Blue and Gold Illustrated

June July 2018

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

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24 JUNE/JULY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED naughton (2011‑15), who helped lead the Irish to the Elite Eight in 2015 and also was a fourth‑round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. "Samardzija just basically said make sure you keep going to class and always ask for help," Kmet said of his previous conversation with the former two‑sport Irish sensation. "It's not as bad once you get into the rhythm of things. "He's been right so far about that." Kmet's curveball and changeup will continue to be worked on to aug‑ ment his fastball that travels in the low 90s, but his skills go far beyond just the radar gun, per Notre Dame baseball coach Mik Aoki. "Things don't bother him all that much," Aoki said. "Running through a tunnel to 81,000 people probably trains that a little bit. Connaughton was kind of the same way. … They just come in and compete and play." In his first appearance as a college pitcher at LSU in February, Kmet earned the save against former Irish manager Paul Mainieri's juggernaut with four innings of excellent relief work, and right away Aoki knew he had a winner in Kmet. "He's a strike thrower first and foremost," Aoki said. "He's a kid who is fearless in terms of putting his stuff into the strike zone. "… He's got the most important thing: the mental toughness to go out there and compete." Equally important was the accep‑ tance among his baseball teammates because of the combination of skill with humility. "No one begrudged it," Aoki said of Kmet joining the team after not being part of the fall workouts. "No one in our clubhouse was jealous or envious or ticked off that they had maybe lost some innings or an at‑bat. "… If some guy comes in saying, 'Hey, I'm the hot shot whatever‑sport recruit, and I'm here to bless you with my presence.' I think most of our clubhouse would tell the guy to go take a long walk. "It makes it so much easier that Cole is just a really, really good kid." At everything, it would seem. ✦ Tight End Brock Wright Is Adding To His Blocking For decades, no position at Notre Dame has been easier to recruit than tight end, offensive line and quarterback. Seven straight Fighting Irish tight ends who have started the opening game since 2004 have been drafted by the NFL, most recently Durham Smythe (123rd overall pick in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2018). This spring's roster so far includes former USA Today first-team All- American and senior Alizé Mack, Parade All-American and fifth-year senior Nic Weishar, and two sophomores who were the top-two rated Notre Dame recruits in the 2017 cycle — Brock Wright (the nation's No. 1 tight end ac- cording to Rivals) and Cole Kmet (No. 3 tight end according to Rivals). Wright's physicality earned him a monogram last fall as a situational blocker in short-yardage and red-zone situations. He usually lined up as the "fullback" in the backfield, and also blocked on field goals and extra points. Mack and Kmet are more off-the-line tight ends as pass catchers, but Wright knows his bread and butter is with his blocking. Eventually, his role is expected to expand with time. "We didn't recruit him for that," head coach Brian Kelly said of Wright not having as active a receiving role as Mack or even Kmet. "We wanted a great point-of-attack blocker, a guy that can catch the ball off our boot game and play-action game, and I guy that we can use with his size in the red zone. "I think he's going to be that and more." With a second spring and AC shoulder joint surgery this winter behind him, Wright is concentrating on continuing to be an effective blocker while developing his all-around game. "It's also nice having those guys who are so good at certain things," Wright said. "Watching Alizé run routes — I love doing that, he's phenomenal. "I get to talk with him afterwards and get his advice on what I need to do route running better. It really helps to have guys like that with me." Because offensive coordinator Chip Long is also the tight ends coach who heavily employs multiple tight end alignments, the opportunity for continued growth in fundamentals, point-of-attack blocking, patterns, etc., is appealing to Wright. "There's a lot of variability there," Wright said of the tight end's role. "We have so many two-tight-end sets — and last year we even had a lot of three-tight-end sets. "There's a lot of ways Coach Long wants us to get in there, get us execut- ing and making plays for the offense." Which should continue to make signing top tight end prospects favorable at Notre Dame. — Lou Somogyi Head coach Brian Kelly said rising sophomore tight end Brock Wright provides the Irish with "a great point-of-attack blocker, a guy that can catch the ball off our boot game and play-action game, and a guy that we can use with his size in the red zone." PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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