Notebook: Cole Kmet promises to join the trend of finishing his business at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In 1989, the NFL first opened its doors to players three years removed from high school to legally wade into the draft pool as early entries.

Two weeks before Brian Kelly succeeded Charlie Weis as Notre Dame’s head football coach in December of 2009, only five Irish players had gone three-and-out. That number swelled to 18 last month when tight end Cole Kmet declared as an early entry for the 2020 NFL Draft.

Ten of those true-junior departures have come in the past seven draft cycles.

The new reality of having more players leaving without their Notre Dame degrees intersected with an old one — not many of them actually made good on their promise to return. In fact, as of this time a year ago there were only four — Rocket Ismail, Tom Carter, Darius Walker and Jimmy Clausen.

On Tuesday, at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Kmet vowed he’ll eventually pick up the 30 credit hours he is short of his psychology degree.

“I haven’t mapped it out yet, per se,” Kmet said. “I definitely am going to get it done at some point. I promised my mom I would.”

Kelly and Adam Sargent, ND’s associate director of academic services for student-athletes as well as the academic counselor for football, have teamed up to make that journey less complicated with the hopes of making it the new normal.

It appears to be working.

Last spring semester, three of the three-and-outs came back to work on their unfinished business. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith took seven 3-hour courses and became graduate No. 5.

The other two, former tight end Troy Niklas and running back Josh Adams, are back again this spring semester. They’re joined by former All-America cornerback Julian Love, a fourth-round draft choice of the New York Giants last spring.

“I just couldn’t wrap my head around guys leaving early without their degrees, and the number of them who were doing it, beginning with Troy and that class (2014),” Kelly said. “So we went and did something about it.”

Smith, in May of 2019, was the first of the three-and-outs to finish since Clausen in 2013. He’s also been an inspiration to others to come back, in part because he showed it could be done while being an active player in the NFL.

“Education matters, and the right education matters even more,” Smith told the Tribune last May. “The University of Notre Dame, it instills so many quality things in me.

“It’s about relationships. Being able to work with and be in sync with the right people. That’s what coming back will do for me.”

Claypool presses on

Former Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool put up 19 reps at 225 pounds Wednesday afternoon in the bench press testing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

That’s the fifth most among the 33 wide receivers who participated in the event, with Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus leading the way at 23 reps.

ND’s Chris Finke was 33rd out of 33 with seven reps.

Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends were the first position groups to do any of the physical testing at the combine, and Thursday’s testing was limited to the bench press.

Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet passed on the bench press, and will instead perform it at ND’s Pro Day on April 1.

He said Tuesday, he’ll do the rest of the physical testing, which continues Thursday for QBs, tight ends and wide receivers with the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, standing broad jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle.

Claypool clips

• Among the people who Claypool talked to about what to expect and how to excel at the NFL Combine was former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn.

• Claypool revealed this week that he actually did have a nickname at Notre Dame. And it’s easy to see why it was neither enduring or popular. It was, “The Maple Bandit.”

• Some players at Notre Dame have to be talked into playing special teams. Claypool insisted upon doing so at ND and vows to do so as well in the NFL without being asked.

“All four units (kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return) if I can,” he said. “Any value I can add to myself, I’ll do it.”

• Notre Dame loses four of its five receivers from the 2019 roster, including Claypool, who was No. 1 with 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 TDs.

There’s no secret as to whom Claypool believes will be ND’s No. 1 receiver in 2020.

“I think Kevin Austin is going to be a star,” Claypool said of the junior-to-be who missed the 2019 season due to a suspension. “I’ve been saying it all along, he’s a super good player.”

Measuring up

Defensive linemen and linebackers constitute the third wave of players who arrived at Indy for the NFL Combine. Thursday was their turn to weigh in, and do the other standard measurements.

Notre Dame’s Khalid Kareem had the largest hand size among defensive linemen (10 ⅞ inches) and the largest wingspan (84 inches) among defensive ends. Other particulars were height: 6-3 ¾; weight: 268; and arms: 34 ⅜ inches.

Bookend Julian Okwara checked in at 6-4 ¼, 252 pounds, 10 ¼-inch hands, 34 ⅜-inch arms with an 81 ¾-inch wingspan.

Former Irish running back Tony Jones Jr. checked on Tuesday: 5-10 ½, 220 pounds; with a 9 ½-inch hand size, 30 ⅝-inch arms and a 74 ⅛-inch wingspan.

Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet speaks during a press conference at the NFL Combine, Tuesday in Indianapolis.