Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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16 OCT. 12, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK A fter a hard fall on his right shoul- der, junior tight end Cole Kmet laid on his back in the East end zone of Oliver Field at Culver Military Academy. It was Aug. 8, the last day of fall camp away from Notre Dame's campus, and at first he thought he had dislocated his right shoulder. "I knew something was a little funky," Kmet said, "and I tried to pop it back in, but then I realized that wasn't right." It didn't take the trainers long to come to the conclusion that he'd bro- ken his collarbone. The injury had oc- curred competing for a 50-50 ball with 5-10 senior safety Alohi Gilman. Kmet utilized his 6-5 frame to win the battle, but when he landed it felt as if the en- tire Notre Dame team had lost a war. Suddenly, his inevitable breakout season — one that was pushed back a year due to a nagging high ankle sprain in 2018 — was in jeopardy. Knowing he was a fast healer, Kmet remained optimistic and quickly started to work on his conditioning. About a week after the injury, Kmet was seen running up and down the stairs in Notre Dame Stadium during a practice open to the public. This type of resolve and healing ability paid off; not just for Kmet, but also his teammate wide receiver Michael Young, who suffered a bro- ken collarbone Aug. 17, the same day that Kmet was running stairs during practice in Notre Dame Stadium. Young was emotionally down dur- ing the days following his injury. That is, until wide receivers coach Del Alexander pointed out that Kmet was already catching passes. "So I had to sit there and I was like, 'Wait, this might be not as bad as I think it is,'" Young said. "And then he was out there practicing like a week and a half before me and I was like, 'We're not even to Georgia.' So it's funny. "He doesn't know this — he was actually motivating me to go harder with the rehab and the PT [physical therapy] and making sure I do every single thing right leading up to when I can go back." Five weeks after the injury, Kmet took the field for the first time in front of a record crowd at Sanford Sta- dium in Athens, Ga. On the first play of the game from the Irish 25, he ran a delayed release to the flat and was quickly hit by Georgia's star safety J.R. Reed, but instead of going down, Kmet lowered his shoulder, broke the tackle and ran for an additional four yards. That was the first real contact he had in weeks. "I didn't take a full hit until the game," Kmet said. He finished the game with an eye- popping 108 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions and was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week. Now, it feels as if Kmet has as- cended and has already taken his place as the next great tight end to come out of South Bend. But the truth is that what lies ahead for him is unknown, especially once his Notre Dame career is over. After stepping away from the Notre Dame baseball team at the end of March due to soreness in his left elbow, people reported that his career on the diamond was over — that going for- ward his sole focus would be on foot- ball and becoming an NFL tight end. Instead, Kmet confirmed that he in- tends to rejoin the baseball program in the spring of 2020 and play with his younger brother Casey, who is a catcher and first basemen on the team. Up to this point in his Notre Dame baseball career, Kmet has been used only as a left-handed pitcher, where he has done quite well. In 18 innings last year, he registered a 2.89 ERA and 27 strikeouts. But he and Mike Manno, his high school coach at St. Viator in Arling- ton Heights, Ill., are hoping that will change next season and he will be used as a hitter more often. In his first two years on the team, he has only three at-bats and one hit. "I watched him at a workout with the White Sox two days before our state semifinal [his senior year of high school]," Manno said. "It was a pri- vate workout with four or five other kids from around the country, and he's hitting wood and he's putting balls off the walkway at Comiskey Park [now Guaranteed Rate Field]." Kmet performed so well at the try- out that his Notre Dame career could have been over before it even began. According to Manno, the White Sox considered taking Kmet in one of the first few rounds, but it didn't work out. "I don't think the money was there for them to do that or for him to leave Notre Dame," he said. "I think they were then going to draft him in the fourth round, and then they came back to try to draft him in the 12th or 13th, and it just wasn't enough to pull him away. It's hard to pull away from Notre Dame in general." This transition could be assisted by new Notre Dame baseball coach Link Jarrett, who has a reputation for being a hitting guru. Wherever he has been, he has improved his team's offensive numbers, so it's intriguing to see what he could do with a talent like Kmet. Of course, there's always the pos- sibility that Kmet continues to domi- nate on the gridiron and he enters the 2020 NFL Draft conversation. What he does after Notre Dame or when he leaves may not even be something that he's had the time to give much thought to yet. Given the injuries he's sustained in both sports, it's difficult to have a strong opinion about which direction is the right one — whether that will be tight end, pitcher or hitting and playing the field. Will he go the route of former Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Sa- mardzija, who picked a lucrative baseball career over the NFL? It's a lot of potential options for someone in his early 20s, who is only just coming into his own in college. All that appears to be on Kmet's mind right now is football and class. The rest will have to wait. ✦ UNIQUE TALENT Cole Kmet has arrived as Notre Dame's next great tight end, but also excels on the baseball diamond In his first two games this season, Kmet hauled in 13 catches for 173 yards (13.3 yards per reception) and one touchdown. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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