Opportunity awaits incoming freshman Michael Mayer, Notre Dame tight ends

Carter Karels | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

On a sunny January afternoon in San Antonio, Michael Mayer grimaced at Notre Dame’s latest tight end development.

Less than six months before arriving at Notre Dame as an incoming freshman, Mayer lamented over the sudden reality that he would not be joined by Cole Kmet. The two forged a relationship during Mayer’s recruitment and visits to campus.

Mayer had been operating under the assumption that Kmet would return as a senior after his standout 2019 season. Kmet altered course from his initial plan, however, and declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears selected Kmet No. 43 overall, in the second round, in April.

“It is what it is,” Mayer told the Tribune following practice at the All-American Bowl. “I would have liked for him to stay and learn a lot from him. But he decided to go. So I’m going to go there, compete and try to get as much playing time as I can.”

Under first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, the Irish aspire to continue incorporating multiple tight ends into their offense. So Kmet leaving for the draft opened even more early playing time opportunities for Mayer and fellow incoming freshman Kevin Bauman, a 6-foot-4, 238-pounder from Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic.

Mayer and Bauman joined fellow tight ends Brock Wright, Tommy Tremble and George Takacs once voluntary workouts commenced in June. All five options are worth examining. The variance in skill set and upside among them bolster the unit’s potential to thrive in a schematic multiplicity.

The answer to Notre Dame’s Kmet-less problem in the short term and long-term speculation about the position group may start and end with Mayer, a five-star prospect per 247Sports.

“The two freshmen are as advertised,” said new tight ends coach John McNulty. “Obviously, you don’t want to get too carried away right away, but they’ve had rave reviews, too, since they’ve been back.

“It helps to have a guy like Brock to look at and see what the end product needs to be — not just football but everything. Those guys are going to be really good.

“Do they play right away? I’m just coaching them all like they’re going to play, and then we get to game week and see what happens.”

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Mayer finished his high school career at Park Hills (Ky.) Covington Catholic with a decorated résumé. He claimed Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year award last season. The lasting impression Mayer made at two prestigious recruiting events — The Opening Finals and the All-American Bowl — resulted in him receiving bumps in the recruiting rankings.

Helping bring the Colonels two state championships and a 44-1 record across three seasons as a two-way player, Mayer’s time as a defensive end looked just as productive as when he lined up at tight end. He recorded 50 receptions for 970 yards and 15 touchdowns to go with 99 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles and four interceptions in 15 games as a senior.

“I’m going to go into the season with the mindset of obviously I want to play,” Mayer said on the Tribune’s Pod of Gold podcast in May. “I want to have playing time. I want to catch touchdowns and things like that. I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen.”

Wright (36 games, three starts) and Tremble (13 games, seven starts) are the leading candidates for significant playing time, based on their experience and upside.

As the lightest tight end at 6-3, 233 pounds, Tremble helps expand the Irish playbook. Notre Dame often featured Kmet and Tremble in two-tight end sets last season, involving the latter in various ways. Tremble sometimes even lined up like a wide receiver. The junior caught more passes (16) in 2019 than any returning player on the Irish roster, turning them into 183 yards and four touchdowns.

“Tommy (Tremble) has a chance,” McNulty said. “Obviously you see flashes of a guy that has a lot of ability and has the attributes you look for, especially as more of a pass-catching guy. Those two guys together (Wright and Tremble) offer very unique skills. They can help each other together when they’re out there together on the field.”

Wright has struggled to meet the expectations of Rivals, which ranked him as its No. 1 tight end in the 2017 class. He’s only caught a combined four passes for 57 yards in three seasons. His impact has been felt more as a blocker.

Will the 6-5, 250-pound senior reach his potential?

“Brock is the leader of the whole thing because he’s the example of how to do everything,” McNulty said. “And he’s been through a lot of different experiences here. I probably would even say he’s never really had his chance in the spotlight, and here it is.

“The way he conducts himself, and the way he’s willing to help all these guys come along, it kind of starts there. He’s going to become the bedrock of everything of what we are trying to get done.

“He’s going to be the guy to keep everything straight out there on the field.”

McNulty said Takacs transformed his 6-6, 245-pound frame this offseason and expects him to be included more in the offense after seeing action in six games as a sophomore. The progress of Takacs and his four counterparts this offseason make them all options to compete for time in 2020, McNulty said.

“I’ve been impressed. They’re like pros. It’s not any different than coaching pros,” McNulty said. “You’re not coaching a lot of the stuff that you have to bring some guys along with sometimes at other colleges. These guys, they’re good to go on that. They want to know what’s next.

“How do I move on? How do I continue to go forward? I know it sounds cliché-ish, but the intelligence and character of these guys make it easy. It’s no different than sitting in a room with five pros, because it’s important to them and they’re smart guys and they’re determined to figure it out and get better.”

247Sports considered Notre Dame incoming freshman Michael Mayer (87) to be a five-star tight end in the 2020 recruiting class.

24 Tommy Tremble 6-3 233 Jr.
89 Brock Wright 6-5 250 Sr.
85 George Takacs 6-6 245 Jr.
87 Michael Mayer 6-5 235 Fr.
84 Kevin Bauman 6-4 238 Fr.