Notebook: Standout TE signee Michael Mayer discusses year one impact, Cole Kmet leaving

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Tommy Tremble’s most noticeable improvement as a Notre Dame tight end from year one to year two came in his blocking.

Tremble nailing the nuances of blocking and his improved physicality emboldened the Irish to rely on him in key situations as he went from no game appearances as a freshman to catching four touchdowns in 2019.

Standout tight end signee Michael Mayer watched Tremble’s sophomore season and believes he can make a similar impact immediately, especially after starter Cole Kmet declared early for the NFL Draft on Thursday. In order to offer that value, the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Mayer said he needs to gain between 10 and 15 pounds before joining the Irish in June.

The Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic product plans to dedicate himself to the weight room after returning from the All-American Bowl in San Antonio. Mayer and three other Notre Dame signees — wide receiver Jordan Johnson and offensive linemen Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody — will compete in the high school all-star game at the Alamodome on Saturday (1 p.m. EST on NBC).

Johnson (10), Mayer (87) and Carmody (70) will don black uniforms for Team East, while Baker (79) will play for Team West in a white uniform.

“Everybody is bigger. Everybody weighs more. Everybody is more talented. That’s why I have to get bigger, put some pounds on and get better,” said Mayer on his offseason goals. “I feel like the transition might be hard, but I should be fine.

“Even here, coming here from northern Kentucky and blocking these guys compared to the high school teams I was playing against is a big difference for sure. Blocking is definitely a challenge, but it’s something that you have to learn to do.”

Light contact in practices this week made evaluating Mayer’s blocking difficult. But physicality is something Mayer never lacked in high school. Mayer could have been a Power Five defensive end if he declared that position as his preference. He tallied 99 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and four interceptions, including a pick-six, in 15 games as a two-way player last season. Mayer claimed Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year Award.

Barton Simmons, 247Sports’ director of scouting, named Mayer as a top performer from Wednesday’s practice. That second day saw the most one-on-one drills and seven-on-seven work this week. The practices on Thursday and Friday consisted of little action.

“The Notre Dame signee had some moments,” wrote Simmons, “where he shook much smaller defensive backs as a route-runner and even ran away from a few while still offering up consistency as a pass catcher.”

Whether Mayer receives a bump to five-star status when recruiting rankings for the 2020 class finalize next month remains to be seen. Rivals and 247Sports peg Mayer as four-star recruit and the No. 3 tight end behind Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington. Mayer projects as an immediate impact player and ranks as their No. 37 and No. 69 overall player, respectively.

All that matters to Mayer, he said, is securing a significant role next season.

“I can go there and do everything I was pretty much doing on my high school team on offense at Notre Dame too,” Mayer said. “Everything a tight end can bring really: blocking, catching.

“At this point in my career, I really have nothing to prove. I’m just going to come out (at the All-American Bowl) and try to do my thing, have fun and bond with some of the other Notre Dame signees.”

Signing day scaries

Michigan and Penn State looked to poach Mayer days before the early signing period last month.

After news surfaced on Dec. 11 that Notre Dame mutually parted ways with offensive coordinator Chip Long, Mayer received text messages from coaches of those schools looking to talk with him over the phone.

“I’m going to be honest,” Mayer said, “the thought was in the back of my head that with coach Long leaving, maybe I should go somewhere else.”

Mayer had been verbally committed to Notre Dame for more than 17 months. He slept on the decision regarding his next course of action and knew he wanted to remain Irish when waking up the next morning.

Talking with Notre Dame’s first commit in the class, quarterback Drew Pyne, also helped Mayer reach his decision.

“He was 100 percent. I didn’t worry about him at all,” Pyne said. “We talked about it just as friends and said that it doesn’t affect our decisions. As far as I know, he wasn’t wavering one bit. I don’t think he ever was.”

Then Mayer hosted head coach Brian Kelly, special teams coordinator Brian Polian, running backs coach Lance Taylor and wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander for an in-home visit. He liked their message that the new offensive coordinator hire would still operate under Kelly’s offense.

“You don’t choose a school just for a coach or just for a person or a student or a teammate,” Mayer said. “Notre Dame is what it is no matter what coaches are there.”

Notre Dame’s six other signees on offense reflected a similar sentiment with the Tribune, including Carmody this week.

“There was no reassurance needed,” Carmody said. “I know (offensive line coach) Jeff Quinn will be my coach when I get there. I’m just looking forward to that. Whoever the OC is doesn’t really change anything for me.”

Kmet’s departure

Mayer built a relationship with Kmet from his numerous visits to campus over the last two years.

Though Kmet leaving may mean a bigger role for him, Mayer said he’s disappointed that he won’t learn under a tight end projected to be selected as high as the first round.

“It is what it is,” Mayer said. “I would have liked for him to stay and learn a lot from him. But he decided to go. So I’m going to go there, compete and try to get as much playing time as I can.”

Until weeks before signing with Notre Dame, Mayer had planned to enroll early. He changed his mind after realizing there wasn’t enough time to make coming to South Bend in January work. Mayer told the Tribune that even if he changed his mind again, he passed the deadline for committing to enrolling early.

Notre Dame will welcome nine midyears in a couple weeks and has decisions to make in replacing Long and cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght.

“I’m not really looking for anything in particular,” said Mayer about the offensive coordinator hire. “I trust in (head) coach (Brian) Kelly. I trust in (quarterbacks) coach (Tommy) Rees. I trust in (running backs) coach Lance Taylor and coaches like that, that they are going to hire the right guy.”

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Notre Dame tight end signee Michael Mayer nears five-star territory.

WHO: Team East vs. Team West

WHEN: Saturday, 1 p.m. (EST)

WHAT: All-American Bowl

WHERE: Alamodome (72,000); San Antonio