Notre Dame Football: Tyler Luatua

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A broader-looking DaVaris Daniels walked into the Loftus Sports Center on Tuesday night donning a bucket hat, whatever aches from his first summer workout with the rest of his Notre Dame teammates earlier in the day having given way to some lighthearted activity with the hundreds on hand for "Football 101."

"He’s obviously physically done a lot of work in the time away and he’s in very good shape and now it’s just a matter of getting his legs back," coach Brian Kelly said minutes earlier, before the annual charity event put on by him and his wife, Paqui.

[+] EnlargeDaniels
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsDaVaris Daniels has rejoined the Irish and looks to be in excellent condition.
"I think that’ll happen in very short order."

Kelly is happy to have Daniels back after his spring-semester suspension for what the receiver deemed as academic-related shortcomings. Daniels brings another dimension to an Irish offense looking to take off in Year 5 of the Kelly era, as the redshirt junior is the team's best vertical threat and the only wideout with any extensive game experience playing with quarterback Everett Golson.

Daniels has 80 career catches for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns. He spent this spring working out at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, Illinois.

Getting to spend more summer time with Daniels and the rest of the roster as part of relaxed NCAA rules this year, Kelly is eager to reinstall offensive and defensive packages, especially with 20 of his 21 incoming freshmen arriving this weekend and starting classes Monday.

"We'll get a chance to work with them next Wednesday, so they'll come in on Sunday, they'll get their physicals on Monday," Kelly said. "We should be able to clear them all -- except for Tyler Luatua, who will not be here because of graduation, until Wednesday -- so they should all be cleared for our OTA on Wednesday. We'll get our first look at it, and we've got kind of an idea of where we'll move those guys, and then I'll probably have a better sense by next week."

Another one of those newcomers, transfer cornerback Cody Riggs from Florida, is already on campus and working with the team, as are freshmen Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Scott Booker and his players take a lot of pride in the tradition of excellence their group has produced. But despite Tight End U facing more uncertainty at the position than in recent memory, Booker, the Notre Dame tight ends coach, does not find himself having to explain the legacy that this relatively young unit is trying to carry on.

[+] EnlargeBen Koyack
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesBen Koyack emerged as a receiving option last season, setting himself up for a breakout season as a junior.
"When they come here and they get recruited, it's easy to know about Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Anthony Fasano, Mark Bavaro back in the day," Booker said. "And obviously now recently, Tyler (Eifert), Kyle and Troy (Niklas). That's easy. That's what you do in recruiting, you do your homework.

"And when you do your homework as a tight end, coming out of high school, if you want to be successful, if you want to be on national TV every day and you want to catch a lot of balls and you want to have an opportunity to go to the league, I don't know what place is better. So you don't have to tell them where they're at."

Niklas' surprising early departure to the NFL put the Fighting Irish's tight ends on a learning curve this spring. Ben Koyack was forced into the No. 1 spot, with redshirt freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe behind him. Freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua will arrive this summer.

Koyack has drawn plenty of praise for the way he has carried himself among the youngsters since assuming his new role atop the depth chart.

"I think just the way he's coming every day prepared, ready to go," Booker said. "Watching the film before we watch the film as a unit. Talking to the guys, talking to Mike Heuerman, going out and eating with those guys. And just showing them how to be Notre Dame football players, and specifically Notre Dame tight ends, and the expectations that are put on us on a day-in, day-out basis. In all those facets he's been doing a better job continuing to grow."

Booker didn't want to compare Koyack to anyone before him, but the Oil City, Pa., native spoke with a renewed sense of confidence early in the spring, which can likely be attributed to his strong finish to the 2013 season. As a No. 2 tight end who was relegated to mostly blocking duties for much of last season, Koyack recorded 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, with all of those catches but a 19-yard scoring strike coming during the Irish's final six games.

Notre Dame is hoping that such improvement can have a trickle-down effect throughout the unit. Heuerman, who saw his redshirt all but confirmed early last season after having surgery to repair a hernia, is looking to add more weight, with the 225-pounder saying he sees himself adding 15 more pounds.

"It's all about making plays at the end of the day, and that's what I know I have to do," Heuerman said. "And now that Troy's gone, it kind of opens the door for someone to step in, so I'm excited to be able to be here now competing for that position and be here for summer and going to camp and (at the) end of the season still competing and making plays and doing what I do best, so I look forward to that."
Notre Dame is one of the most storied programs in college football, with a recruiting reach that spans nationwide. Since the beginning of the ESPN Recruiting Nation era in 2006, the Fighting Irish have experienced their fair share of ups and downs, but they have continued to make their presence known on the recruiting trail and brought some good talent to South Bend, Ind.

Below are Notre Dame’s top five recruits over this eight-year span, based on the prospect’s projection out of high school along with his actual college impact and production. Moving forward, the Fighting Irish could have some of their more recent recruiting targets compete for a spot on this list.

Position battles to watch: No. 4

February, 18, 2014
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Our series looking at the top position battles to watch this spring continues with a spot the Irish probably didn't think they'd need to worry about in 2014.

Tight end

[+] EnlargeBen Koyack
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesBen Koyack will step into a lead role in Notre Dame's offense with Troy Niklas leaving early.
To be sure, the fact that this is not a discussion about the No. 1 spot should calm a few nerves, if that's possible. Still, the surprising departure of Troy Niklas has accelerated the learning curve for what is a deep but relatively untested group of tight ends on the Notre Dame roster.

Ben Koyack emerged plenty last year in the No. 2 role, stepping up to catch 10 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns -- with all but one of those catches and scores coming during the season's final six games. The 6-foot-5, 261-pound junior took plenty of pressure off Niklas and the rest of Notre Dame's more prominent pass-catchers, and he was set to build off that performance going into his senior year in 2014.

Now? The pressure is on Koyack to perform as the top target at tight end, and it is up to someone behind him to develop as a blocker and become another reliable receiving option for the Irish offense. Fortunately for Notre Dame, there are plenty of bodies at that position for a school that can boast the moniker Tight End U., and competition this spring will be a nice starting point to see who emerges in the fall.

Alex Welch is gone, choosing to play his final season at Miami (Ohio), but Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman should both have benefited from redshirt campaigns last fall as freshmen, allowing them to develop in the weight room and be more physically ready for the pounding they are sure to take at the position. Smythe was listed last year at 6-4 1/2, 235 pounds. Heuerman was at 6-3 1/2, 225, and he also had the added benefit of enrolling last spring.

It doesn't hurt that the Irish added a pair of 2014 ESPN 300 prospects in Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar, but they won't be on campus until fall practice. For now, it is up to Smythe and Heuerman to gain separation and prove that they are viable options if and when their numbers are called.
Brian Kelly spoke with reporters on national signing day for more than an hour. Here's a quick look at his thoughts on each of the 23 additions to the Irish roster:

Justin Brent (Speedway, Ind./Speedway): "When I got a chance to see him work out this morning, the first thing that stood out to me is that he does not look like a freshman. He had his shirt off this morning and he was running around, and he looks like a senior."

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame defensive end commit Andrew Trumbetti, the No. 2-ranked prospect in the state of New Jersey, shows off his Under Armour gear.
Courtesy of IntersportDE Andrew Trumbetti's athleticism -- he returned kicks in high school -- is just one of the things that impressed the Irish.
Andrew Trumbetti (Demarest, N.J./Northern Valley Region): "The thing that really put him over the top for us is when we were watching his film, he was returning kickoffs in high school, and not many times do you see a defensive lineman returning kickoffs."

Alex Bars (Nashville/Montgomery Bell Academy): "Dad played here, it's an easy leap; not so much. Sometimes you've got to work harder to get that young man to come to Notre Dame because he wants to go off on his own sometimes."

Grant Blankenship (The Colony, Texas/The Colony): "We got three players from Texas, all of them offered by the University of Texas. I don't know if that happens very often."

Jonathan Bonner (Chesterfield, Mo./Parkway Central): "When you talk about the right fit to Notre Dame, Jonathan possessed all of the right characteristics, academics, socially, and then as a football player."

Jimmy Byrne (Cleveland/Saint Ignatius): "Physical, moves his feet well, and again, I think what you'll see with all of our offensive linemen, they all can get out and move their feet. They all have the ability to run block, pass pro."

Daniel Cage (Cincinnati/Winton Woods):
"This guy is a ferocious player. He's an inside player, and we love the way he got off the ball. His strength, lower body strength, he's a guy that's going to play the shade, he can play the nose."

Jay Hayes (Brooklyn, N.Y./Poly Prep Country Day): "One of his quotes when I was with him was, ‘Coach, some of these guys don't get it. They don't really understand why you would come to Notre Dame.’ And he's such a thoughtful kid at his age that he understands why he would come to Notre Dame for all the right reasons, getting a degree and opening up doors for him for the rest of his life."

Kolin Hill (Schertz, Texas/Samuel Clemens): "A right fit for Notre Dame, character, high energy, yes, sir, no, sir, had all those things that we really liked. He was engaging. Really impressed our admissions people."

Corey Holmes (Fort Lauderdale, Fl./Saint Thomas Aquinas): "He has a lot of the same feelings in terms of where TJ Jones developed, but he's 6-2. This kid is longer. He's a bigger kid than TJ. But he's got a lot of those mannerisms and characteristics. "

DeShone Kizer (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic): "He's going to be able to do the multidimensional things that we love. Now we've got three quarterbacks on campus that all do the same things."

[+] EnlargeTyler Luatua
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTE Tyler Luatua made an impression on and off the field with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada): "People said, ‘Well, he didn't talk enough. He wasn't engaging enough. I didn't hear enough from him.’ I said, ‘Well, you just don't know him well enough because when you get to know Tyler Luatua, he's just like Justin Utupo; you can't shut him up.’"

Greer Martini (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest School): "His leadership skills, his ability to recognize and really -- you have to have leaders. He's a really good player, and he's a really good leader, and he'll be a very good linebacker for us here at Notre Dame and will also be a guy that makes others around him better."

Peter Mokwuah (Staten Island, N.Y./St. Joseph-By-The-Sea): "We've had a great Nigerian connection here, Romeo Okwara, Prince Shembo, just to name a few, and then Pete was able to connect Catholic institution, goes to a Catholic school. That profile fit very well for us."

Nyles Morgan (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee): "Every time I'm with him, he just wants to talk about football, and he's a good student, and his mom and dad want him to just talk about academics, and he's a good student and he recognizes the value of getting a degree at Notre Dame."

Sam Mustipher (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel): "All these guys can be big and strong and physical, but if they can't move their feet, if they can't bend, if they can't get out of their stance and do a good job and moving and bending, then we're moving on, and I think -- I sound like a broken record with the offensive line, but those are the characteristics."

Quenton Nelson (Red Bank, N.J./Red Bank Catholic): "He's going to come after you play after play after play. And again, his desire to want to be great is what always stood out about Quenton is that he's always pushing himself. Every time we talk to him he's coming back from something."

Tyler Newsome (Carrollton, Ga./Carrollton): "He was such an intriguing young man in all the kids that we saw that when we saw him punting, there was nobody that was even close to with the potential upside that he has. "

Nile Sykes (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic): "We want people that want to be part of Notre Dame and be part of our family, and to bring Nile and his family in, he's a versatile player. He can play inside, he can play outside."

Drue Tranquill (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll): "People have asked does he play safety, does he play running back? I don't know where he plays, but he's going to play somewhere here at Notre Dame because he's a darned good football player."

Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne): "This is draft day, you're getting a No. 1 draft pick. This kid is an exceptional football player. We think we got one of the best corners around. Long, athletic, can really do a lot of things for us."

Nic Weishar (Chicago, Ill./Marist): "He's the finest pass catching tight end that we saw. You could argue about who it is, but we think he is. We love his ball skills, we love his ability to use his body to control defenders, has a knack of catching the football in the air and taking it away from people. "

Jhonny Williams (Berrien Springs, Mich./Berrien Springs): "There's no ceiling on Jhonny Williams' future. He's an engaging young man. He just recognizes that he's got a great opportunity at Notre Dame, and we're excited to provide him that opportunity."
The biggest surprise of the day was an early one, and a considerably positive one for Notre Dame, as Winton Woods (Ohio) High four-star defensive lineman Daniel Cage faxed in his national letter of intent to the Irish. Cage adds to a rather large haul across the defensive line for the Irish, who have announced 22 signatures so far, including nine ESPN 300 prospects (and including both of their January enrollees, Andrew Trumbetti and Justin Brent).

The other verbal commit? Probably not worth getting stressed over, as the biggest recruit of them all, Nyles Morgan, tweeted that he signed.

Coach Brian Kelly meets the media at noon ET, so we will have more then.

(* denotes ESPN 300 prospect)
Still waiting on …
  • Four-star ILB Nyles Morgan (Crete, Ill./Crete Monee)*

Manziel or Winston? Prospects weigh in

December, 29, 2013
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- There are many topics of conversation among prospects playing in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. One of them centers around the past two Heisman Trophy winners.

On Saturday, upon checking in for the prestigious game, a number of prospects weighed in on a hot topic involving Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.

If they had to choose between the two, who would the players take as their college quarterback? Here are their responses:

[+] EnlargeMarlon Humphrey
Courtesy of IntersportNo. 9 overall prospect Marlon Humphrey likes how Johnny Manziel makes others around him better.
Five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Al./Hoover High): Ah man, I think I’m going to have to go with Johnny Manziel. I just feel like he kind of made a team out of nothing. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but he doesn’t have the scrambling skills that Manziel has. This year, you could tell that his teams defense wasn’t that good, the players around him weren’t as good, but he kept making his team better. He’s has the fight in him I would want on my team.

Florida commit and No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central High): I would say Jameis Winston. He’s really a pure quarterback, and I think he sets up things more for a running back than Johnny Manziel does.

Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Al./Oxford High): I would probably pick Jameis Winston. The reason behind that is because he is more of a leader for a young quarterback, and I think he can make his team a more mature team. I really think he would be a great quarterback to play with.

Florida wide receiver commit and No. 28 Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior High): Whew, I don’t know. I think Jameis Winston. I look at how both of them played as a freshman, and I like how Jameis Winston leads his team. He is also more pro-ready than Manziel.

Texas defensive end commit and No. 78-overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/William J. Brennan High): I guess I would say Johnny Manziel. I like how he plays with his swagger and confidence the most, so I would probably say him.

Notre Dame commit and No. 76-ranked Tyler Luatua (la Mirada, Calif./La Mirada High): I would take Manziel just because of the way he plays. If he doesn’t have a wide receiver open, he can make plays himself. He can get the ball to his players if and when he wants to, but can also do it on his own when he needs to.

No. 38 overall John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Polytechnic High School): That’s a hard one. As of right now, I would go with Jameis Winston. Overall, he’s a great player. I think Winston has an awesome football IQ. Johnny had his year too, but I think Winston is just a great player. Outstanding.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner: Jameis Winston, man. I feel comfortable with Jameis Winston as my quarterback because he’s smart and accurate. Johnny is accurate too, but Johnny is Johnny. How he runs around, people may get nervous. I would just feel more comfortable with Jameis as my quarterback.

No. 22 overall Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville High): That’s a hard one right there. Let me think ... maybe Johnny Manziel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white boy get down like that. It would have to be Johnny Manziel.

Penn State wide receiver commit Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown High): I think Jameis Winston. I think overall he’s a better passer. I want a quarterback back there that can get me the ball on a consistent basis, but Johnny Manziel is a great player, too. I’m actually a big fan of both of them.

Five-star and Virginia defensive tackle commit Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, VA
Oscar Frommel Smith High)
: Dang, that’s a good question, man. I would go with Jameis Winston. His leadership qualities, coming in as a freshman and doing the things he is doing is definitely uncommon. It just foreshadows what he is going to do in the future, too. He’s already established a great foundation for himself, and I would definitely take him in the future.

Maryland commit Will Ulmer (Washington, D.C./Saint John’s High): I’m going with Johnny Manziel. I think he’s more dynamic, and more of a game-changer. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but you have to think about all the dudes he has around him at FSU -- all the great receivers and good running backs. I would go with Manziel because if you put him on the Florida State team, or a stacked team like that, it would be a scary sight.
ORLANDO -- Let the season of indecision begin.

Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada), the No. 1-rated tight end nationally who committed to Notre Dame on Dec. 16, said he’s interested in looking more closely at hometown USC.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Ohio State moves up three spots in the RecruitingNation Class Rankings after the addition of five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan, but the Buckeyes aren’t done in the South yet; Notre Dame also moves into the top 10 after landing the nation’s No. 1 tight end; and the NJCAA All-America team features a number of well-known recruits.

Ohio State makes Southern push
Shortly after Ohio State landed five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), I asked on Twitter if it’s time to stop doubting Buckeye coach Urban Meyer’s recruiting efforts. Of course, fans from other schools all over the country jumped in and said the jury is still out (and several other things that aren’t safe for print). But even then the biggest Meyer critics might have to change their minds if he is able to also land No. 4 receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach, Fla./Dwyer) in the next couple of days. The Buckeyes currently have the nation’s No. 8 class and have some major momentum heading into the final push.

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ESPN 300 TE Luatua picks Notre Dame

December, 16, 2013
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With four tight ends making significant contributions to NFL rosters, Notre Dame is doing everything it can to chase down Stanford as the present day Tight End U.

The Fighting Irish took another step toward that goal on Monday, grabbing a commitment from ESPN 300 tight end Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada).

[+] EnlargeTyler Luatua
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTyler Luatua, the No. 1 tight end in the ESPN 300, is a big commitment for Notre Dame.
Luatua, the nation's No. 76 overall prospect and No. 1 recruit at his position, whittled his choices down to Alabama and Notre Dame, before announcing for the Fighting Irish on Twitter on Monday morning.

Early on in his recruitment, Luatua was split between Alabama -- the school where his older brother, Isaac, attends and plays football -- and USC -- the hometown favorite. But even before the Trojans faded in their recruitment of Luatua, Notre Dame made a significant impression and grabbed virtually all of his attention. He took an official visit to see the Fighting Irish beat the Trojans in mid-October, and though he also attended Alabama's big recruiting weekend in early November, it wasn't enough to unseat Notre Dame, which built a solid relationship with the 6-foot-3, 243-pound tight end and had been his leader for a significant amount of time.

Luatua's commitment doesn't only give Notre Dame a big-time player at a position in which they continue to build strength, it's also another outstanding California prospect making their way to South Bend, Ind. In the 2013 class, Notre Dame was able to swoop in and grab four-star safety Max Redfield away from several Pac-12 programs. In 2014, Luatua joins four-star defensive tackle Matt Dickerson (San Mateo, Calif./Junipero Serra), who held offers from Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington.

He joins a tight end group that is getting a significant influx of talent. Four-star tight end Nic Weishar (Chicago/Marist) is part of the 2014 class, and four-stars Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe signed with Notre Dame in the 2013 class.

Luatua is commitment No. 23 for Notre Dame. He is the eighth ESPN 300 prospect and the 15th four-star commitment. He is also the No. 2 prospect in the class, behind only offensive tackle Alex Bars (Nashville, Tenn./Montgomery Bell Academy), who is ranked No. 51.
video Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada), the No. 76 player in the ESPN 300, committed to Notre Dame on Monday morning, announcing his decision on Twitter. As the nation's No. 1 tight end, Luatua should have a big-time impact on the offense in South Bend.

How will Luatua fit in Brian Kelly's system? Let's break it down:


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Notre Dame hosted Oklahoma in South Bend on Saturday, which meant it was a big opportunity to impress visiting prospects. That matchup was anticipated, and a good number of Notre Dame commits and targets were on hand.

Even prospects who weren’t in South Bend took notice of the game as they watched on television. Here are some tweets, photos and reactions from commits, targets and visiting prospects.


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Where does No. 1 TE Luatua land? 

September, 19, 2013
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Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Marida) is starting to narrow down his choices and has three official visits lined up so far.

He’s not one to brag or really go that much in depth about his recruiting, but the fact he has Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State already scheduled shows just how high the interest is in those schools.

While there are two more officials to set up, the Crimson Tide, Fighting Irish and Buckeyes are ready to roll out the red carpet for the ESPN 300 senior -- he’s ranked 68th overall and is the No. 1 tight end at the H-position.

Here is a look at all three schools and why each makes sense for the 6-foot-3, 243-pound Luatua:


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Irish recruiting roundup

December, 5, 2012
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Here's what's happening in the world of Notre Dame recruiting ...

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ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
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