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Notre Dame Football

Offense or Defense? Lorenzo Styles Encounters “Bumpy” Crossroads with Upcoming Decision

April 18, 2023
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Lorenzo Styles, Jr. enrolled at Notre Dame in the winter of 2021 as the No. 6 overall wide receiver in his recruiting class. 

Over his first two seasons, he snagged 54 catches for 684 yards and is the most productive returning wide receiver on the Fighting Irish roster now that Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith has medically retired.

Perhaps, Styles was always destined to play on defense, even with his early returns on offense.

“I told him I see a lot of traits that he possesses that really could resonate on the defensive side of the ball,” coach Marcus Freeman said.

Over time, Freeman’s remarks inspired Styles, who’s always been open to playing the other side of ball at Notre Dame, to experiment with playing cornerback this spring. 

“I’m a football player. So if they want me to go catch some passes, I’ll go catch some passes and make some plays,” Styles said. “If they want me to go lock some people down, I can go do that too. I feel pretty confident in both.”

He possesses the pedigree of a defensive playmaker. 

His father, Lorenzo Sr., starred as a linebacker at Ohio State before the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He played for six seasons, finishing his career in 2000 with the Super Bowl XXXIV champion St. Louis Rams. He recorded 47 tackles and a sack that fall. 

Styles’ younger brother, Sonny, is a former five-star prospect who’s the projected second-string free safety for the Buckeyes as a rising sophomore.

In high school, Styles played both ways for Pickerington Central in Columbus, Ohio. On defense, his physicality and speed stood out to the point that the Buckeyes offered him as a cornerback. 

Most of his reps this spring have come at wide receiver, but the coaching staff encouraged him to switch to the defense during one-on-one periods. 

On Tuesday, that changed. He spent the majority of practice on defense in a white jersey.

“It felt like riding a bike a little bit. I was out there today and felt really good, really confident,” Styles said. “I don’t fully grasp the defense yet, just because I’ve only been in like one or two meetings. So that was a little bit hard for me. Then there are definitely some technical things [to work on]. 

“Already playing in the college game, I’m already caught up with the pace of the game and the speed of it. I felt good today.”

Freeman plans on playing Styles on offense and defense during Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.

He’ll follow the same path as a few current teammates if Styles decides to switch positions full-time.

Notre Dame recruited Cam Hart as a wide receiver before moving him to cornerback during his freshman season in 2019. He started as a junior and senior and returned for a fifth season in 2023 after undergoing shoulder surgery in late 2022. 

Xavier Watts spent a season and a half as a wide receiver before Freeman, then Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, recruited him to safety. Based on his performances in the spring, the coaching staff expects Watts to break out this fall. 

Hart believes Styles possesses the necessary traits to fit inside the Fighting Irish cornerback room. 

“Lorenzo’s a dog. He loves football,” Cam Hart said. “I think if you just give yourself to the game, it'll come to you and Coach Mickens does a good job in demanding and implementing our culture into each one of us. We obviously have different personalities. So he has a personal relationship with each of us, and I'm sure he'll do well with that with Lorenzo. 

“It’s bringing that same attitude every day, being the same guy every day, having a love for the game, and it’s working your ass off.”

The defensive coaching staff would love to poach him. Defensive coordinator Al Golden raved about Styles during a press conference on Saturday. 

Similarly, cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens believes Styles could impact the defense.

“He’s very quick. He’s strong,” Mickens said. “That’s what I’m realizing about him, he has a strong punch, which is effective when you’re pressing. He understands route recognition a lot. He’s a confident kid, and you can tell he wants the ball.”

Even given his pedigree and natural abilities, Styles faces a difficult decision. 

“I told him, ‘the road to where you want to go is bumpy on either side of the ball, right?’” Freeman said to Styles. “‘It isn't always going to be that easy.’”

At cornerback, he still needs to learn the defense. He doesn’t the signals, where his help is or what his run responsibilities are. 

Sure, he’s capable of grasping the playbook, but he’s effectively starting from scratch.

On offense, Styles is a proven commodity, especially after the catch, struggled to reliably haul in the ball last fall.

“I just had a little bit of a mental challenge, but I definitely got past that,” Styles said. “I’ve been making plays all spring ball.”

In 2022, he led all pass-catchers with six dropped passes on 47 targets. 

This spring, he’s started to regain the coaching staff's trust, but he still primarily repped with the second-team offense at wide receiver behind Tobias Merriweather to the field and Jayden Thomas in the slot. 

Styles is still in a position to help the offense this fall, but maybe he’s a future star at cornerback. 

Ultimately, the staff will leave the choice up to him, knowing he’s an asset to the team regardless of where he decides to play. 

“He’s a tremendous young man who’s deserving of an opportunity to make an impact at Notre Dame,” Golden said. “He will do that, I promise you. He’s a great kid.”

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