Ben Koyack didn’t have a breakout season last fall as much as he had a few breakout games.
It’s why the senior, the only player at his position to have actually seen the field, is cautious about any inclusion into the program’s fraternity of NFL tight end talent. The Irish have produced four second-round picks (Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Troy Niklas and Kyle Rudolph) over the past decade, plus a first rounder in Tyler Eifert.
For Koyack to join that group he needs performances like Pittsburgh and Arizona State to become more rule than exception. He finished last season with just 10 catches for 173 yards and an efficient three touchdowns. He wasn’t even targeted until his 19-yard touchdown against Arizona State in October.
That’s a long way from the junior seasons of that NFL group, which averaged 31.4 catches for 410 yards during their third years. Rudolph and Niklas were good enough to bolt Notre Dame as juniors. Eifert debated it before returning.
“In all honesty I’m not even focused on that, it’s too far in the future for me,” Koyack said. “I worry about today. I’ve got to go to the film room, make corrections. I’m worried about the next practice.”
For good reason.
Not only does Koyack look at his own game as incomplete, he’s been tasked with bringing along Notre Dame’s younger talent too. Durham Smythe drew raves from head coach Brian Kelly before the start of camp. Freshman Tyler Luatua has surprised with his physical development. Nic Weishar and Mike Heuerman, sidelined due to sports hernia surgery, round out the depth chart.
Koyack invited that group to his house over the summer to talk football. He led the position during 7-on-7 work with the quarterbacks. Koyack wanted to make sure the team’s younger tight ends got answers and knew where to go with questions.
“Sometimes it’s easier to learn in a more relaxed environment,” Koyack said. “I tried to be a leader and show them by example. I had them over to my house a couple times, showed them the weight room, didn’t really let them ever take anything off and got them integrated with us early.”
Koyack echoed Kelly’s take on Smythe.
“Durham had a great work ethic,” Koyack said. “He came every single day, didn’t take any days off. He busted his butt. Me and him were lifting a lot together and running together. He never took anything off and he did great.”
NFL potential aside, Notre Dame needs Koyack to take a major step forward during his final season. He’s unlikely to come off the field, something that rarely happened late last season when the Irish evolved into a two tight end offense.
Based on early observations of fall camp, Koyack will be a fixture in the offense all fall.
“He’s an important piece to what we wanna do,” Kelly said. “He possesses the ability to catch the football. We saw his ability later in the season to do that when he got his opportunities. And then he can block. He did a great job this summer as a leader too. He’s very important to what we do offensively.”