Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2021

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

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Page 20 of 39 FEBRUARY 2021 21 BY LOU SOMOGYI T here is a reason the Notre Dame football p ro g r a m h a s b e e n "Tight End U" for at least the past 50 years — and will continue to be in the near future. It was made evident again this January when senior Brock Wright and junior Tommy Tremble both opted to move on and begin possi- ble NFL careers despite hav- ing at least one more year of eligibility remaining in 2021. At most college football programs, losing two tight ends of this caliber in one fell swoop would be crush- ing. Wright was Notre Dame's top-rated recruit in 2017 (No. 44 overall player nationally per Rivals), while Tremble, who snared 35 passes the past two years, became a human highlight reel with his effectiveness as an isolation blocker in Notre Dame's physical and tight- end-based offense. At Notre Dame, though, it's just another validation of why it remains unparalleled for more than a half century of supreme tight end recruit- ing and performance. With Tremble announcing his departure to the NFL, he is the fourth Notre Dame tight end in the Brian Kelly era (2010-present) to leave after his junior year, join- ing Kyle Rudolph (second round in 2011), Troy Niklas (second round in 2014) and Cole Kmet (second round in 2020). In between, first-round selection Tyler Eifert and Durham Smythe have also become NFL starters, with Eifert joining Rudolph as a Pro Bowl performer. Meanwhile, two years from now a current tight end under Kelly might be classified as the best NFL prospect of all after just his junior year (if not now). Even with the presence of Trem- ble and Wright, the 6-5, 249-pound freshman Michael Mayer — already referred to by veteran Fighting Irish players as "Baby Gronk" in com- parison to future Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski — became a prime figure at the posi- tion. Per Pro Football Focus, May- er's 564 snaps this season surpassed Tremble (472) and Wright (345). Along the way, his 42 receptions (for 450 yards) tied for the team lead, and easily surpassed the previous Irish record of 29 by Rudolph among freshman tight ends. "An absolute beast tonight, the way he competed for every pass that was thrown his way," Kelly summa- rized of Mayer's seven catches for 62 yards, with a touchdown called back, in the College Football Playoff versus No. 1 Alabama. It would not be a surprise if Mayer as a sophomore next season will be on some preseason All-America teams and becomes the ful- crum of the passing attack. Behind Mayer will be 6-6, 245-pound senior George Takacs, who arrived with Tremble as the higher-rated recruit — much like Wright did over Kmet when both enrolled in 2017 as top-100 prospects. With continued progress in the strength and condition- ing program and this spring, Takacs is capable of taking on a role similar to Wright as a blocker, although both also caught three passes apiece this season. Speaking of tight ends getting overshadowed in the same Notre Dame classes, 6-4½, 240-pound rookie Kevin Bauman was one of the standouts among the freshmen during preseason workouts. That was no great surprise considering he was the nation's No. 5 tight end and No. 130 overall prospect per Rivals. He was inserted in four games and made one catch for five yards. "Here's a guy if he's not coming in at the same time as Mayer … everybody's talking about him," Kelly said during the preseason. "He's a really good tight end. He's a guy I don't think we can hold off the field ei- ther." Rounding out the schol- arship roster at tight end will be incoming freshmen Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans. Neither arrives with the fanfare that Mayer and Bauman did a year ago, although Berrong's offer list included Alabama, but they might not be needed to provide help in 2021. With reasonable health, especially with Mayer, Notre Dame's tight end group should remain at an above- average level entering 2021. What could occur next season is fewer multi-tight-end alignments, with perhaps greater emphasis on spreading out more four-receiver sets, or even having running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree in the lineup at the same time. To everything there is a trade-off, but "Tight End U" should continue its excellence. ✦ Tremble caught 35 passes over the past two seasons and drew praise for his run blocking during Notre Dame's march to a College Football Playoff berth in 2020. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Early risErs Tommy Tremble becomes the fourth tight end under Brian Kelly to turn pro after his junior year

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