Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack looking to make noise

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Three years of playing behind future NFL tight ends Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas have meant scant opportunities for Ben Koyack to make his way into the interview room.

But during the rare times when Koyack did meet the media, it was easy to glean the following.

Reserved, and man of few words, seems to be the personality of the Irish senior tight end.

Turns out, however, that behind that quiet demeanor, there is a guy who will speak up; a guy who does have a voice inside the Irish locker room.

In fact, when that voice surfaced two years ago, Koyack's teammates were as surprised then as reporters were when Koyack relayed the story.

"People were more shocked," Koyack said. "They were like, 'Wow. you actually have a personalty, and you aren't quiet.'"

Koyack enjoying a loud year would go a long way toward the Irish offense making noise this season. With Niklas off to the NFL a year early, Koyack becomes the next in line at a school that has forged a reputation as Tight End U, with Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Eifert and Niklas all currently in the NFL.

Critics could point to the fact that the 6-foot-5, 254-pound Koyack enters 2014 with 14 career receptions. But it should also be pointed out that Niklas entered last season with five, and a year later he was a second-round pick.

"It really just takes game reps, and he's a smart kid. He's going to pick it up quickly," ND tight ends coach Scott Booker said. "He's played before. I don't want to make it seem like he hasn't played. He's played and made key catches. ... It's just a matter of key plays in and out; being the guy we depend on to work for us. He will excel in that role."

Koyack's role this season could encompass him lining up in the traditional spot next to the tackle. He could split wide, something Eifert did often did during his 50-reception, Mackey Award-winning season in 2012. Brian Kelly talked during camp about bruising freshman tight tend Tyler Luatua appearing in the backfield, but Booker mentioned that Koyack too could find himself there.

"He's getting comfortable in the role of playing every single down," Booker said. "He's not coming out of the game, attached or detached and being in the backfield; all that type of stuff. He's going to have to continue to be comfortable at and perform at an elite level."

Learning under elite players has helped continue to string of tight ends the school has been able to produce, first under Charlie Weis and now Brian Kelly. Booker pointed how Eifert developed by watching what Rudolph did, and Niklas progressed by playing behind Eifert. Koyack knows the names that were above his on the depth chart were no slugs.

"I had a great group of guys in front of me," Koyack said. "At the end of the day I was learning from a good group of guys and they paved the way for me. I just tried to absorb as much as I could so then if maybe if I got my chance I would be ready for it."

His chance is now, especially considering he's the graybeard of the tight end bunch. Sophomores Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman redshirted last year, and both have lost time this fall to injuries. Freshmen Luatua and Nic Weishar have promise, but neither has the experience of Koyack.

"Really, the last half of the spring, he realized looking around our group and realizing, 'Wow, there's nobody else in our position group,'" Booker said of the void of veterans and vocal guys at the spot.

Koyack accepts his roles, on the field and in the locker room, and he believes his approach is effective with who he is.

"I think people respect me more because when I did say something it was because I meant it," he said, "and it just wasn't because I was trying to just say it for the heck of it."

Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack runs in a touchdown against Navy in 2013. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)