats are also looking for more firepower on punt and kick returns, so Neal could be an immediate factor there if he wins his waiver of the rule that mandates football transfers have to sit out a season.
“The way Coach Rodriguez throws the ball around is amazing,” Neal said. “They do it the entire game. I’ll have an opportunity to play inside and outside receiver in the offense. He does know how to get the ball in his players’ hands and from there they make plays.”
Neal was Arizona’s top target in the 2012 class, and he dragged his recruitment a couple of weeks after signing day before deciding on Notre Dame over the Wildcats.
Neal was two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona and earned Parade All-American honors at Chaparral, where he was coached by Charlie Ragle, now the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator with Arizona.
He was rated as high as the No. 8 prospect in the country by ESPNU, and was ranked No. 53 by 247Sports, No. 66 by MaxPreps.com, No. 74 by Scout.com and No. 107 by Rivals.com. As a high school senior, Neal ran for 1,317 yards, caught 62 passes for 1,113 yards and scored 35 touchdowns, including five in the return game.
He had limited success returning punts last season for Notre Dame, which lost in the BCS national championship game to Alabama. Neal returned 21 punts for 46 yards, an average of 2.2 yards per attempt.
Eighteen years ago, Arizona also received a highly touted transfer who played sparingly as a true freshman at Notre Dame — running back/receiver Leon Blunt. He sat out the 1995 season and then left the Wildcats during the 1996 season, having never taken a snap.