Undersized tight ends can’t afford to miss time in the weight room, but that’s the reality encountered by six-foot-three, 225-pound Notre Dame junior Mike Heuerman in both his freshman and sophomore seasons at the program.
An early enrollee in the spring semester of 2013, Heuerman showed well as a youngster, earning plaudits from head coach Brian Kelly for his work ethic and gains in the weight room.
“I would say that I'm really impressed with Mike Heuerman,” said Kelly prior to Heuerman’s first spring practice. “He's put on almost 15 pounds -- up to close to 230 pounds. He's got a burst to him. He's going to be a really good player for us.”
Twelve months and recovery from the first of two hernia surgeries later, the affable Heuerman held court with a small group of reporters and offered this tale of his initial testing on the bench press:
“I knew you guys would ask about my numbers. At our first 225-pound test I did 19 reps and I remember guys coming up to me and asked how I did. So I pretended I got like 6 reps and they were like ‘Don’t worry about it man you just got here!’
“Then I’d tell them I did 19 and they wouldn’t believe me and they would check with the coaches. I have always been strong for my weight.”
That natural strength was mitigated by a second hernia operation in August 2014, one that set Heuerman further back in the tight end pecking order. Combined with his initial such operation in early-October 2013, time away from the daily grind has waylaid Heuerman’s weight gain efforts and ability to compete at a consistent level to date.
Irish Illustrated continues its ND A-to-Z series with the lone player from the class of 2013 yet to make his on-field debut for the Fighting Irish.
It sounds harsh, but Heuerman has yet to come close to the field. He can run and he can catch, but it will likely take a mild injury (and thus practice reps for Heuerman) to either starter Durham Smythe or redshirt-freshman Nic Weishar for Heuerman to receive an opportunity.
Getting on the field in some capacity has to be the realistic goal Heuerman in his third season after exiting spring ball as Notre Dame’s fifth tight end – with the nation’s best prospect at the position, Aliz’e Jones set to join the fray in June.
A third season on the sidelines -- a potential reality that would be dispiriting for any competitor.
Playing football for Notre Dame as a junior in 2015 would afford Heuerman the chance to enter Spring Ball 2016 with a final opportunity to compete at the position.
Though the majority of recruited tight ends don’t make a Saturday impact as second-year players, few fail to see the field in some capacity as the position pairs well with special teams duty.
Former tight end Billy Palmer (2000-2004) did not play as a freshman and played in just one game as a sophomore (without a catch) before eventually earning 12 starts and playing in 37 consecutive games thereafter through his graduate season of 2004.
A four-star prospect and Scout.com’s tenth-ranked tight end in the 2013 class, Heuerman has not yet approached the promise he showed during his prep career at Barron Collier High School (Naples, Fla.)
Separate from Scout.com’s rankings, but in the interest of full disclosure, my personal film review of Heuerman was glowing exiting his senior season.
Yet to appear in a college contest, Heuerman showed best in front of the media during an open practice in mid-August last season during which he snared a 35-yard sideline toss from Malik Zaire, a reception in which he leapt to secure before tumbling near the sidelines, keeping his feet in-bounds thereafter.
“My ability to get open. I enjoy seeing green grass because I know I can get there especially if I have a linebacker covering me. I know I can run so I’m comfortable in that position.” – Heuerman describing his chief asset, Spring Ball 2014.