Michael Mayer didn’t recognize the number calling his phone.
It was a summer day in 2016, and Mayer and a couple of friends were hanging out at a pool before his freshman year at Covington Catholic.
Mayer, now a Covington Catholic graduate preparing to start his football career at Notre Dame, answered the call anyway.
“I picked it up and it was this really, really deep voice,” Mayer said on ND Insider’s Pod of Gold podcast last week. “He was like, ‘Michael.’ I was like, ‘Yes, sir. What’s up?’
Ted Edgington introduced himself on the other end of the call as the freshman football coach of Covington Catholic. Mayer didn’t know that Edgington was calling at the request of Mayer’s father.
“Andy, the dad, he called me one day,” Edgington said, “and he says, ‘Hey, I really want Michael to play football, but he’s just only interested in basketball. Can you call him and talk to him about it? See if he’ll come out and play.’
“I said, ‘Sure.’”
How exactly the phone call went between Edgington and Michael Mayer is up for debate. Mayer remembers it seeming like Edgington was making him join the football team. That might be because Mayer was pretty set on not playing football originally.
“I loved basketball,” Mayer said. “I wanted to play basketball in college, so I decided I wasn’t going to play football in high school. I was just going to play baseball and basketball.”
Edgington recalls suggesting to Mayer that he should play football as a freshman and then he could quit after the season if he decided he didn’t like it.
Either way, the result was all that mattered. Mayer, whose older brother AJ played quarterback for Covington Catholic, talked with his parents later that night and decided he would join the team.
Edgington didn’t think it would be that easy to convince Mayer.
“I thought I’d have to pull some more teeth,” Edgington said.
Nearly four years later, Mayer credits Edgington for giving him the push toward a sport that shaped his high school experience and paved a college path for him.
Edgington didn’t know that phone call he made would lead to Mayer developing into one of the top tight end recruits in the country. Even after he played well as a freshman, Edgington didn’t realize how high his ceiling was. He just knew that Mayer was a good athlete with size that wasn’t afraid to work hard.
“Every time he got on the field, whether it’s practice or the game, you could just tell he was working hard no matter what he did,” Edgington said. “I was really glad he came out and played for us.”
Edgington, who spent 22 years in law enforcement, stopped coaching football after Mayer’s freshman season. Edgington eventually became the school resource officer at Covington Catholic.
He was able to watch Mayer start receiving scholarship offers as a sophomore, commit to Notre Dame before his junior season and receive a five-star rating from 247Sports.
“He’s just a good kid,” Edgington said. “I can’t speak highly enough of him. Knowing him and his family, they’re really good people. It worked out well for both sides.
“Michael came out and played both sides of the ball for us. We went undefeated that season. It was just a good season all around.”
Hitting too hard
Mayer became such a force on the football field during his Covington Catholic career that his coaches asked him to pull back. In addition to playing tight end, Mayer was pretty good at disrupting offenses as a defensive end.
Mayer said his teammates suffered concussions and one broke a rib from collisions that occurred in practice. As a result, head coach Eddie Eviston asked him to stop wrapping up and taking players to the ground.
Mayer didn’t always comply.
“Sometimes I let football get the best of me and took some kids down in practice,” Mayer said. “My coach got on me for it a lot. I was like, ‘This is football. I’m allowed to be tackling.’”
Mayer didn’t need to prove his ability to his coaches. In his senior season, Mayer caught 50 passes for 970 yards and 15 touchdowns. He rushed 10 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded 99 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and four interceptions.
But his coaches needed Mayer’s teammates to be healthy too.
“My coaches knew what I was going to do in the game,” Mayer said. “He knew if he held me back a little bit in practice then I’d still be fine for the game. We still kind of joke about that today and probably will be for the rest of our lives.”
Mayer doesn’t know when he’ll be able to hit again as he waits to start his Notre Dame career. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s not sure when he’ll be allowed to come to Notre Dame’s campus. He’s prepared to start online classes in June and is keeping his body ready.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Mayer has been able to take part in Zoom video calls with tight ends coach John McNulty and learn the installation of Notre Dame’s offense. He wants to make an impact in his freshman season and these early lessons may actually give him a better chance to do so.
With Cole Kmet’s early departure for the NFL Draft, there’s playing time to be had at tight end.
“I’m going to go into the season with the mindset of obviously I want to play,” Mayer said. “I want to have playing time. I want to catch touchdowns and things like that. I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen.”
In his last game at Covington Catholic, Mayer managed to raise Edgington’s expectations for him even higher.
Mayer only lost one game as a varsity football player. The one loss for the Colonels over three seasons came at the hands of Bowling Green’s South Warren in the state championship game of 2018.
Mayer made sure the state championship game of his senior season ended differently.
“I knew he was good, and I knew he had a chance to be as good as he is,” Edgington said, “But I really didn’t realize it until his senior year state championship game against Frederick Douglass.”
A team doesn’t go 44-1 in three seasons without a roster filled with talent across the board. But Covington Catholic needed every bit of Mayer’s ability to beat Frederick Douglass 14-7 last December.
Mayer accounted for Covington Catholic’s longest play of the game, a 37-yard reception, while leading the team with five catches for 68 yards. His quarterback completed only three other passes for 26 yards to anyone else.
Mayer also led the Colonels with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in the defensive battle.
“He just took over that game and willed them to win,” Edgington said. “That game right there was incredible. Michael was all over on offense; all over on defense. It was incredible.
“I’ve seen a lot of good kids — kids going on to play Division I ball — but I’d never seen anybody take over a game like he did that game.”
Mayer didn’t get to finish his days as a Covington Catholic student as planned due to the coronavirus pandemic. His final classes and his graduation ceremony were all held online. That meant he saw Edgington less, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten about him.
“I would see him every single day standing at the doors and say hi to him and catch up with him,” Mayer said. “He’s definitely a big role model for me. Honestly, I don’t know if I would be sitting here with you guys right now (recording a Notre Dame football podcast) if he never gave me that call.”
Edgington can’t wait to see what’s next for Mayer. He’s confident Mayer will be successful wherever his pursuit leads.
The fact that Mayer still gives Edgington credit for convincing him to play football means the world to his former coach. It overwhelms Edgington to know that it meant that much, even if he doesn’t want the credit.
“He’s the one that did all the work,’ Edgington said. “The only thing I did was make a phone call.”