Notre Dame will get at least one more season out of Tyler Eifert. The All-American tight end will return to the Irish after wrestling with his decision to declare early for the NFL draft.
The junior informed Notre Dame's coaching staff on Friday of his decision after an in-home visit from new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin on Thursday. Eifert has spent the week at home in Fort Wayne with teammates Dan Fox, Zack Martin, Tommy Rees and Chris Watt all making the trip to visit the tight end.
"This was a tough decision for me, but it came down to where do I want to be most next year," Eifert said in a statement. "I have some great friends on the football team and at Notre Dame and I'm excited about the direction coach (Brian) Kelly has us going. Ultimately, the entire Notre Dame experience, including the great relationships I have with my teammates and coaches, told me Notre Dame is where I belong."
Eifert returns with two years of eligibility remaining after the most prolific season for his position in school history. He finished with 63 receptions for 803 yards, both single-season school records for an Irish tight end.
Eifert's 90 career catches tie Kyle Rudolph, who left the program a year early last off-season, for fourth all-time among Notre Dame tight ends. The product of Bishop Dwenger is 38 catches short of three-time All-American Ken MacAfee's school record for the position.
Eifert filed NFL paperwork after the regular season and received a third round grade from the league's underclassman advisory panel. That's the same grade Michael Floyd received last year before returning to Notre Dame for his senior year. Floyd now projects as a first round pick.
Without Eifert, the Irish figured to return three scholarship tight ends in freshman Ben Koyack, sophomore Alex Welch and junior Jake Golic, who is recovering from season-ending back surgery. Koyack and Welch combined for two catches for 13 yards this season. Golic has yet to post a reception in his college career.
Technically, Mike Ragone could return for a sixth season following the second season-ending knee injury of his career, suffered against Michigan. However, it is not expected that Ragone will return with Eifert back on the roster. The potential sixth-year senior did have interest in coming back to Notre Dame.
But with an All-American atop the depth chart, Notre Dame's tight end talent should be strong again next season. Eifert's return, paired with All-American linebacker Manti Te'o, gives the Irish an infusion of NFL talent for a program that figures to be in transition.
"I'm obviously very happy that Tyler will be part of our team next year," Kelly said. "It's always a good thing when an All-American decides he wants to spend another year in your program. Tyler is an exciting, athletic tight end who is an essential part of our offense. I'm happy he has decided to come back to finish his degree and help us to secure a championship season."