Notre Dame TE Tyler Luatua's career ends due to medical hardship

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The U-turn tight end Tyler Luatua made a little more than a year ago back to Notre Dame didn’t end up altering his football legacy.

But it could alter the bigger picture someday for the Paramount, Calif., product.

The football part of his ND experience ended officially on Wednesday, as head coach Brian Kelly announced the 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior-to-be will go on medical hardship. It's not clear the exact injury which prompted the decision that revokes Luatua's final season of college eligibility, but he does have a history of concussions.

"It's always a difficult decision for a player to step away from football," Kelly said in a statement. "Most importantly, Tyler will still have an opportunity to earn his degree from the University."

By rule, Luatua remains on scholarship and on track for his Notre Dame degree, but he no longer counts against the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarships. With the impending transfer of center Parker Boudreaux, the Irish are now two below that, at 83, but hoping to add Navy safety transfer Alohi Gilman. Gilman, who just finished his freshman year at Navy, visited campus Tuesday.

Luatua himself came close to transferring himself — out of Notre Dame. The receiving school, BYU, even confirmed the impending transfer on Feb. 1, 2016. But roughly 100 days later, about the time when the transfer was supposed to take hold, Luatua had a change of heart and elected to stay at ND.

His perpetual struggle to add a strong receiving game to his advanced blocking skills ensued in the 2016 season. Luatua’s most recent catch in a game came as a member of the La Mirada High School Matadores in the 2013 season.

Zero career collegiate receptions in 32 games (including four starts) is an unlikely distinction given a scholarship offer list that included college football bluebloods Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma and USC. Luatua’s lone statistic of any kind at ND was a six-yard return of a squib kickoff in 2014.

His blocks, though, did help enhance his teammate’s statistics.

The Irish appear to have both the quantity and quality of tight ends, even without Luatua, to rebound from the two least productive season, in terms of receptions, since 2001 (20 in 2015 from the position group, 12 last season).

Holdovers, grad senior Durham Smythe and senior Nic Weishar, are joined by freshman prodigies Brock Wright and Cole Kmet, and rejoined by Alizé Mack, back in good standing after a season in academic exile.

Wright was an early enrollee, who participated in spring practice. Kmet arrives in less than two weeks. The outfielder/left-handed pitcher, who hopes to double in baseball at ND, helped his Arlington Heights St. Viator High School team into the Illinois Class 3-A Final Four for the second year in a row.

Kmet and the Lions play in the state semis Friday in Joliet, Ill., for a berth in Saturday’s title game.

Tyler Luatua (13), right, and Ben Suttman (84) during Notre Dame football practice on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN