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October 18, 2013

Niklas recalls recruiting rivalry

Troy Niklas has a history with USC.

During the recruiting process Niklas, a four-star prospect from Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif., cut his choices to the Irish and Trojans after visiting both on consecutive weekends before National Signing Day.

He had all of about a day after returning from South Bend on an official visit to sort through his options and come to a decision. It proved a fairly intense 24 hours for the Niklas family.

"Kinda one of those forks in the road that you encounter in life I guess," Niklas said.

Then there is this: Months before signing with Notre Dame a then-uncommitted Niklas led nationally ranked Servite into a rivalry game with Mater Dei, quarterbacked by eventual USC signee Max Wittek.

Servite won 21-14 in front of more than 15,000 fans at Angel Stadium. Niklas intercepted Wittek late in the first quarter and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.

"It was pretty awesome," he said. "Everyone was running. It was electric. The entire place just lit up, it was awesome."

Come Saturday night Niklas will again have an opportunity to light up a stadium as he lines up at tight end for Notre Dame.

Well removed from playing outside linebacker as a freshman, Niklas has become a reliable target for quarterback Tommy Rees through six games. He's started every contest, making 14 catches for 250 yards and four touchdowns.

"I think now he's starting to use his athletic ability," said head coach Brian Kelly. "He's so much more comfortable with the position himself. And once you're more comfortable with the position, your athletic ability starts to show itself. I think that's what we're starting to see a glimpse of."

Had things gone differently for Niklas late in recruiting he could be standing on the other sideline Saturday, perhaps playing another position.
USC pitched the idea of playing defensive end through lead recruiter Ed Orgeron, now the interim head coach in place of Lane Kiffin. But Notre Dame won out after a visit in the dead of a Midwest winter.

"I just saw a really tight-knit community," Niklas said. "Really passionate coaches. A top-notch education and a team that can compete for a national championship. As you could tell last year, although we didn't win, we made it there. I think with the things I was looking for, Notre Dame has hit all of those."

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