After Griffin Eifert verbally committed as a preferred walk-on to Notre Dame last week, he heard a familiar reaction.
That’s Tyler Eifert’s younger brother.
Griffin understood the response, one he had received countless times since Tyler left Notre Dame as its all-time leader in career receptions (140) and receiving yards (1,840) for a tight end.
Because he chose the Irish, Griffin could find difficulty in shaking the label at the beginning of his collegiate career. By the time he leaves Notre Dame, Griffin hopes the reputation that precedes him will look different.
“Obviously I’m following his footsteps by going there, but I want to leave my own mark there,” Griffin said. “I want to leave there by people knowing me as Griffin Eifert. Not Tyler Eifert’s little brother.”
Rarely do walk-on players garner significant playing time on a major college football team. Chris Finke represents Notre Dame’s most recent exception. He began his career as a walk-on wide receiver before landing a scholarship and being named as a team captain.
Eifert hopes to make an impact regardless of how much he sees the field. He left a lasting impression on Jason Garrett — his head football coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger — for reasons beyond football.
“I think he’s a coach’s dream when you consider who he is as a young man,” Garrett said. “He’s just a tremendous young man. He has a great personality. He’s competitive. He’s a tremendous leader. He can be a verbal leader. He can be a leader by example.”
The Irish recruited the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Eifert as a wide receiver, though he could also move to defensive back. He played both ways as a senior captain for Bishop Dwenger, catching 30 passes for 478 yards and seven touchdowns and recording 42 tackles, five interceptions, three pass breakups and one forced fumble in 13 games.
Director of player personnel Dave Peloquin headed Eifert’s recruitment and welcomed him for a recruiting visit earlier this month to see Notre Dame’s first — and only — spring football practice. Eifert passed on PWO (preferred walk-on) offers from Purdue and Miami (Ohio) for the Irish, becoming the fifth PWO commit in their 2020 recruiting class.
Linebacker Giovanni Ghilotti, quarterback Chase Ketterer, offensive lineman Connor Schmidt and athlete Charlie Selna are Notre Dame’s other PWO commits this cycle.
“His ball skills are incredible. He was our go-to guy on the outside as a receiver,” Garrett said. “He had some amazing high-point catches on fades and other (routes) in his career. On the defensive side, we put him out there in centerfield playing free (safety) most of the time. He had the ability to roll down in the box too, because he started to get bigger his senior year.”
Garrett believes Eifert’s limited size played the biggest role in him not landing a Division I scholarship offer. Tyler’s ascent from overlooked recruit to making the Pro Bowl in 2015 came with challenges too.
Recruiting services pegged Tyler as a low-ranked three-star recruit. Listed as an athlete, Tyler Eifert landed scholarship offers to play tight end and safety. Rivals slated him as its No. 24 tight end in the 2009 class.
In his first season, Eifert joined a loaded tight end group that featured former standout Kyle Rudolph. Then he underwent a head coaching change when Notre Dame replaced Charlie Weis with Brian Kelly.
As Griffin recalls it, Tyler even needed to prove his skills at a summer recruiting camp before landing a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. The Eifert family then hosted Weis for an in-home visit before Tyler verbally pledged to the Irish in July of 2008.
“If you would have gone back in time and told me he would be in the NFL right now,” Griffin said, “I probably wouldn’t have known that. Obviously you never know, but he’s worked hard for it.”
Tyler’s hard work helped earn him a first-round selection (No. 21 overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He spent his first seven seasons with the Bengals before entering free agency this offseason. Eifert agreed to a two-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
That Tyler attained that success despite being overlooked as a recruit gives Griffin hope. Now Griffin will look to meet the athletic standards established not just by Tyler, but also by other members of the Eifert family. His father, Greg, and brother, Grady, both played basketball at Purdue.
“It was constant competition around the house,” Griffin said. “Whenever we take a family picture, Tyler and Grady are always on their tippy-toes to see who’s taller. Constant basketball games going on at our house when they used to live there.”
No game stands out more to Griffin than Notre Dame’s 20-13 overtime win over Stanford in 2012. Tyler caught a 24-yard touchdown pass that required him to leap over two defenders for the grab at the goal line. Griffin rushed the field in excitement following the victory, which kept Notre Dame’s national title hopes alive.
Before arriving at Notre Dame this summer, Griffin will continue watching and learning from his older brother. Tyler trained with Griffin in Florida last week. Barring a delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, Griffin will come to South Bend in late May.
Then it will be time for Griffin to use what he learned from Tyler and carve his own path.
“Griffin himself will say that he loves his brother,” Garrett said. “He loves Notre Dame. He’s got a tremendous family. They love one another.
“But he wants to set his own legacy. He wants to make a name for himself. He remembers the Stanford overtime game. He’s got tons of memories up there at Notre Dame.
“I think he wants to put himself in the gold helmet and see what he can do.”