"I Just Like Hitting People"

IrishEyes spoke with junior tight end Mike Ragone about camp and competition at the tight end position.

As a general rule its better not to rush to judgment after a brief interview with a college athlete.

But its safe to assume there are two truths surrounding Irish junior tight end Mike Ragone: 1.) he doesn't mind a little competition, and 2.) he's going to hit someone, as hard as he can, every time the whistle blows.

Ragone sat out his senior season of high school while recovering from a knee injury. He did the same as a sophomore in 2008. In his stead stepped another highly touted young tight end – Kyle Rudolph.

Now a sophomore, Rudolph ranks as the top sophomore nationally at his position. Ragone (still ranked as the nation's No. 19 overall draft eligible tight end by pre-season authority Phil Steele despite a total of 13 minutes and 34 seconds of collegiate playing time) is ready to make his presence felt as well.

"They have us doing a lot of things," says Ragone of the offense's two tight end sets. "I'm on the line; I'm split out; I'm in motion…and it goes both ways (for Rudolph).

"You saw (the two tight end attack) in the past with (Anthony) Fasano and (John) Carlson – it's just the same type of thing."

Ragone, known early in his career for straight line speed and an aggressive, physical approach to the game, is equally comfortable in the trenches or off the line as a 6'5" 250-pound target.

"I don't think it really matters anymore," said Ragone of his comfort level playing along the line rather than split wide, offset, or in motion. "I think it might have (mattered) as a freshman because I didn't really have a lot of weight on me so it was harder to get off the line with big linebackers, but now that I'm bigger and I know what I'm doing I can get off the line. It doesn't really make a difference where they put me."

A former high school wrestling champion (as a heavyweight, Ragone won the 2005 Beast of the East tournament), the junior from Camden, New Jersey realized during his freshman season that mental progression is at least as important as his physical attributes.

"(Smiling) Yeah, high school is a little easier. It's more the mental aspect of college ball: knowing the offense and knowing every position on the field. Just knowing what you're doing makes it so it's more mental than it is physical.

"Of course, you have to have some kind of strength or you're not doing anything."

Ragone's chief strength is his aggressiveness: both as a blocker and a player that will go get the ball in the air down the seams.

"I want the ball. Like all receivers or anyone that wants to be good. Any competitor wants the ball in his hands no matter what position; facing two guys or three guys in front of you it doesn't matter – you want the ball.

"Of course it's easier when no one's around you," admitted Ragone when asked if he was looking forward to cutting up a few soft zones this season. "But I would take the one-on-one scenario all the time. Once you catch (a pass) one-on-one then it's ingrained in (the defender's) head that you beat him one-on-one, so that's better.

"(Either way) you're ready to get smacked in the face."

Much will be expected of a healthy Ragone as a junior at Tight End U. And he's prepared himself accordingly by studying both his peers and elders.

"Coach Parmalee does a good job of instilling that we should watch film of other guys. And (Fasano and Carlson) are very productive; they're in the NFL, so watching them will only make me better.

"And ever since I was little I've watched other guys – whenever I have a chance I go on the Internet and watch other guys like (Oklahoma pre-season All America tight end) Jermaine Gresham and other guys just to see how they run their routes and how they break away and how they're able to be successful."

Ragone has noticed another change from last season at this time – a period in which the tight end position at Notre Dame featured the soon-to-be-suspended Will Yeatman and two true freshmen (Rudolph and the since-transferred Joseph Fauria).

Depth. Especially with the addition of walk-on transfer (and former Dayton Defensive End) Bobby Burger.

"It's natural for him too," said Ragone of Burger's pass catching acumen. "He works really hard; he has a motor like no other and a passion for the game like no other and he – along with (freshmen) Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic – it just makes the whole tight end situation very competitive. You know your job is not (set) and that you have to work every day to keep up.

"Burger is a great player and great athlete making a (smooth) transition."

Irish fans echo Ragone's sentiments and desire to see him on the field making plays this fall. And as his skill set suggests, he'll likely work his way into the mix (again) as a player on the Notre Dame special teams.

"Wherever they put me I'll play. They can put me at center I'll play center. They can put me at quarterback I don't care.

"There's competitive desire; people saying I'm ‘tough' and its not about being tough...I just like hitting people."

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