ELKHART — The kids who didn’t have the sense of what an autograph was or the Sharpie to get one Monday night at North Side Gym simply hugged Nic Weishar’s legs.
And the 6-foot-4, 241-pound Notre Dame sophomore tight end loved every minute of it during an outreach event with the entire Irish football team, in part because Andrew Weishar would have loved it.
Andrew Weishar was one of Nic’s older brothers. A former college football player himself at Illinois Wesleyan, Andrew would have turned 25 years old this coming Sunday.
“He was my biggest critic, my biggest fan, my best friend, too,” Nic said.
Today, three years and a week after dying of cancer, Andrew remains Nic’s inspiration as well.
Which is one of the reasons why when Nic Weishar says he’s bent on becoming a complete tight end, not just a niche pass-catching specialist, you believe him.
And when he says he’s going to help the 11th-ranked Irish (6-1), on a bye week this week before a Halloween night date with 22nd-ranked Temple (6-0), become a more complete and consistent team, you listen.
And when he talks about changing the world a little piece at a time, because that’s what Andrew would have wanted, there’s no leap of faith needed. It’s already happening.
Nic, brother Danny, parents Don and Jean, and extended family started the Andrew Weishar Foundation (weish4ever.org) in 2013, a few months after Andrew passed.
“The proceeds for the foundation go to families battling cancer,” Nic said. “I think that’s pretty unique about our foundation. A lot of money goes to research and things like that, but our money goes directly to families who need it, and they’re able to do whatever they want with it, whether it’s take a vacation, pay bills.
“Andrew’s final wish before he passed was to pay forward the kindness and generosity that he was shown. The foundation has enabled us to do that.”
Monday’s event at North Side Gym was a collaboration between the Kelly Cares Foundation and Child and Parent Services, the latter a non-profit organization dedicated to ending child abuse in Elkhart County.
The Family Fall Festival was one of the last times the ND football team will be together — a light workout was scheduled Tuesday — before players disperse and head home Tuesday for the rest of the bye week. Fall break at ND synched up with the bye week, allowing for the players to get away.
Weishar, a Chicago Marist High product, will be heading home to Midlothian, Ill. Back to where his fondest memories of Andrew still reside.
“My older brother, Daniel, my older brother, Andrew, and I would always play 21 basketball — kind of 1-on-1-on-1,” Nic said. “And we had a rosebush by the basketball court. You’re boxing guys out and you get pretty physical with it.
“Well, Andrew got mad at me, because I think I elbowed him in the nose. So it ended up he threw me in the rosebush, and my mom got pretty upset with him after that. Little memories like that are always a good time.”
Nic Weishar kind of got thrown in the rosebush figuratively when he arrived at Notre Dame. The first-team Parade prep All-American had an Illinois state high school-record 237 career catches on his résumé (for 3,050 yards), but he was 215 pounds.
That’s about 40 pounds less than the 2014 starting tight end, Ben Koyack, carried during Nic’s freshman year and almost 60 less than 2013 starter Troy Niklas.
“It was definitely a difficult task,” Nic said of morphing his body into that of a college tight end, which he gives all the credit to ND director of football strength and conditioning Paul Longo and his staff.
“It wasn’t just putting it all on at once. You put on a couple of pounds, and you keep working out so you get used to it. So I don’t feel any slower or things like that. I feel faster, actually. I’m just happy where I’m at right now and just keep continuing to grow.”
He’s part of a gang of four tight ends whom the Irish coaching staff has mixed and matched to get blocking and/or receiving on the field when needed. The only tight end on the Irish roster who came into the season with any collegiate career catches — and a mere one at that — was junior Durham Smythe.
Smythe was also ND’s most complete tight end. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury Sept. 12 in a win at Virginia. Since then it’s been Weishar, freshman Alizé Jones, sophomore Tyler Luatua and grad Chase Hounshell, the latter a converted defensive lineman.
So far, the foursome, and Smythe before the injury, have combined for 14 catches for 149 yards and a TD, not too far off the production the Irish were getting from the tight end position last year at this time (18-178, 1 TD).
Weishar has contributed three catches for 19 yards to the 2015 total.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly, who was at Monday’s event with wife Paqui — the face of Kelly Cares — said continued development of the tight end position will be one of his top priorities when the team resumes practicing after the bye week.
Nic said he’s up to the task. And if he needs any extra motivation, he doesn’t need to look very far.
Andrew Weishar was diagnosed with colorectal cancer when he was 19, and that eventually caused him to drop out of school to devote his full attention to treatment. A surgical procedure in 2011 pushed the cancer toward remission for a while, but eventually it returned.
But so did Andrew’s resilience and courage, to the very end.
“Seeing him go through that battle was hard, but with the foundation, I think it’s good that something good came out of his life,” Nic said. “And that’s what we’ll continue to strive for.
“Notre Dame provides a great platform to spread the word about the foundation and things like that. They’ve been so supportive and everything. I’m so excited to be part of this program. It’s definitely surreal and I’m definitely blessed to be here.”