Notre Dame commit Cole Kmet finds new way to get the ball

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Opponents knew what to expect when playing against St. Viator. Prevent Cole Kmet from getting his hands on the ball and the offense would be limited.

St. Viator head coach Brandon New decided to try a different strategy in Friday’s season finale. Instead of trying to throw the ball to the Notre Dame tight end commit, the Lions would just snap it to him.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior lined up in the shotgun as St. Viator’s quarterback for the majority of the night. It gave Kmet more opportunities to impact the game, but it wasn’t nearly enough for St. Viator (1-8) to beat the defending Class 6-A state champions from Nazareth Academy (7-2).

“They wanted to find ways to get me the ball more,” Kmet said after the 49-22 loss. “I haven't been able to get many touches. We were having problems on the offensive side, so no better way to get me the ball than directly giving it to me."

Kmet only practiced at quarterback for one week; it showed on Friday night. He completed one of his five passes and was sacked multiple times. Kmet, a left-hander, also plays baseball, but he was unable to find much accuracy throwing the football on a rainy night in Arlington Heights.

Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford will need to continue his search for a quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class. Kmet won’t be the answer.

“That's not my forte,” Kmet said of his passing prowess. “The balls were a little wet, and they were bringing a lot of pressure. They were coming up and blitzing hard. We were coming into the game knowing I was going to run most of the time. We were trying to pass just to throw them off guard a bit. It wasn't really doing it.”

Kmet did find success running the ball. He tallied 92 yards on 15 carries and had an 80-yard touchdown run in the second half negated by a penalty.

Kmet was rarely brought down by one defender and showed a running ability that has made him a versatile receiving threat.

“I felt pretty comfortable,” Kmet said. “Football instincts — I follow my blocks and run people over being the bigger guy on the field."

His refusal to go down easy cost him on the first series of the game. Carrying the ball into Nazareth territory, Notre Dame cornerback commit Julian Love stood up Kmet and ripped the ball away from Kmet as he tried to break out of the tackle. Love returned the fumble for a 55-yard touchdown.

“That was my first time really running like that as a ball carrier,” Kmet said. “It's definitely stuff I can see us doing next year, implementing it into our offense more. I just gotta work on how to carry the ball correctly, not just running.”

Kmet developed into a more complete football player as a junior long before he took a shot at playing quarterback. He’s worked to become a more physical blocker at the line of scrimmage and improve on his route running at tight end and wide receiver for the Lions.

Playing defensive end —where he recorded eight tackles and two sacks in his team’s lone victory of the season — has also added to his physical presence.

When Kmet committed to Notre Dame earlier this month, he chose to join fellow tight end Brock Wright in the 2017 recruiting class. Wright, considered by many to be the best junior tight end in the country, plays in a run-first offense and excels as a blocker. Kmet, who caught 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns this season, has found most of his success as a receiver.

Both players should be able to find roles at Notre Dame, a school that has valued the tight end before and during coach Brian Kelly’s tenure with the Irish. The Irish have produced 10 NFL Draft picks at the position in the last 15 years. The last six starting tight ends have all been drafted after their Notre Dame careers.

"I always knew about the tight ends that they've had there dating back as long as you can remember,” Kmet said. “That pipeline to the NFL is really big."

Kmet returned to Notre Dame as a commit for the first time for the USC game. It wasn’t his first game experience in South Bend, but it still impressed him.

“That was unreal. It was so cool,” Kmet said. “I went to the Texas game the first week and the USC game blew it out of the way. It was unbelievable."

He plans to return for Notre Dame’s final home game of the season in November. With a decision behind him, he’s happy to have questions about his future left in the past.

"It's been a relief,” Kmet said. “It's nice to know I'm going to a great school — great academics, great football. It's close to home; only about two hours away. It's a great feeling. I'm really happy with the choice I made."

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame tight end commit Cole Kmet finished his junior season on Friday (Photo courtesy of Daily Herald/Mark Welsh)