A lofty amount of receptions, yards and touchdowns were not needed for Kevin Bauman to garner recognition and impact Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic’s football program.
In nine games as a senior on the Caseys, the Notre Dame-bound tight end recorded a modest 15 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Yet the Polynesian Bowl selected Bauman to play in its January high school all-star game in Hawaii. The Maxwell Football Club gifted him the New Jersey Mini Max Award, which recognizes achievement in athletics, academics and community service.
Why Bauman earned this acclaim, along with being named first-team All-New Jersey by the USA TODAY Network, can be explained by what he accomplished without the ball in his hands.
Recruiting analysts praise the technique and relentlessness Bauman displays when blocking. He also played a majority of snaps as a two-way player. As a defensive end, the 6-4, 238-pound Bauman recorded 64 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
The Irish offense features multiple tight ends and requires those at the position like Bauman. How Bauman embraces the nuances without necessarily receiving the glory may result in him securing a minor role early.
“What’s going to make him valuable is he will do anything you ask,” said Matthew Bijas, who coached tight ends for the Caseys last season. “If it’s work on special teams, he’s going to work on special teams. He’s going to know his job, and he’s going to do his job. If it’s only in certain packages, they have him there to block or they have him there to catch, whatever the coach asks him to do, he’s going to do it.
“Wherever (head) coach (Brian) Kelly decides to put him, he’s going to make the most of it.”
Bauman aims to eventually be more than just a niche player in college, but he understands his time would likely need to come later. Even with the Chicago Bears’ Cole Kmet leaving early for the 2020 NFL Draft, Notre Dame’s tight end room under new positions coach John McNulty boasts talent and depth.
Junior Tommy Tremble recorded the most receptions and receiving touchdowns last season among returning pass-catchers, securing 16 grabs for 183 yards and four scores. Brock Wright enters his senior season having already played in 36 games.
Then there’s Michael Mayer, the Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic product who joined Bauman in Notre Dame’s 2020 recruiting class. Mayer projects as a plug-and-play tight end and brings the acclaim of a five-star recruit, per 247Sports, and Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019.
Mayer and Bauman have known each other for approximately two years. They followed quarterback Drew Pyne as the only members of their class to verbally commit to Notre Dame before their junior seasons.
Both tight ends and seven other freshman football players will have to adjust after their mid-June arrival date was delayed. As of Wednesday afternoon, Bauman said he had not been informed about when to come to campus.
“(We) have a great relationship,” Bauman said of Mayer. “We talk about workouts, stuff going on around our hometowns and day-to-day conversations that any two friends would have. We’ve grown close in the teammate aspect, friend aspect and helping each other out with the playbook. We pretty much talk every day.”
Competing with another distinguished tight end his age won’t be foreign to Bauman. He split attention with Charlie Gordinier, a three-star tight end signed to Boston College. They also weathered attracting a paltry amount of targets in RBC’s run-heavy attack. Rarely did the Caseys attempt more than 15 passes a game.
So the prospect of ranking low on the depth chart and Mayer outshining him early hardly fazed Bauman.
“We both know that we chose that school for the competitiveness,” Bauman said. “We know that no matter what position you play and who else is on the team in your recruiting class, you are going to have to compete no matter what.”
Mike Farrell, the national director of recruiting for Rivals, told the Tribune in February that Mayer brings more athleticism and a threat downfield than Bauman. But he also said Bauman possesses the better physicality and blocking skills.
247Sports’ director of recruiting, Steve Wiltfong, identified Bauman and nose guard Aidan Keanaaina as the two Notre Dame signees most likely to outperform their recruiting rankings. Bauman ranks as its No. 22 tight end and No. 580 overall player in the class.
How 247Sports views Bauman compared to Rivals could be considered polarizing. He lost his four-star status on 247Sports by the end of the cycle after ranking as its No. 3 tight end and No. 152 overall. Rivals still views Bauman as a four-star tight end, pegging him No. 5 at the position and No. 129 overall.
“I just don’t think (Bauman) popped in the same regard,” said Wiltfong in comparing him with Mayer and other tight ends they consider elite. “He could make us look bad. I certainly recognize that, and he had a good senior year. I thought he looked pretty good at the Polynesian Bowl, too.”
To exceed expectations, Bauman understands he needs to improve his short-area burst, change of direction skills and overall explosion. Kevin Gaul, RBC’s defensive coordinator who coached defensive line last season, said Bauman relayed that message to him once the coronavirus pandemic became more serious in March.
Then Bauman combined the workout plans Notre Dame provided him with Gaul’s suggestions and a focus on improving his weaknesses. He created an in-home gym comprising a squat rack, bench press, free weights and dumbbells.
“I think where a lot of guys get lost is,” Gaul said, “OK, you are lifting heavy weights, but how are you developing that explosive twitch? I think he’s done a great job of a lot of jumping, a lot of movement-based jumping, plyometric work. That’s developing that ground-based force.”
Gaul said Bauman’s approach last offseason helped him become RBC’s most improved defensive player. He had operated as a rotational defensive end in previous seasons. The Caseys wanted to feature Bauman on both sides of the ball, which required him to enhance his stamina.
What Bauman flashed as a full-time defensive end showed Gaul that he could play the position on the Irish, if needed.
“I will go on record right now and say he was the most impactful defensive player in New Jersey last year across the board,” Gaul said. “He wasn’t just a big kid. If it’s just a big athlete running around, you can tell. You could just see he impacted the game.
“He was such a technician. His technique was tremendous. Then you put that with just the desire. He literally did not come off the field. He was way more than serviceable.
“I’ve never seen a kid in my 10 years of doing this who has the drive of this guy. He’s going to be the first guy in, last guy out.”
Gaul remembers receiving texts from Bauman on holidays about opening the weight room. Bijas recalls Bauman wanting him to send a play-by-play breakdown of his games, even if that required sending pages of text messages.
To ascend the depth chart, to outperform Mayer, to become more than a nice tight end, Bauman will need to bring that relentless drive to improve with him to Notre Dame.
“Just always being locked in,” said Bauman on his mindset. “Whether it’s a lifting session or running session, just knowing that every rep that we do is working toward something. And other guys are also working toward something.
“Just really being mindful of that, that everything I do has a purpose for down the road whenever we are able to report (to Notre Dame). Just staying locked in always and knowing that every rep, mentally and physically, has a purpose.”