- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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When talking about Tyler Eifert during a press conference Tuesday, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher referred to the Notre Dame junior as "Ee-fert." (For the uninitiated, it's pronounced "Eye-fert.")
Fisher at least recognized the player and his capabilities, which seems to be a step up from most opposing coaches this season.
Asked to fill the shoes of current Minnesota Viking Kyle Rudolph entering this season, Eifert has been more than capable. He's been so good, in fact, that he has already filled out paperwork for NFL evaluations and could declare for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. He's one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which will be given to the nation's top tight end tonight. And if there's any justice, he will be taking home the hardware.
Overshadowed running routes alongside likely first-round pick Michael Floyd, Eifert has snuck up on people this season, proving to be a valuable, reliable threat for quarterback Tommy Rees throughout 2011. Eifert's 57 receptions are the most by a Notre Dame tight end in one season, and the most this season among FBS tight ends. His 713 receiving yards and five touchdowns trail only Ken MacAfee's 797 and six (in 1977) for most by an Irish tight end in one season. He is also one of just five Irish tight ends to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau for his career.
Eifert started the final seven games last season after Rudolph went down with a right hamstring injury. This season, he has had three games with eight catches, including Week 4 at Pitt. Then, the Irish trailed 12-7 in the fourth quarter before Rees completed eight straight passes on their second-to-last drive. With Floyd locked down for the first time all season and Notre Dame on the verge of a third defeat in four games, Eifert emerged, making four catches during that final drive, including one for a 6-yard touchdown. He then caught the two-point conversion pass as well. The Irish won, 15-12.
The junior's biggest highlight, however, was a one-handed grab Nov. 19 against Boston College, which served as Notre Dame's Senior Day.
Right now, Irish fans can only hope that wasn't the last they've seen of Eifert up close.