SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Rising Notre Dame sophomore wide receivers Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson have decided to transfer, coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday, meaning the Fighting Irish will have lost their top four signees from a 2012 recruiting class that was ranked No. 9 nationally.
Neal, who was the Irish's primary punt returner last season, was the school's highest-rated prospect from the recruiting class of 2012, receiving five stars from ESPN and ranking as the No. 1 overall athlete in his class. Ferguson was a four-star prospect and the school's third-highest-rated signee in the 2012 class.
Meanwhile, defensive end Chase Hounshell suffered a shoulder injury that will sideline him for the 2013 season -- one year after a similar injury forced him to miss all of last season.
"I'm just really disappointed for him because he worked so hard to get back there," Kelly said Wednesday.
Kelly announced at the beginning of the spring that quarterback Gunner Kiel, the second-highest-rated player from Notre Dame's 2012 class, had left the program and would transfer at semester's end.
Cornerback Tee Shepard, the fourth-highest-rated Class of 2012 prospect to commit to Notre Dame, had left school for undisclosed reasons just two months after enrolling, before the last spring season even began.
The 5-foot-9, 178-pound Neal returned 21 punts for 46 yards last season, averaging 2.2 yards per return. He added one carry for 7 yards and one catch for minus-5 yards. The 6-foot, 192-pound Ferguson had one catch last season for nine yards.
Neal's recruitment, much like Kiel's, was filled with plenty of drama. The Chaparral (Ariz.) High School product waited until 20 days after national signing day to announce his college decision, setting up a morning ceremony at his former elementary school, Kyrene de la Esperanza.
With 600 schoolchildren, friends and family members on hand for the Feb. 21, 2012, announcement, Neal did not show. He made his announcement several hours later in front of a handful of reporters.
Six days later, Neal withdrew from Chaparral and enrolled at Phoenix Central.
Neal's father, Luke, told 247Sports on Tuesday night that his son wants to be closer to his girlfriend and his daughter, who was born six weeks ago.
Running back Amir Carlisle had surgery Tuesday for a broken collarbone and is likely out for the spring.