Evolution

Ben Koyack's rise from five-star prep prospect to collegiate contributor was anything but meteoric.

A one-catch freshman year gave way to a three-reception sophomore campaign.

And five games into his junior season, Koyack was without a statistic to his name. No catches, yards, or (unofficial) passes targeted in his direction.

To make matters worse, Koyack wasn't holding up as an in-line blocker, the No. 2 tight end's chief charge in Notre Dame's oft-used "12 package" offensive set.

Then suddenly. He was. And everything else -- receptions, touchdowns, leaping grabs -- followed.

"It was his best game, period," said head coach Brian Kelly of Koyack following the tight end's breakout effort as a blocker last September against Oklahoma. "As an in-line blocker, he was aggressive at the point of attack. He finished his blocks. There is so much more for him. He's a terrific pass-catcher. We'd just like to see it on a consistent basis.

I'm frustrated. We're both frustrated," Kelly continued of Koyack, then without a catch through five 2013 contests. "We just want him to go, let it go. It's just one of those things, I hope we see the next step. He saw himself on film have some success, as a guy that can get in there and get after people."

The next step came in Notre Dame's next game, a 37-34 win over Arizona State in which Koyack kicked off the Irish scoring charge with his first reception of the 2013 season and his first career touchdown, a 19-yard catch-and-run. Two touchdowns over the ensuing three contests buoyed his confidence and Koyack capped an enticing one-month run of production with a career-best four receptions and 76 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame's season took a turn for the worse in the Steel City that evening, but the program's Oil City, PA product had found a secure foothold as a collegiate tight end -- persistence and continuous hard work paid off.

"Our two tight end package, the No. 2 guy does get really involved," said Koyack of his role behind Troy Niklas, now of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, last fall. "To me it didn't matter if I was catching the ball or blocking because at the end of the day, if I'm on the field I have an important job to do. That's how I looked at it, because if I'm executing my job, maybe (running back) Tarean (Folston) is sprinting 50 yards down the field. As long as we get in the end zone, it's good."

Koyack (3) and Niklas (5) combined for eight end zone trips last season, the highest combined total for the position group at Notre Dame since 1958 when Monty Stickles and a trio of others totaled ten.

That long-standing total is unlikely to be eclipsed by Koyack and his understudies -- none of whom have played a collegiate down -- this fall. But the senior's desire to augment his strengths and eradicate his weaknesses has Koyack well-positioned to continue Tight End U's remarkable legacy of collegiate excellence preceding NFL paychecks.

(Beginning with Hall of Famer Dave Casper in 1972, only two full-time starting Irish tight ends have failed to later earn at least a season of service in the NFL.)

Top Tight End Tandems

Since the program abandoned the option offense as its main weapon following the 2001 season, and after a rare adjustment period in 2002 (Tyrone Willingham's first season at the helm), tight end production has remained consistent in South Bend through a trio of coaching staffs.

  • 2013: 42 receptions, 669 yards, 8 TD (Niklas, Koyack)
  • 2012: 58 receptions, 799 yards, 5 TD (Tyler Eifert, Niklas, Koyack)
  • 2011: 66 receptions, 826 yards, 5 TD (Almost entirely Eifert, plus Koyack, Mike Ragone, Alex Welch)
  • 2010: 58 receptions, 712 yards, 5 TD (Kyle Rudolph, Eifert, Ragone)
  • 2009: 41 receptions, 434 yards, 3 TD (Rudolph, Ragone, Burger)
  • 2008: 31 receptions, 346 yards, 2 TD (Rudolph, Will Yeatman)
  • 2007: 47 receptions, 416 yards, 3 TD (John Carlson, Yeatman, Ragone)
  • 2006: 56 receptions, 732 yards, 6 TD (Carlson, Marcus Freeman)
  • 2005: 54 receptions, 632 yards, 3 TD (Anthony Fasano, Carlson)
  • 2004: 51 receptions, 580 yards, 5 TD (Fasano, Carlson, Freeman, Billy Palmer, Josh Schmidt)
  • 2003: 47 receptions, 449 yards, 2 TD (Fasano, Jared Clark, Schmidt, Palmer)
  • 2002: 24 receptions, 263 yards, 0 TD (Gary Godsey, Clark, Palmer)

"I enjoyed having a couple catches here and there, and it was something to build on," said Koyack of his taste of success last season. "But (2014) is going to be a longer season, and not necessarily from the two tight end role. I'm going to have to be more consistent."

"I think it is what can happen at any program at any university and it is why I love coaching college football. It is the development of the players and that is why I do this job," said tight end coach Scott Booker of Koyack's gradual ascent.

"You could see Ben start to get comfortable with everything that had to do with Notre Dame football. He was more comfortable in the locker room, he was more comfortable in the meetings and on the practice field. He is a smart guy and he always knew where to line up but there was a comfort level in that he knew how to make blocks, or certain catches or techniques that I wanted him to do. And when all that came together you saw improvement, but Ben knows he can get better."

Notre Dame's 40-plus season continual chain of production at the position necessitates comparisons. Booker would have none of it, save for the opinion that the position remains in good hands.

"I don't want to compare him to anybody," Booker said. "But if (Koyack) plays to the level where he can there shouldn't be a drop off in the tight end production at Notre Dame."


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