Notre Dame football: Stockton takes a swing a bigger role

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - To this day, Tyler Stockton likes to remind anyone who will listen that he had the longest drive in what is popularly referred to as the BK Open, last August.

Stockton, a standout golfer during his boarding school days at the Hun School in Princeton, N.J., was also on the runner-up team in the casual golf competition staged during a break in Notre Dame preseason football camp.

“I think I can keep up with anybody in golf,” he said when he was asked if he was better than the man the BK Open is named after — Irish head football coach Brian Kelly. “I’m very proud of my golfing ability.”

Until the frenetic closing minutes of ND’s 38-34 survival of Navy on Saturday, the 5-foot-11, 284-pound, fifth-year senior ‘s golf prowess was sort of the highlight of his Irish football career.

With the Midshipmen driving for the winning score and starter Louis Nix out with a knee injury and understudy Kona Schwenke’s monster relief appearance ending with a high ankle sprain, Stockton was thrust into the first meaningful snaps of his career.

Not that he has experienced a bunch of unmeaningful snaps. Stockton’s career line reads two tackles, and he didn’t play at all in 2009, 2011 or 2012.

“If I go into the game, I’m not going to be out of position,” he said.

That’s not such a big “if” suddenly. Nix is expected back Saturday night, after a two-week absence triggered by knee tendinitis, when the 24th-ranked Irish (7-2) visit Pitt (4-4) in an ABC-TV prime-time game (8 EST). But Nix’s expected return isn’t definite, and the volume of snaps he’d be able to take doesn’t figure to be at its pre-injury levels.

Schwenke is definitely out, leaving Stockton as a viable option for playing time.

“It’s not that hard,” Stockton said. “(Defensive line) coach (Mike) Elston gets us ready. He gets all of us ready. So I wasn’t like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going on?’ I was like, ‘OK, let’s go. Let’s get this done.’ ”

That quiet confidence is genuine and derives from the fact Stockton has made the most of his pine time. In fact, when he’s not playing, he has become somewhat of an unofficial student assistant with the defensive line.

Someday soon, he would like to become an official assistant.

“Coaching, that’s what I want to do,” Stockton said. “I thought about it. I’m getting my MBA this year. I sat in my class. I was like, ‘I can’t see myself at a desk and looking at a computer.’

“I love this sport too much. That’s what I want to do is get into coaching — give back, man. All these coaches helped me out throughout my life. I feel like I need to do the same.”

What he figures to be most helpful with is how to move forward when things don’t go your way.

Stockton was projected as a player who was far from a long shot coming out of the Hun School. rated-him as a four-star prospect, though they also said he was 6-foot-1, which is two inches away from reality.

Among the teams that tried to pull him away from Notre Dame with scholarship offers were Tennessee, Cal, North Carolina, Penn State, USC UCLA, Vanderbilt, Rutgers, and Saturday night’s opponent, Pitt.

“A first I was a little frustrated,” Stockton said when expectations didn’t merge with reality, “but then I was like, ‘I just want to better everyone around me.’ I’m not the type of kid who was going to get down and (ticked) off about every situation, like you’ve just got to deal with adversity.

“I know my role. That’s a big (thing) around here. So if I’m coaching, then I’m helping our coaches. If I’m playing, I’m playing. I’m still going to do whatever I can to help the team.”

It was that attitude that prompted Kelly to surprise most observers, and Stockton himself, and bring him back for a fifth year last winter when he had more surgeries (foot, shoulder) than countable statistics at that juncture (one tackle).

“We like the young man in terms of the locker room,” Kelly said. “He's a great kid, really like his personality. He's a team player. He's done whatever we have asked him to do, whether it's on scout team. He’s also a big body. The one thing that we lack around here is sometimes the depth in those positions. So we felt like he brought a lot to our program.”

“I didn’t even know if I was going to get my fifth year, and I was still working out with the team,” Stockton said of the start to his spring semester. “The whole first week of school went by, and I started thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be playing football anymore.’ Then they called me at the end of the week saying, ‘We might have a spot for you.’ I was like, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

There have been informal conversations between Stockton and Elston about where the formal coaching road will start, but nothing too serious.

“I’m focusing on this season,” he said, “enjoying it, taking it one day at a time.”

Notre Dame defensive lineman Tyler Stockton has played sparingly throughout his career, but with injuries, is moving up the depth chart. AP Photo/DAVID ZALUBOWSKI