FOOTBALL

Former Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack proving passion with heavy workload

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Ben Koyack’s passion for football has been questioned.

His dedication to training while remaining a Notre Dame student might change that.

The former Irish tight end has been spending three days a week in South Bend taking classes to complete his degree. The rest of the week is spent working out in Chicago with EFT Sports Performance.

Koyack, a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award for college football's best tight end last year, could be the first Irish player selected in this year’s NFL Draft, but an underwhelming senior season — 30 catches for 317 yards and two touchdowns — could also make his wait longer than he hopes.

Then there’s the perception that perhaps Koyack doesn’t love the game as much as other NFL prospects. Analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com said as much in a January interview with the Tribune.

“And the thing I keep hearing about him from league people, they question his desire,” Wright said. “Does he love football?”

Koyack brushed away the idea Tuesday after his Notre Dame Pro Day performance. If he didn’t love the game, Koyack said, he wouldn’t be spending so much time training off campus.

“I don’t really focus on negatives,” Koyack said. “Anyone who’s entering into the NFL Draft loves football. I don’t feel like anyone would put themselves through this process if they didn’t. At the end of the day, it’s just something I have to prove to them.

“Everyone can talk. People can say things like that, but at the end of the day, I’ll be working as hard as I can. I’m going back and forth (between Chicago and South Bend). That shows my love for the game. I could just be sitting here. Whoever says that, if they draft me and they still think that, I’ll just have to prove it to them.”

Wright ranks Koyack as the No. 7 tight end in the draft and No. 136 regardless of position. Koyack tried to improve that stock Tuesday. He recorded a 40-yard dash of 4.72 seconds, a vertical jump of 30 inches and bench press of 225 pounds 16 times.

Michigan's Devin Funchess, the top-ranked tight end according to Wright, ran a 4.70 40-yard dash with a 38.5 inch vertical and 17 bench press reps at the NFL Scouting Combine.

What Koyack, who also caught passes from former Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) quarterback Andrew Hendrix on Tuesday, hoped to show NFL scouts was his consistency and versatility. The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder was used as both a blocker and pass catcher at Notre Dame and hopes to be able to do the same as a professional.

“(I wanted to) show them consistency, show them I’m big enough and strong enough to handle guys at the next level,” Koyack said. “That was something I tried to demonstrate as much as I could today and something I’ve been working on.”

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Koyack did not take part in the athletic measurement events. He found the most value in meeting with the individual teams in Indianapolis. The face time with coaches could help sway their opinions.

In the next month before the draft, Koyack will continue to work on football and academics. Finding free time, Koyack said, has become “kind of an art form at this point.”

But devoting himself to football and finishing three more courses for his degree are worth the struggle.

“I’m going to stay in shape, communicate with guys who are interested in me, and just keep working,” Koyack said. “The work’s never really done. I have to keep getting better. I have to keep preparing.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Ben Koyack runs a drills during pro day Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in South Bend. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ