Notre Dame football star Michael Mayer declares for NFL Draft, will opt out of Gator Bowl

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Record-setting tight end Michael Mayer has played his last game for Notre Dame.

As widely expected, Mayer announced Wednesday he will skip the Dec. 30 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against No. 19 South Carolina as he begins preparations for the 2023 NFL Draft. The projected first-rounder plans to start ramping up those workouts on Jan. 2 in California.

A draft-eligible junior and fiery team captain, Mayer had eight catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns (24 and 22 yards) in a Nov. 26 loss at USC. That pushed his career totals to 180 receptions for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns, all of which represent the most in program history by a tight end.

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Mayer had at least one catch in all 36 games he played in his Notre Dame career. The Irish went 28-8 with Mayer in the lineup as he sat out just once (Virginia Tech in October 2021) due to a strained hip adductor muscle.

Despite facing near-constant double coverage this fall, the Mackey Award finalist hauled in 67 passes from 809 yards and nine touchdowns -- all single-season records for an Irish tight end. He converted 66.3 percent of his 101 targets as a junior, dropping just four passes while working with inexperienced quarterbacks Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne.

“The first reason I picked Notre Dame was the NFL,” Mayer told ESPN ahead of Thursday's College Football Awards show. “It was on my mind a very, very long time. I saw a lot of good tight ends in the NFL from Notre Dame. That was one of the main reasons I went there.”

Star defensive end Isaiah Foskey, also projected for the top two rounds in the April draft, had yet to announce his intentions as of Wednesday afternoon, but the modern trend points to Foskey opting out of the Gator Bowl as well.

Foskey, a fourth-year junior who broke Justin Tuck’s career program sack record on Senior Day against Boston College, added 1.5 sacks in the regular-season finale against the Trojans. Foskey has 26.5 career sacks, including 11 this year, and his single-season total ranks third in program history.

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) celebrates scoring during the Notre Dame vs. Clemson NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Former Irish safety Kyle Hamilton and running back Kyren Williams opted out of last year’s Fiesta Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft process.

Their announcements came via social media 22 days ahead of the New Year’s Day meeting with Oklahoma State. Notre Dame raced out to a 21-point lead in Marcus Freeman’s head coaching debut but couldn’t corral Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders in a 37-35 loss.

Hamilton, who missed the second half of the 2021 season with a knee injury, went 14th overall to the Baltimore Ravens.

Nov 19, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey (7) acknowledges the crowd after a sack in the second quarter against the Boston College Eagles. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Williams, who had been remarkably durable in his brief college career, went to the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round. Williams had surgery to repair a broken foot in June and underwent another procedure in early September after suffering a high-ankle sprain while playing on special teams.

In Mayer’s absence, backup tight ends Mitchell Evans (sophomore) and Holden Staes (freshman) should get more chances in the bowl game. Key reserves Kevin Bauman and Eli Raridon have missed the bulk of the season following their respective ACL surgeries.  

South Carolina, meanwhile, will be without tight end Austin Stogner, an Oklahoma grad transfer and quarterback Spencer Rattler’s most familiar target. Of the five Gamecocks to enter the transfer portal this week, Stogner made the biggest splash.

Rotating with three other tight ends, Stogner made 20 receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown this season.

Other Gamecocks entering the portal as the 45-day winter window opened were offensive lineman Jordan Davis, safety Joey Hunter, linebacker Darryle Ware and defensive back Cam Hardy. In addition, cornerback Cam Smith has announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) 

  • What: 78th Annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl 
  • When: Friday, Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: TIAA Bank Field (67,164), Jacksonville, Fla. 
  • TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame opens as a 4.5 -point favorite  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 3-1 
  • Last meeting: South Carolina won 36-32 in South Bend in 1984.