The Curious Case of Notre Dame’s Kevin Stepherson

One of the biggest looming questions facing Notre Dame football with the Irish just a little over a week out from the season opener is the case of sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson.  When Brian Kelly met with the media on Thursday, he did not do much to clear up the situation either leaving Stepherson one of the biggest enigmas on the team eight days before the Irish face Temple.

“The clearest picture that I can give you is the consistent message that I’ve been giving everyone,” Kelly said on Thursday.   “We’re not going to put you in a competitive situation – or on the field – based on your talent.  You have to exhibit the traits that we’re developing in our players,” he added.

With specific regard to Kevin Steperson, Kelly added, “Those traits are coming along, he’s making progress.  But his attention to detail, his focus – all of the traits we require all of our players to have – he’s working on and he’s getting better.  When he exhibits all those traits, he’ll find himself on the field.”

Ever since the spring it has been clear that Stepherson was in the doghouse or whatever you want to call it.   Based on talent, he is probably the second best wide receiver on the team behind Equanimous St. Brown.  In fact, I had Stepherson ranked as the 10th best player on the Notre Dame roster in our recent rankings (my fellow voters weren’t quite as high though and he fell to #18).  And the numbers speak for themselves.  Statistically speaking, he had one of the most productive freshman seasons for any wide receiver in Notre Dame history.

Stepherson has not been able to get on the field though.  In the spring he was running with the third team when the media was given viewing access.  Snaps appeared to be even more sparse for Stepherson this summer to the point that he was a complete non-factor on Sunday in the “New & Gold” Game inside Notre Dame Stadium.  It led to widespread speculation this week that Stepherson was either suspended or that a suspension was about to be handed out.

Kelly did not do much to clear up those rumors Thursday. “I can neither confirm nor deny,” was Kelly’s answer when pressed on whether or not Stepherson was suspended.

If you read between the tea leaves here, it sounds like the staff is fully aware that Stepherson is one of their most talented players but they are trying to send a message to the sophomore that he needs to do more than just show up and be talented to play.  Perhaps we are even dealing with some sort of team suspension, but not a University suspension so Kelly wants to deal with this all in house.   With all of the recent University suspensions related to academics the last few years, Kelly would be wise stay noncommittal to avoid the “more suspensions for Notre Dame players” news cycle.

While it’s refreshing the coaching staff is sending this message, it’s also frustrating to observe given how talented Stepherson is.  On one hand, he has the potential to be a special player, but on the other, if he isn’t doing what he needs to be doing to get on the field, the coaches are wise to take the approach they are.

One would have to think that this thing resolves itself in the near future since a situation like this lingering over a team can have a negative impact beyond just not having Stepherson on the field.  There are some encouraging signs here though.

  • Kelly noted that Stepherson is making progress in the areas that he needs to to get on the field.
  • Kelly specifically said that all of the players are eligible to play if they display the traits he mentioned so this doesn’t appear to be any sort of academics issue.
  • Stepherson is still on the team.  He hasn’t transferred and he is seemingly working on the traits Kelly and staff want him to work on.

While that is all encouraging, it also doesn’t get Stepherson on the field tomorrow or next Saturday when Notre Dame could use Stepherson’s explosiveness and ability to get behind a defense.  As a freshman, Stepherson looked like he could be the same type of deep threat that Will Fuller was for 2014-2015.  While he might lack Fuller’s top end speed – most receivers do – he also has displayed much better hands than Fuller at the same time.

If Stepherson does not get on the field this fall, freshman Michael Young could help replace some of what Notre Dame would lose without Stepherson on the field.  Kelly has been very high on Young all summer long and on Thursday he once again lauded Young’s explosiveness and said that Young will be a part of the offense.  He likely won’t be a focal point, but he will be a part of it.

Now the question remains, will Kevin Stepherson be a part of it?

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  1. Every single comment I have heard from Notre Dame players or anyone associated with the team for the last few years has been a study, in some cases a masterpiece – in bland.

    I have a strong feeling that Stepherson has a problem with bland, Kelly knows it and is using his authority to keep the kid off the field until Stepherson tows the line.

    As for the proclamations of Notre Dame being a Catholic Christian University – In 2009 over the strong objections of the Fort Wayne Diocese, Notre Dame gave an honorable degree to the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, who, when he was a state politician in Illinois voted twice AGAINST mandatory medical services for infants who had the audacity to survive an abortion – IOW let them die.

    In 2012 then Vice-President Joseph Biden said he had “no problem” with same-sex marriage. In 2016 Notre Dame chose Biden as recipient of the Laetare Medal, the University’s highest honor for Catholic laymen – once again over the strong objections of the Diocese of Fort Wayne. A few weeks later Mr. Biden officiagted at a same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremony and put it on his website.

  2. Last year I was shocked to see Kevin Stepherson running down the field instead of much heralded Javon McKinley. When we all see Javon high stepping into the end zone this year we will know why Kevin rides the bench.

  3. Seriously? Kelly’s job hinges on a 19 year old young man at quarterback who has very little
    experience. Last year he expected the offense would score enough points while the defense matured. How did that work out? Now, he’s casting doubts about a young man (Kevin) who may have some
    issues, not related to his talent, but rather his views do not coincide with Kelly’s view of the world.
    Kelly has fewer choices if he wants to keep his job. If he has a close game with Temple, watch out.

    1. “Close game” …. as if losing is off the table. This is a 4 win team that’s completely depending on the new DC to work miracles.
      You make a good point though. I think BK could be on the hot seat REAL quick.

  4. More Brian Kelly nonsense… if that kid can play ball and he doesn’t have problems with grades or misconduct, put him on the field.

    Babbling about mystical traits! This isn’t the Lord of the Rings, you were brought here to win football games. Go 4 and 8 again and see if your stories about shaping young men’s character saves you. You think Saban or Meyer would keep a performer sidelined for this BS?

    Transfer now Kevin, get the hell away from this guy.

    1. You don’t know why he isn’t seeing the field. Maybe he likes to party all night on Fridays, or doesn’t know the playbook. You’re ranting because you don’t like Kelly, and inventing reasons to keep not liking him.

  5. WNDU announced he was suspended 4 games for breaking team rules. Probably goes back to his arrest for weed with Redfield
    and the others. He put his trial off til last April which push the punishment into this year. The fact he has know for some time and
    is still on the team is a good sign. Accepts his punishment. Think good parents are part of it.

    1. I have absolutely no knowledge on this – what I am guessing is complete speculation:
      Maybe Stepherson muffed whatever program he (and the others) were put in for the pot issue…for a first offense it is treated as a medical type, or social type issue of some sort and there is probably some kind of education program required…again, I’m speculating. Perhaps the kid missed some classes or sessions or whatever. that would explain a lot.
      At any rate, the statement that he is making progress indicates that he is owning up, as another guy posted here.
      As for the other guy who posted “transfer now” – don’t do it! I’m tired of seeing kids run away from their own self-inflicted problems. This society makes that too easy to do nowadays, starting with renegade coaches and going down from there. Stay and triumph. It’s been done before, and it’s the best way…a lifelong lesson.

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

  6. Few will ever know what the “issues” are, but we’ve seen this before as players don’t co-exist wellwith coaches (Jay Hayes w/ BVG, Justin Brent and disappear from the opportunity to be a team contributor. I suspect the next we’ll be hearing from Stepherson is what school he’ll be transferring to. I don’t say this with condemnation or blame. Sometimes certain players and their coaches just don’t connect. When that’s the case, it might be time to move on for all concerned. Stepherson undoubtedly has the skills to play. Perhaps a new start with a different team might be his best solution. ND and Brian Kelly aren’t for everybody. Unfortunately, a player might not realize that until he’s been there awhile.

  7. There have been myriad students who have gone through teen and post teen crises, Holden Caulfield syndrome,
    struggles with authority, struggle with conformity, struggles with discipline, at Notre Dame and at campuses across America . Thousands.

    This is Notre Dame, not a mere football factory.

    Kevin Stepherson is and was a person long before he was a football player, and will be a person long after he is reduced to playing touch football with his grandchildren.

    People are people.
    Football? a mere game.

    At Notre Dame, how a student-athlete resolves his life issues vastly transcends how he resolves his football issues.

    Let us not be infantile. There is clear overlap between life issues and football issues.

    But Notre Dame is a Christian Catholic University.

    First. Last and ALWAYS

    Prodigals are sought ought helped and wind up having fatted calves slain in their behalf.

    Catholic alumni who live the Christian principles get this.

    Others? No,

    1. I gotta agree with Duranko he or re. It’s as simple as that—-no matter the talent one has. Either one is in the right place or he’s not. There is no evidence so far of speculation of Stepherson in a “Dog House” for mis-conduct , poor grades , or lack of performing on the grid iron. So , what’s the problem ? This young kid , at young age is possibly going through some mental illness depression —- and it strikes at any age —starting in high school. If you want answers from Kelly –he can’t give you answers. Hopefully this is not the case with this young kid Stepherson.

    2. I agree with everything you say except “Others? No.”

      The idea that those of one’s own religion are the only ones who understand the way back to God is among the most insidious ways to hold oneself separate from Him.

      You can’t do that without passing judgment on your fellow man, which, of course, is inconsistent with Christian principles. It is inconsistent with them because you must conceptualize a fault before you can find it in others, and what you conceptualize becomes a part of what you are. So it is that when you judge, you are likewise judged.

      The Good News is that any judgment you pass on your fellow children of God is not God’s judgment, and is therefore a fantasy. It is our fantasies that are metaphorically represented in the prodigal’s departure from home. Any of us may turn back and return home at any time — simply by letting the Holy Spirit do the judging on our behalf — and have the fatted calf slain in honor of our return. But so long as you take the perception that “others don’t get it” you will not get it either, and in your perception will continue your travels.

      1. Duranko and Bob,
        As you may know, my undergraduate degree was in Theology. I never “religiousize” football, but it seems that the die has been cast here…so let me say that as Catholics, we must first remove the goal post from our eyeball before we criticize the speck in our brother’s eye.
        1000 years ago the Church had a huge and very necessary purge of the clergy. The Pope purged the corrupt nobles and royalty of Europe who often became priests or bishops to increase their wealth and expand their power from mainly civil to spiritual as well.
        15 years ago the Pope commenced another very necessary purge of the clergy, for crimes and sins that, IMO, made most of the old European nobility look like saints.
        So as Catholics 1. Let’s all “get that” and 2. Let’s rejoice, because IMO, the Clergy is wholly holy again, as it should always be.
        May it last another 1000 years!
        Bruce G. Curme ’77 (Theology) ’82 (Not-for-Profit Institutional Management)

  8. I hope this isn’t a Justin Brent situation where stepherson never gets out of the doghouse. My already low respect for Kelly would tumble even further. This kid is a legit nfl prospect. Don’t screw with his future.

    1. If he isn’t willing to do the work that he needs to do to get to the NFL, then he isn’t a legit NFL prospect. As for Justin Brent, if your top priority is letting the whole world know that you’ve scored a porn star, then football isn’t your top priority.

      I don’t think Kelly did a good job of putting a disciplined process together, and that means that more players who weren’t naturally disciplined on their own have fallen by the wayside. But the fact of their lack of discipline remains. What I’m hearing this year I like better. Get with the program, or sit on the bench and watch and learn.

  9. So what are these “traits” that Stepherson needs to exhibit? Keeping his shirt tail tucked in? Getting to practice and meetings on time? What?

    1. Reading the playbook? Knowing your routes? Attending all your classes? Who knows? All I can say is that last year most of the players were like musicians who hadn’t been putting the time in to keep their chops up. It stands to reason that some people who got in the habit of goofing off last year are going to have more trouble turning that around than others are. Maybe there’s some personality clash between Kelly and Stepherson, and maybe Stepherson is just a kid who thinks he knows more than he really does and doesn’t want to listen to his coaches.

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