Koyack thrust into Notre Dame tight end legacy as senior

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Ben Koyack’s reception resumé is brief.

In his first three seasons at Notre Dame, the 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end caught only 14 passes for 215 yards.

But the flashes he showed in 2013, highlighted by a five-game stretch with nine catches and three touchdowns, have heaped high expectations on the next player in line to continue the tight end legacy at Notre Dame.

Just don’t expect Koyack to talk much about how his past success has him primed for future feats.

“I put it together for a couple games (last season),” Koyack said. “I put it together for the spring. But regardless of what I did in the past, it doesn't hold anything for this year. I still have to come out and work and make sure I don't come out there and start blowing plays. I have to put in the work right now to make sure our offense is successful.”

If the first practice of preseason camp was an indicator, Koyack will be featured prominently in the 2014 offense. Much of practice was spent installing passing plays with the tight end as a main target. With the four tight ends behind him yet to catch a pass in a college football game, the opportunity couldn’t be more wide open for Koyack.

"He's an important piece in terms of what we want to do,” head coach Brian Kelly said last week. “He possesses the ability to catch the football. We saw his ability later in the season to do that when he got his opportunities. … And then he can block. He's an in-line blocker. He did a great job this summer as a leader too. He's very important to what we do offensively."

Being a balanced tight end will be crucial. Koyack doesn’t have the luxury of being used primarily in pass-catching situations. He will also be asked to help clear the way for a potentially potent Irish running game.

“Obviously it's more than I've done in the past,” Koyack said of adding blocking responsibilities, “but we have a lot of good guys and great coaches. We just come to work every single day. We'll just work on both of them every single day.”

A group of young and talented tight ends are developing behind Koyack, but will likely be asked to contribute as well. Sophomore Durham Smythe and freshman Tyler Luatua will get the first shots at pairing with Koyack in two tight end sets and backing up the senior leader.

“Durham's been working really hard in the offseason. He's put in the work,” Koyack said. “So have all the other guys. No one ever comes in and takes a day off.”

“I feel like the tight ends in general have come together. We hang out a lot more off the field so now we have that bond. We don't really let anyone take a play off. If you see us ever walking to the sideline, we're always bumping fists and what not.”

The success of the group will still likely be directly linked to the ability of Koyack to continue the tradition of NFL-caliber tight ends at Notre Dame. Following behind Troy Niklas, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph only adds to the pressure for Koyack to thrive.

The Oil City, Pa., product is quick to dismiss the idea that the size of shoes he’s being asked to fill will affect him.

“’I wouldn't say it's much pressure,” Koyack said. “I would say it's more exciting because it's a good opportunity. I've had a couple good guys in front of me. It's exciting to have that same chance.”

Part of that opportunity, if Koyack proves able, is to have a chunk of the playbook dedicated to getting him the ball. Kelly has shown the creativity to move his tight end around to exploit mismatches.

Koyack said he’s comfortable making catches in traffic in the middle of the field or in space on the edges.

“We've always had some nice plays for whoever's playing across the middle,” Koyack said. “If I get that opportunity, I'm going to take advantage of it with my bigger frame. I'm just trying to do what I can to succeed."

TJames1@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack will be asked to turn big-play glimpses from last season into consistency as a starter. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)