Kyle Rudolph will pick up where he left off, again challenging upperclassmen, but this time in a fair fight among his fellow tight ends as a member of the pre-season John Mackey Award watch list.
The award, presented annually to the nation's best collegiate tight end, includes 30 names – Rudolph is the only sophomore. Rudolph set school records for a freshman with 29 grabs for 340 yards and two touchdowns. One year older, stronger, more experienced, and now with the benefit of a talented teammate (junior TE Mike Ragone) to push him for playing time, the Irish sophomore could emerge as the best pass-catching tight end in the nation...ahead of schedule.
Rudolph's status in the Irish passing game (it's inarguable that he'll be Clausen's third most productive target at best) makes him a dark-horse to win the award in his second season. But his nomination after just 13 games hints that the award could certainly be in his future by the end of the 2011 season.
The 30-man Mackey Watch List (below) contains three 2009 Irish opponents:
- Nate Byham (Pittsburgh) The Panthers' senior had just one catch vs. the Irish las season (for a loss of two yards on third down) but he did contribute mightily to the Panthers' cause in the four overtime marathon, drawing a key, and completely unnecessary personal foul penalty on SLB Harrison Smith that turned a Panthers punting situation into a first down – and eventual touchdown to cut the Irish lead to 17-10 early in the second half.
- Charlie Gantt (Michigan State): The Spartans junior did not catch a pass in Michigan State's 23-7 victory in East Lansing last September, though Gantt did open a hole for RB Javon Ringer's game-sealing TD dive.
- Anthony McCoy (USC): Two catches for 26 yards in the Trojans' defeat of the Irish last November, including a 17-yard grab for a first down on 3rd and 9 in the fourth quarter.
2009 John Mackey Award Watch List:
- Jeffrey Anderson, JR, UAB
- Jake Ballard, SR, Ohio State
- Greg Boone, SR, Virginia Tech
- Nate Byham, SR, Pittsburgh
- Jeff Cottam, SR, Tennessee
- Ed Dickson, SR, Oregon
- Richard Dickson, SR, LSU
- TC Drake, SR, Kentucky
- Charlie Gantt, JR, Michigan State
- Riar Geer, SR, Colorado
- Garrett Graham, SR, Wisconsin
- Jermaine Gresham, SR, Oklahoma
- Rob Gronkowski, JR, Arizona
- Aaron Hernandez, JR, Florida
- Mike Hoomanawanui, SR, Illinois
- Blaine Irby, JR, Texas
- Jeron Mastrud, SR, Kansas St
- Anthony McCoy, SR, USC
- Mike McNeil, JR, Nebraska
- Tony Moeaki, SR, Iowa
- Ryan Moya, SR, UCLA
- Logan Paulsen, SR, UCLA
- Dennis Pitta, SR, BYU
- Andrew Quarless, JR, Penn St
- Kyle Rudolph, SO, Notre Dame
- Weslye Saunders, JR, South Carolina
- Cody Slate, JR, Marshall
- Tommy Trott, SR, Auburn
- DJ Williams, JR, Arkansas
- Ben Wooster, SR, Wake Forest
The Mackey Award is named after NFL Hall of Fame member John Mackey and has been presented since 2000. The award recipient is selected by vote of the John Mackey Award Selection Committee and the 2009 award winner will be announced on Dec. 10, 2009.