- Class: Junior (Sophomore eligibility)
- On the depth chart: Tight End 1B
- Post-spring status: Ascending
There was a lot not to like about Notre Dame football and the calendar year 2016, both in-season and prior. Among the initial blows absorbed by the program was the loss of promising sophomore tight end Alizé’ Mack (then Alizé’ Jones) to academic suspension.
Mack was slated to play both tight end and the W receiver position for Brian Kelly’s Irish. He instead played the role of practice field cheerleader and twitter maven, often referencing his pending return to the field and the havoc he would wreak upon it as a result.
A five-star pledge in 2015 and currently Notre Dame’s highest-ranked prospect, Mack started five games as a true freshman, catching 13 passes for 190 yards while appearing in every contest. He nonetheless enters his third season at the program among the nation’s top tight end prospects.
MACK AT HIS BEST
Notre Dame’s oft-reference 2015 season of contention might have come crashing to an ignominious halt if not for the exploits of Mack in a Halloween evening contest against Temple in Philadelphia.
Trailing 20-17 with just over three minutes remaining, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer found Jones on a deep cross that brought the pigskin 45 yards from Notre Dame’s own 38 to the Temple 17-yard line. Two snaps later, Kizer hit Irish season-saver Will Fuller for what proved to be the game-winning score.
It was the biggest play of Alizé Jones’ collegiate career. Alizé Mack’s biggest is on deck.
“I think Chip’s (Long) doing a terrific job with him. He knows how to raise him up when he needs to and scold him when he needs to. Alizé needs a little bit of that. But he’s virtually un-coverable in certain areas of the field. I don’t care at any level. He just has that kind of talent.” – Irish head coach Brian Kelly
BEST CASE SCENARIO
He’s the position’s modern standard, the cross-bearer for Tight End U since Dave Casper and Ken MacAfee put the position on the map in the 1970s.
Like Mack, Eifert earned his keep split wide nearly as often as he did inline, though Eifert, by the time he reached his senior season, was an outstanding, top-level blocker. Mack’s not there yet but he has improved in that regard.
“The one thing that I think stands out to me in the few days (of spring) is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical,” Kelly said of Mack. “If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”
Classmate Equanimeous St. Brown will likely lead the team in targets, but it’s not a stretch to think Mack will be a (distant) second in that regard on what should be a big-play passing attack in 2017.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
It’s not fair to offer an off the field for Mack (he’s “as eligible” as is anyone else after a year in purgatory), and on the field, it seems implausible that Notre Dame would treat its talented tight ends as second-class citizens this fall as it did in 2016.
But it’s fair to wonder how Mack will respond to success – he’s going to have some early. It takes a lot more to become the next Tyler Eifert, or Anthony Fasano, or even Troy Niklas than running down the field in practice and dominating A.) Questionable safeties, and B.) Safeties that aren’t supposed to hit you hard.
Mental and physical toughness are necessary to survive a 12-game slate that includes five road games and matchups against the SEC, Big 10, Pac-12, ACC, and the always mentally taxing Naval Academy along the way.
Better pro prospects than Mack have failed in that regard.
You mean a five-star tight end with zero touchdowns to his credit entering his junior season? That seems a tad askew, no?
The nation’s No. 2 ranked tight end prospect in 2015, Mack is commensurate with Kyle Rudolph (No. 1 in 2008), Mike Ragone (No. 2 in 2007), and Ben Koyack (No. 1 in 2011).
Save for *statistics, Mack’s career arc resembles the highly touted Ragone, who played in 11 of 12 games as a true freshman then missed his sophomore season (ACL tear).
(*Ragone caught just one pass while Mack snared 13, but its fair to surmise Ragone might have secured a few more had then-freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen had more than a half-second to set and throw behind the worst offensive line in program history.)
It is to be hoped Mack avoids the injuries and off field issues that plagued Ragone’s promising career thereafter.