Notre Dame's 2017 roster continues to take on a different look each day. After losing two transfers and gaining a transfer over the last week, the latest shakeup is that senior tight end Tyler Luatua is going on a medical scholarship, ending his football career.
Luatua has struggled to consistently stay on the field at Notre Dame, and an assortment of injuries have been the primary culprit. After playing a key blocking role as a true freshman in 2014, Luatua played just 200 snaps as a sophomore in 2015 because of concussion issues and other ailments.
His playing time was limited to just 38 snaps as a junior in 2016, as the Paramount, Calif. native simply could not stay healthy long enough to rise up the depth chart.
Luatua's best moment came as a freshman, when Notre Dame used him as a key player in the run game during its 31-28 Music City Bowl victory over LSU. Luatua's blocking was key to the offense grinding out 263 yards on the ground against the Tigers defense.
Notre Dame senior TE Tyler Luatua has been granted medical disqualification and sophomore OL Parker Boudreaux will seek a transfer... pic.twitter.com/qHYJqXlgOE— Michael Bertsch (@NDsidBertschy) June 7, 2017
It was hoped that Luatua could finally stay healthy as a senior, adding the physical blocking presence he showed as a freshman and sophomore, but instead he will spend his final season at Notre Dame on the sidelines.
Luatua came to Notre Dame as part of the 2014 recruiting class after earning Under Armour All-American honors following his senior season. ESPN ranked him as the nation's No. 107 player in the country and the nation's third-best tight end. In his final two seasons at La Mirada (Calif.) High School, Luatua hauled in 76 passes for 1,006 yards and 12 touchdowns.
His success on the field earned him scholarship offers from Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Ole Miss, Baylor, Arizona, Arizona State, Louisville, Nebraska, Tennessee, UCLA, Utah and Washington among many others.
Luatua considered transferring to BYU following the 2015 season but ultimately decided to stay at Notre Dame to finish out his career. He will remain at Notre Dame for his senior season where he is on pace to graduate from the College of Arts and Letters.
WHAT'S NEXT AT TIGHT END
Had he been healthy the 2017 season was going to be his final season of eligibility, so his medical scholarship does not impact recruiting. Notre Dame is also in the fortunate situation of having a deep tight end depth chart, which eases the blow of losing Luatua, who was hoping to find a niche as a blocker this fall.
With Luatua out the possibility of freshman tight end Brock Wright earning more playing time increases. Senior Durham Smythe and junior Alizé Mack are the top two tight ends and will get a bulk of the playing time. Senior Nic Weishar will also be in the mix and should play a healthy number of snaps if Notre Dame does in fact go with a lot of two tight end sets this season.
Wright is a strong and physical player, and the freshman could follow in the footsteps of not only Luatua, but also former Notre Dame standout Troy Niklas (2011-13), who caught just five passes in his first two seasons while serving primarily as a blocker behind All-American Tyler Eifert. Niklas actually played some linebacker as a true freshman in 2011.
By his third season Niklas had emerged as the top man at the tight end position, and his strong junior season (32 catches, 498 yards, 5 TD's) as a pass catcher and blocker helped him become a second round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals.