Competition at Second Tight End Spot

Fifth-year senior John Carlson is one of the top tight ends in the nation and one of the captains on the 2007 Notre Dame football team. Behind Carlson, there is brewing battle for the second spot at tight end. The lead contenders are a pair of sophomore classmates, Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman. As has been the buzz word in this training camp, the competition is an intense one.

"There's nothing set in stone," Yeatman said on Friday. "Everyone is trying to work their butts off and earn the spot. There's a ton of good talent at the tight end spot. Everyone is working hard. The best guy will get the job."

"Obviously, John is the starter this year," Reuland said. "He's come back as one of the top tight ends in the country, in my mind probably the top tight end in the country. There's a big time battle going on for that second spot. It's all good with the competition and the other two guys have a lot of talent. We're all shooting for the same thing."

Being behind Carlson on the depth chart still has its benefits in the Notre Dame offense. Head coach Charlie Weis's system employs multiple tight end sets in numerous situations on game day. Last year, with Carlson catching 47 balls for 634 yards and four touchdowns, second tight end Marcus Freeman contributed nine receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. It's not a lot of opportunities in the passing game but still enough to gain valuable experience.

"That's one of the biggest draws for a tight end in this offense," Reuland said. "With the multiple tight end sets that we run frequently, it gives a lot of different tight ends a chance to get on the field, which is a big plus because it's not like you're sitting behind the starter the entire time. You get to play."

As sophomores, Yeatman and Reuland get to watch and learn from Carlson for another season. The fifth-year senior really came on in 2006 with a monster season. Carlson was on pace to break the Notre Dame all-time single season reception record for a tight end before sitting out the final two contests before the Sugar Bowl with an injury. The two sophomores learn from Carlson on and off the field.

"The biggest thing for me has been his work ethic," Yeatman said. "It's superb. It's superior to a lot of other people's work ethic. When I see him in the weight room and spending extra time in there, I say, ‘Okay, I need to spend some more time in here and I'll get that much better.' That's what I see through him. It's definitely been something I've looked up to.

"On the field, the way he catches the ball, sometimes deceptively. Last year, Brady (Quinn) would sneak the ball up on him and the defender wouldn't even know it was coming. Those are things I watch and learn to try to do. Coach (Bernie) Parmalee always drills that into us to be physical. That's what we're trying to do and John teaches us to do those things."

Reuland was more highly recruited out of high school. As a senior at Mission Viejo High School in San Juan Capistrano, California, the 6-6, 255-pound tight end garnered first-team USA Today honors after catching 16 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns. Reuland led his team to a 12-1 mark and a semifinal appearance in the state tournament.

Weis was able to pluck Reuland right out of USC's backyard and get the big tight end prospect to South Bend. The California native hopes to continue the recent trend of solid tight end play under Weis and eventually follow it to the next level.

"There have been a lot of great tight ends that have come out of here," Reuland said. "Right now, starting with Anthony (Fasano) and continuing with John and the young tight ends we have with Will, Mike (Ragone) and myself and the recruits we're getting in, I think it's becoming the "Tight End U" that Miami (FL) was the last decade. It's a pretty exciting time."

Yeatman's route wasn't as cut and dry. The 6-6, 263-pound native of San Diego, CA is a lacrosse star. Yeatman has been in the sport for as long as he can remember and excelling in it as well. Yeatman was named to the United States Lacrosse All-American team as a junior and a senior in high school. As a freshman at Notre Dame, the San Diego, CA native was first on the team in assists and fourth in goals and named LaxPower National Rookie of the Year.

Football wasn't an every year sport for Yeatman growing up. The tight end played Pop Warner in the second and third grade and didn't play again until the sixth grade, sometimes because of being over the maximum weight limit. In high school, Yeatman again started to play and caught 36 balls for 527 yards and seven touchdowns as senior at Rancho Bernardo High School.

"Now, I love both equally," Yeatman said. "People often say he's that big football guy rumbling down the field with a lacrosse stick. A lot of people would tell you otherwise."

Yeatman was recruited by Notre Dame to play lacrosse. But after his sophomore year in high school, the San Diego, CA native started to get offers to play football as well. Yeatman eventually got offers from most of the Pac-10 schools, USC, Michigan and a few ACC institutions. Alot of the attention came late, after Weis approached Yeatman about playing football with the Irish.

"That's what caught the attention of a lot of Division 1A coaches around the country, or at least that's what they told me," the two-sport star said, including USC, who Yeatman told no to after the Trojans approached him following his commitment to play football at Notre Dame.

"I was recruited initially for lacrosse at this school. Coach Weis and my parents sat down and he said, ‘We're not going to have this deal with you if we didn't think you could play football at the Division I level.' I think he saw I was a physical player and I'm still trying to be as physical as possible."

Now, both players look to make a major contribution in their sophomore seasons. Both Yeatman and Reuland saw action last year as freshmen. Reuland played in seven games, logging 18 minutes of action while Yeatman appeared in all 13 contests, good for 29 minutes. Yeatman said he didn't see the field a lot but feels he helped the team out when called upon. Reuland wants to improve leaps and bounds from his freshman campaign.

"Just getting out there and getting the limited reps was a big plus for me," Reuland said. "It was positive because last year, I thought I could hang. This year, I feel like I've progressed and gotten a lot better. I'm excited about this year."

While Reuland was there for every practice in the spring, Yeatman had to do double duty. The two-sport star was in the thick of the lacrosse season. Notre Dame eventually lost to Johns Hopkins 11-10 in overtime, who went on to win the national championship. Yeatman got to about half the sessions in spring ball but was there for the Blue-Gold contest.

"I wouldn't say I was playing catch up at all," Yeatman said about his spring experience. "When I did get to practice, they threw me in there as if I'd been there the whole time. That certainly helped me out. I played a decent amount in the spring time. I earned a lot of practice time in the spring and a lot more than I did in the fall. It helped me grow and mature as a player."

Moving forward to the fall, tight end is one of the deepest positions on the team. Carlson is a preseason All-American. Reuland and Yeatman, along with Ragone, provide three solid backups and will all see action in the multiple tight end sets. Five-star prospect Kyle Rudolph will join the rotation next year. Notre Dame has a lot of options at the position and the competition to get on the field will be high for many years. It'll push the players to join the historic list of great Irish tight ends.

"I want to go down as one of the best tight ends to come out of here," Reuland said. "I'm going to work as hard as I can to get there." Top Stories