‘Tight End University’ still holding strong at Notre Dame despite lack of ‘star’

Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 10:18 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - They call it “Tight End University,” as Notre Dame has consistently produced NFL-ready players at the position.

Last year, it was Michael Mayer leaving a huge pair of cleats to fill after finishing his career as Notre Dame’s most statistically accomplished tight end ever.

And while this year’s group lacks a star like in years past, they’re starting to forge their identity under offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, and it looks like the title of “Tight End University” should be safe in South Bend.

Let’s be clear... it doesn’t exactly hurt that the new offensive coordinator is also the tight ends coach.

“There’s all eyes on us,” said sophomore tight end Holden Staes. “When we’re in the meeting rooms, people are asking us questions, ‘Hey, what’s practice going to be like? You know, GP’s in y’all’s room, he’s telling y’all the secrets.’ So, we kind of get more eyes on us from the guys in the locker room.”

Despite that, in Notre Dame’s season opener, nine different players caught passes. Not a single one of those players is listed as a tight end. That never happened last season.

But the very next week, when Sam Hartman led a two-minute drill to close the first half against Tennessee State, he went to his tight ends four times in six plays to march down the field for a score.

“We just decided we’re only throwing to tight ends… nah I’m just kidding. That’s what it felt like, right?” joked quarterback Sam Hartman. “Sometimes, it’s just what the defense is going to give you, but they put in a lot of the dirty work, and you like to see them get reciprocated for their actions.”

That drive was capped by Staes’ first-ever collegiate touchdown catch, which we now know was a sign of things to come. Staes exploded against NC State, reeling in four passes for over 100 yards and a pair of scores.

“He got his first touchdown two weeks ago and this week, he’s got two,” said head coach Marcus Freeman. “I said, ‘Just keep doubling it up.’ He’s doing a great job.”

“It’s just been a lot of work by Holden to trust the work he’s put in in the room and put himself in a position to where the ball kind of finds you,” Parker said. “And that’s what happened for him last game and certainly happy for him and for our offense for those things to happen.”

“Obviously, we had a lot of attention on our room last year just having Mike in the room, so this year obviously just taking a lot of pride in not having a drop-off,” Staes said. “Then, Coach Parker being the offensive coordinator puts a lot on our plate, but I think that’s just good for our room. Brings the best out of us, keeps us on our toes, and allows us to be the best version of ourselves.”

Staes and Mitchell Evans have five catches apiece so far. Davis Sherwood got across the goal line against NC State. This week, Coach Freeman said 6′6″ sophomore Eli Raridon is progressing towards a return from a knee injury as well, meaning the tight end room could soon get deeper.