The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have yet to play in their Gator Bowl matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks but have already added a wide receiver for next season through the transfer portal. Kaleb Smith is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout who announced earlier this month that he was leaving Virginia Tech after leading the Hokies in receptions this past season.
Below is a closer look at Smith and his potential impact:
During his high school days at Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Va., Smith played both wide receiver and safety. In 2017, he announced that he’d play collegiately for Wake Forest, turning down offers from Virginia, Richmond, East Carolina, Temple and Norfolk State.
Kaleb Smith’s Career at Virginia Tech
However, just months after that decision, Smith changed his mind and announced that he’d compete as a walk-on at Virginia Tech. During the 2018 campaign, Smith saw no action for the Hokies and then caught nine passes in four games the following season, including four grabs and his lone touchdown of the year in the season-opening loss over Boston College.
That 2019 effort came about after the Hokies went through some injuries to their receiving corps. Then, in the chaotic 2020 season, Smith only managed to catch eight passes, again reaching the end zone on one occasion. His best performance that year again came against Boston College, though this time Tech won in a 40-14 blowout.
The 2020 season came to an end for Smith in Virginia Tech’s late-season clash against Pittsburgh. He suffered a labrum injury after his arm became entangled during an effort to strip the ball from a Panthers defender.
After five months of rehab for his injury, Smith began his preparations for 2021 and finished up with 20 receptions for 260 yards and two touchdown catches. Early on, he delivered his best day of the season with six grabs for 58 yards in a six-point loss to West Virginia. A leg injury forced him out of the lineup for the Tech bowl game against Maryland.
Last season with the Hokies, Smith became a big-play receiver and was one of the bright spots in an otherwise miserable 3-8 campaign. His 37 catches went for 674 yards, with three of the receptions resulting in touchdowns and had three or more catches in eight games. Most notably, he had nine grabs for 152 yards against Pittsburgh, then collected 141 yards on just three receptions against North Carolina State.
Notre Dame’s Need at Wide Receiver
After their bowl game against the Gamecocks, the Irish will be losing a pair of graduate wide receivers in Braden Lenzy and Matt Salerno. Lenzy was never able to compile a breakout year, with his 2020 campaign limited to just three games due to a hamstring injury. Salerno had just 19 grabs during his three seasons on the field, so his departure won’t have a huge impact.
Still, both Lenzy and Salerno provided veteran leadership to the Irish, who had an array of talented youngsters who will look to grow their game further in 2023. Having a player like Smith to fill the starting role held by Lenzy and give those younger teammates the insight they need could pay additional dividends.
The current quartet of returning wideouts who will benefit from the addition of Smith are Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Tobias Merriwether. Entering Notre Dame’s bowl matchup, Styles leads this contingent with 30 catches on the season, with Thomas contributing 20 receptions, an amount that matched Lenzy’s output.
Colzie only had nine grabs and one touchdown catch during the 2022 regular season but made the most of them by averaging 21.3 yards per reception. Merriwether definitely made the most of his only catch, a 41- yard score in the BYU victory. Behind this group are incoming talents that could challenge this group, such as Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse and Rico Flores.
Kaleb Smith’s Ceiling
Reaching the expectations of the Irish coaching staff shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Smith. He figures to serve in the role of possession receiver for whoever ends up lining up under center next season. So, if he manages to surpass that relatively modest level, the Irish will be the beneficiaries.
The impact of Smith’s arrival will likely be measured by how productive the wide receivers are as a unit. This past season, former Irish signal-caller Drew Pyne relied heavily on tight end Michael Mayer, an asset next season’s quarterback won’t have. That means tapping into the inviting potential of these talents is a necessity and Smith can help in this department both on and off the field.