During the final periods of Thursday morning’s practice Nic Weishar doubled over with hands on knees in the south end zone. A trainer put a wet towel around his neck, in part to cool him off and in part, probably, to give Weishar some privacy as he puked.
And yet, that’s standard operating procedure for Weishar, who enrolled at Notre Dame two years ago as the all-time receptions leader in Illinois high school football history. Leaving it all on the field has been part of his personal game plan.
“I've always kind of been the guy that tends to throw up every once in a while,” Weishar said. “You can ask any of my high school coaches. It's always been like that. That's not really a big deal for me at all, just kind of let it out and get back out there.”
Thursday’s repurposing of training table came near the end of practice, meaning there was little rally after Weishar’s boot. But he didn’t need one after a seemingly strong opening week of training camp, building on a red-shirt freshman season and a quiet sophomore one.
Despite starter Durham Smythe going down at Virginia last September, Weishar finished the season with just three catches for 19 yards. He struggled in the run game, listed at less than 240 pounds as Notre Dame’s Tight End U. rep took a sabbatical.
“I feel so much stronger out there dealing with defensive ends, I’m finally able to push guys off the line,” Weishar said. “When you have a (defensive end) and you're trying to inside drive block a 300-pounder, when I first came here I wasn't really able to get much push on him. I feel like I'm able to do that when I have my technique right, able to push guys off the ball now and it's a great feeling.”
Based on how Brian Kelly has built August practices, Weishar and the position have done enough to earn a fresh look from the staff.
“Just the simple routes that are staples of our offense that we didn’t get a lot last year, we’re starting to get again this year,” Weishar said. “We’ve just got to keep that going and not give the quarterbacks a reason to not trust us.”
Down Alizé Jones for the season (academic ineligibility), Notre Dame is again searching for a tight end threat. While Kelly downplayed Jones’ absence, Weishar did not. He called the sophomore and former five-star recruit Notre Dame’s best passing option at tight end.
Now, through the first week of training camp, Weishar might hold that title.
Weishar has made short work of Notre Dame’s backup linebackers in passing drills, building on his off-season that included a small weight gain (240 pounds), big strength gains and even bigger conditioning gains.
Weishar missed parts of fall camp last August due to fatigue, never getting a handle on an open position battle. He’s gone wire-to-wire during camp’s first week this year.
“Nic hasn't missed a practice. And we've had some pretty hot days out there and his volume has been high,” Kelly said. “I think just in that, his ability to be out there every single day and take the load of the position has been a big uptick for us.”
The junior trained with that in mind this summer, working the usual mindless sprints but consciously cutting down the breaks between reps. Weishar wears the Catapult GPS monitor during practices, which tracks movement, heart rate and intensity. While he doesn’t get the data straight to his laptop, understanding how to work smarter has helped Weishar work longer.
Notre Dame has needed all that this month down Jones and without freshman reinforcements at the position. Weishar, Smythe, Tyler Luatua and Jacob Matuska have combined for just eight career receptions and one touchdown, which came on a fake field goal from DeShone Kizer to Smythe at Virginia.
Jones made 13 catches last season and started five games. He was the first Irish tight end to start as a freshman since Kyle Rudolph.
And yet, Notre Dame was looking at another tight end rebuild even if Jones could play. Without him, it’s almost like starting over again. But Weishar now has the skills to be part of that foundation.
“Now I do feel like I'm becoming more of a complete tight end and kind of able to flex out or be attached,” Weishar said. “So I just gotta keep working and we've got a good thing going.
“I see a huge opportunity for me.”