Two sports haven't slowed down Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Cole Kmet’s climb up the football depth chart could have slowed in the spring while he was also playing baseball.

The freshman tight end and left-handed pitcher started his days at 5:30 a.m. to take part in football activities in the morning, classes in the afternoon and baseball later in the day. He missed only one full football practice as he established himself as one of Notre Dame’s top pitchers.

With all that on his plate, the 6-foot-6, 258-pound Kmet didn’t regress.

He “was able to help the baseball team, which was awesome, and still did all the things necessary to be the kind of impact player we believe he’s going to be as a tight end,” head football coach Brian Kelly said.

Kmet led the Irish with eight saves in his freshman baseball season. He made significant gains in the weight room, too. His recent testing numbers include 17 reps of 225-pound bench press and a 38-inch vertical jump. A year ago, Kmet said he was doing only six reps on the bench press and jumping 33 inches.

Next up, Kmet will try to find a surge in production on the football field as a sophomore. Last season, he caught only two passes for 14 yards. Kmet played in all 13 games, but it was a season spent mostly learning how to play tight end at the collegiate level.

The fall semester ended up being more mentally challenging than playing both sports in the spring, Kmet said.

“You come off high school like you’re the dude in everything. You’re just doing everything. Then you come in and you have to take a back seat and learn,” he said. “That was a little frustrating for me at first. You want to be able to help the team, but you have to understand it.

“I really looked at it. ‘Wow, I have Durham, a fifth-year guy. I have two older guys to really look at and see how it’s done.’ I really learned a lot in the fall.”

Kmet already feels more confident in practices this preseason.

“I know what I’m doing on the field,” Kmet said. “It’s a lot more fun when you know what you’re doing and where you’re supposed to be.”

The options for where Kmet can line up on any given play should be plentiful. Offensive coordinator Chip Long, who also coaches the tight ends, showed a willingness last season to play multiple tight ends.

“I want all of us playing if we can,” Kmet said. “If we can show him that we can do that, he’s going to put us on the field. He’s going to put the best players on the field. Having him as the offensive coordinator is a big deal to our room. When you have the tight ends coach as the offensive coordinator, you’re probably going to get the ball a little bit more.”

Both Kmet and senior Alizé Mack have received significant time with the No. 1 offense in practices open to reporters. Fifth-year graduate student Nic Weishar and sophomore Brock Wright have also been in the mix.

Kmet’s biggest challenge will be handling a blocking role. At Arlington Heights (Ill.) St Viator, Kmet played more wide receiver than tight end. The four-star recruit and No. 3 tight end in the 2017 class, according to both Rivals and 247Sports, was a big target with few blocking responsibilities.

He’s worked with Long on nailing down better blocking technique.

“Being physical helps,” Kmet said. “That’s the biggest thing in the run game, just wanting to be physical and wanting to get in to do the dirty work. The technique and footwork has been a big deal for me.”

Kmet has also asked the Irish offensive linemen for tips. Last year, he tried to pick the brains of Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. Current Irish linemen Robert Hainsey, Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have also helped him out.

Kmet has to make sure he’s on the same page with the offensive tackles for blocking schemes. He’s developed a good relationship with them, even if he beats them on the golf course from time to time.

He might not hit a golf ball quite as well as he throws a strike or catches a pass, but if there’s a sport Kmet struggles at, his teammates have yet to find it.

“He can do anything, I’ll tell you that,” Eichenberg said. “Cole can play any sport. He’s the most athletic guy ever.”

Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet blocks during a drill at Saturday morning's practice inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet puled double duty last spring as a tight end and dependable reliever.