Brian Kelly approached Troy Niklas on the team flight to the Pinstripe Bowl, advising the junior tight end that he needed to return for his senior year. Notre Dame's head coach saw a future first round pick who'd just received a draft grade between the second and fourth rounds.
Turns out that was enough for Niklas to cut his college career a season short.
On Thursday night father Don Niklas told Irish Illustrated that his son will declare for the NFL draft, becoming the third junior to leave the Notre Dame program in the past week. Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III had already declared their intentions to take their games to the NFL next season.
"I have made the very difficult decision to pursue my childhood dream and will enter the 2014 NFL Draft," Niklas said in a statement. "I have thoroughly enjoyed my Notre Dame experience and want to thank the University, coach Kelly, my teammates, the football staff, administration, and my teachers, as well as all of my friends and the entire Notre Dame community for providing this Southern California native with the experience of a lifetime. While I will miss being part of the team next year, I will always be part of the Notre Dame family and look forward to returning to earn my degree from the greatest university in the country. Go Irish."
Niklas said he's selected Athletes First as his agency and will remain in California to train in preparation for the draft. He said he hadn't received an NFL Combine invite yet but expects to eventually.
"He feels that physically he was ready and physically your time is limited as a football player," Don Niklas said. "The mental side of it, he feels he's ready for that as well.
"The hardest choice was leaving his friends at Notre Dame."
The Niklas departure means Notre Dame will be down another starter and potential Mackey Award candidate, on top of evaporating the program's recent run under Kelly of players staying all four years.
With Alex Welch already off to Miami of Ohio for his fifth year, Notre Dame is left with Ben Koyack, Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman on the depth chart in addition to incoming prospects Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar.
Notre Dame will already be without suspended DaVaris Daniels during spring practice as the offense looks to rebuild with Everett Golson at quarterback and a TBD offensive coordinator.
Upon the tight end's arrival home in California after the bowl game, Don Niklas said his son planned to return to Notre Dame this spring. Then the family began breaking down the pros and cons of declaring for the draft, similarly to how they decided between Notre Dame and USC at the end of the recruiting process.
Don Niklas said the change of heart for Niklas was the information gathered by breaking down the salary structure of the NFL and consulting with contacts with experience at the next level including Tyler Eifert and Bill Rees, the father of former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees.
"Money wasn't the focal point, but it was certainly a point," Don Niklas said. "He got a consensus grade of being as high as a second round pick and typically teams are conservative.
"There are very few tight ends who have gone in the draft in the Top 10 and the Top 10 is where the money is. If you take the Top 10 out of the salary calculation, then going 21st in the draft isn't terribly different than going in the second round at No. 34. We crunched the numbers."
Don Niklas said Troy plans to finish his degree in finance.
"It's one of those things where he wasn't sure when he left school what he wanted to do," Don Niklas said. "He got home after the bowl game and was looking forward to going back and finishing. As information came to light, he got a better understanding of process what's involved. That's how it changed."