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November 17, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Tyler Eifert is just the latest in a long line of Notre Dame tight ends to turn in standout careers.
Now the record book reflects more than that: Eifert is the most prolific of them after making six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown Saturday as the Irish dismantled Wake Forest, 38-0. Eifert passed Ken MacAfee for the most receptions by a tight end in program history.
Eifert has 130 catches for 1,710 yards in his career. He trails MacAfee by 49 yards, but leads him by two receptions
"I was really happy to have it but just happy that I don't have to think about it anymore," Eifert said. "You can say what you want and not think about it but you know right where you are. Coach (Brian) Kelly said, 'If you drop this we're not throwing to you the rest of the game,' so I made sure I caught it."
Soon enough Eifert will reflect on the journey that led him to being the most productive tight end in program history, something that might not have happened at all thanks to a back injury that threatened to table his career before it got off the ground.
Eifert dealt with back problems as a freshman until they required surgery. Two years later he made 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. That production vaulted him into the conversation as one of the best tight ends in the country. Nobody else at the position had more catches or yards.
Junior year ended as a finalist for the Mackey Award, awarded annually to the nation's top tight end. Around then the injury issues might have seemed a distant memory.
But even now that seems like the not-so-distant past.
"It doesn't feel like it was too long ago," Eifert said. "That was definitely a real thought that maybe I wouldn't (play). But that wasn't the case and I'm grateful for that."
Eifert declined an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and returned to Notre Dame to graduate while chasing down a national championship. Notre Dame has stayed in the conversation for a title while Eifert has become an increasingly popular target of quarterback Everett Golson.
Coming back to school cemented not only Eifert's spot in the record books but also his impact on the program that will soon send him off to the professional ranks.
"I think it's been a number of things in terms of what he's meant," Kelly said. "First of all, coming back. Not going into the draft, coming back to get his degree says so much about the Notre Dame football player and how important it is to have their degree. But also to play at the level that he's played.
"To break the kind of records with the great tight ends that have been here at Notre Dame is an amazing feat."
Eifert passed a laundry list of standouts on his way up the tight end charts. Contemporary Kyle Rudolph sits fifth on the receptions list and John Carlson is third. Both now play for the Minnesota Vikings. Anthony Fasano is fourth and now plays for the Miami Dolphins.
MacAfee was a three-time All American at Notre Dame before becoming a first round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1978 draft.
When the spring rolls around Eifert could be in a similar draft position and it will be because of how much development has taken place the last couple seasons.
"What we find so often in tight ends is they're one or the other," said Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe. "They're either big guys that are really good blockers or they're undersized guys that can run and catch the football. He's the perfect combination. He's a good blocker, he gives them stuff in the run game, but is very athletic and has great hands.
"A couple times (Saturday) we had really, really good coverage and he just went up and took the ball away from us. Great player and one of the few tight ends that I've seen that has the ability that he's got to not only block but go catch the football. Really, really fine receiver."
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