Notes: Concussion part of freshman challenge for Notre Dame football's Tobias Merriweather

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Missing three games and spending 7-10 days on required bedrest was a challenge in several ways for Tobias Merriweather last November.

“It was probably the worst concussion I’ve gotten,” Notre Dame’s sophomore wide receiver said Wednesday. “I know I got in a mode where I was like I didn’t want to be on the team. It was hard to go through that.”

Physically and mentally.

Notre Dame wide receiver Tobias Merriweather (15) and Notre Dame wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. (5) celebrate during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Notre Dame Vs Stanford Football

“I want to be on the field, I want to be playing,” he said after spring practice No. 13. “But then I’d come back into meetings. I guess I did learn from it. I got to see other guys play and be their fan, especially that Navy game when they’re all going crazy.”

After suffering the concussion in the upset win over Clemson, Merriweather also had to deal with the disappointment of lost momentum. Lightly used in the first half of the season, the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder averaged 20 snaps in the three games that followed his fourth-quarter touchdown reception against Stanford.

“It got to the point before I was out where it was like I knew everything,” he said. “I knew what I had to do on every down. And then I went out. I couldn’t do anything with a concussion.”

Ben Morrison:Notre Dame notebook: Cornerback on historic freshman year; Styles on the move to DB?

Merriweather did fly with the team to Baltimore for the Nov. 12 win over Navy. He wore amber-tinted sunglasses and kept to himself on the sideline.

“Just keeping my morale high was the plan for that,” he said. “We already knew I had a concussion. I didn’t get sick. It hurt a little, but I thought it would be best for me to keep my morale high and stay (in) positive mode and watch my boys ball out.”

Merriweather returned for the Dec. 30 Gator Bowl and was on the field for a season-high 24 offensive snaps. He was targeted three times but had zero receptions.

Which freshman wideout is the 'freakiest' of them all?

Receivers coach Chansi Stuckey gave an enthusiastic progress report for all three early enrolled freshman wideouts.

“Rico (Flores Jr.) is thicker, way bigger, than you thought,” Stuckey said of the Folsom (Calif.) High School product. “He has huge, tree-trunk legs. Has a little presence about him. Attention to detail is immaculate. Rico loves football. He is betting everything he has on himself.”

Early-enrolled freshman wide receiver Rico Flores Jr. (17) walks into spring practice Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame in South Bend.

Braylon James, who has added 15 pounds since January, is still adjusting to playing at 195.

“He’s the freakiest (athlete) of them all,” Stuckey said of the Round Rock, Texas talent. “He’s 6-2, runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash), 38-inch vertical. His body has changed so much. His body this spring has been getting used to carrying that extra weight.”

Jaden Greathouse, another Texan who is from Austin, has shown advanced savvy along with his physical gifts.

“JG is just physically ready to play,” Stuckey said. “Has great ball skills. Has a niftiness where he can be slippery and get around (defenders) but has enough power and quickness at the line of scrimmage to beat guys. His ball skills are out of control just from his basketball background and what they did at Westlake.”

Freshman wide receiver Jaden Greathouse (19) makes the catch during drills Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame spring football practice in South Bend.

In the red zone, Greathouse is already a go-to target.

“You put him into the boundary, getting inside the 10-yard-line,” Stuckey said, “any ball, anywhere, he’s going to make a play.”

Chris Tyree does his Reggie Bush imitation

As Chris Tyree sat down for his first group interview since Thanksgiving, someone pointed out that his nearby nameplate read: “Running Back/Wide Receiver.”

Tyree laughed.

“I like that, yeah,” he said. “Nice little title.”

Running back Chris Tyree (2) catches a ball during drills Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame spring football practice in South Bend.

To clear up any confusion, the senior speedster is working full-time as a slot receiver this spring. After dropping seven pounds to get to 190, the sure-handed former Virginia high school sprint champion is making a smooth transition.

“It’s not brand new,” he said. “It’s not like I haven’t played receiver before. It’s just learning, having a good feel for being an expert at the position. … Just having so much fun in space. You can play with the defenders because you have so much room to work.”

Tyree remembers growing up watching versatile NFL skill players like Tavon Austin and Reggie Bush.

“You could just give them the ball anywhere, and they could just make stuff happen,” Tyree said. “That’s been expected of me in this position just because I’m going to be in space a lot. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity.”

Kaleb Smith's retirement

Even though Virginia Tech grad transfer Kaleb Smith medically retired from football over the weekend, having him in the receiver room the past three months was beneficial.

“He was a veteran presence, a guy that was going on his sixth year,” Stuckey said. “Just teaching the guys how to come to work and knowing what to do. He was just a great veteran presence for the guys, and that’s what we wanted, an example of what you want to look like in 3-4 years.”

With Smith’s retirement and Lorenzo Styles considering a full-time move to cornerback, the Irish receivers room is down to eight scholarship players. Another freshman, Kaleb “KK” Smith, will push the count to nine when he enrolls in June.

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