Maturity has allowed former Notre Dame tight end Alizé Mack's talent to come back into focus

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Talent has rarely been an issue for Alizé Mack.

That’s why he was ranked as the No. 1 tight end in the 2015 recruiting class by 247Sports following his senior season at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. That’s why when he enrolled at Notre Dame, he was expected to be the next in line to carry on the “Tight End U” tradition often associated with the Irish.

That’s why Mack’s numbers at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis shouldn’t be surprising. His bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash and 60-yard shuttle were all among the top seven at the tight end position.

But the talent wasn’t what Mack was asked about most frequently by NFL teams. They wanted to know more about his off-the-field issues, specifically an academic suspension that caused him to miss the 2016 season and an undisclosed suspension that led to him sitting out the 2018 Citrus Bowl.

How Mack handled those questions could make a serious impact on his draft placement. Those concerns alone are why Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com said Mack might be selected anywhere between rounds four and seven despite potentially being a top-100 talent.

Mack was ready for the questions.

“You say off the field, but in terms of me as a person, you’re not going to hear anything about me with any drugs, with any alcohol, with women, night life,” Mack said. “I’m not that type of person. My issues had to do with me as far as my maturity goes and poor decisions.

“At a place like Notre Dame, the standards are held high. I’m glad that I was disciplined the way that I was because it allowed me to grow up and become the man I am here today standing up.”

Mack was still dealing with the repercussions of his academic mistakes as recently as January. Despite previously being invited to play in the Senior Bowl, he was unable to participate in the event because he failed to meet the graduation requirements. Mack said he’s one semester away from receiving a degree in film, television and theatre, and that he plans to complete his coursework next spring.

Mack’s strong showing at the NFL Combine should help make up for the missed opportunity of performing in front of NFL personnel at the Senior Bowl. Finally, the talent that always hinted at a bright future seems to be crystallizing in the present.

The 2018 season felt like a turning point for Mack. He rounded out his game to become a complete tight end. Most importantly, Mack was no longer a liability as a blocker. Mack could be asked to block at the point of attack or take care of a defender in pass protection.

“In that area of my game, I’ve shown it on film,” Mack said. “I’ve proven to coaches around the league that I can do it all. I’m a balanced tight end.”

There aren’t many roles a tight end can play that Mack wasn’t asked to fulfill at Notre Dame. He was aligned in various positions and had to learn a lot of the offense under head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long. He finished the 2018 season with 36 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns.

“My mental side of it has been pretty strong,” Mack said. “That’s a credit to Notre Dame and my coaches over there — coach Long, coach Kelly — setting us up to be students of the game.”

Mack fell two wins short of winning a national championship at Notre Dame. It would have been his second national title after Bishop Gorman was named the country’s best by USA Today his senior year.

Recovering from the loss to Clemson has been tough, Mack said. He dropped a pass late in the second quarter when Notre Dame was driving into Clemson territory trailing 9-3. The drive stalled after Mack’s drop, then Clemson scored 14 more points to close the half.

“You look at that game and there are a lot of things you wish could have happened, and it didn’t,” Mack said. “At the end of the day, we had a successful season. As far as a team, as far as a brotherhood, that was the best team I’ve been around in years.”

With the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas in 2020, Mack may get the chance to play in his hometown once again. It’s a reality that he never thought possible.

“Everywhere you go out there, there’s something Raiders,” Mack said. “It’s going to be big out there.”

Barring a surprise, Mack should continue a remarkable streak for Notre Dame tight ends. Since 2004, at least one of the starting tight ends in the season opener for the Irish has eventually been selected in the NFL Draft. The streak, which started with Anthony Fasano, includes seven different tight ends.

Mack needed more than talent to put himself in position to continue that legacy.

“I changed so much as a man — not just as a football player but as a man, as Alizé,” Mack said. “I changed as a brother, as a son, as a teammate. I’m very proud of myself to see where I am today.”

Former Notre Dame tight end Alizé Mack put his talent on display at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week.