Now or Never ’14: Ben Koyack

Ben Koyack - Notre Dame TE
Ben Koyack became a viable red-zone weapon in 2013. Can he become a weapon all over the field in 2014? (Photo: Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

Our series of Now or Never players for Notre Dame in 2014 charges forward today by staying on the offensive side of the ball where he look at a third weapon for Everett Golson and the Notre Dame passing attack – senior tight end Ben Koyack.

Koyack actually made our list last year as well, but Troy Nikas’s early departure for the NFL Draft gave Koyack one final chance to become the next in line at Tight End U.

Ben Koyack came to Notre Dame as an Under Armour All-American out of talent-rich Pennsylvania. (Photo - Icon SMI)
Ben Koyack came to Notre Dame as an Under Armour All-American out of talent-rich Pennsylvania. (Photo – Icon SMI)

Pedigree 

Notre Dame fans felt they were well on their way to continuing the Fighting Irish’s reputation as Tight End U upon the signing of Ben Koyack of Oil City, PA, and the feeling was warranted.  The Pennsylvania prep standout was arguably the best high school football player in the Keystone State and earned accolades accordingly.  The Pittsburgh Post Report tabbed Koyack as the #1 player in the State due to his prolific career, hauling in 152 receptions for 2,591 yards.  Given his production and frame – listed at 6’5” and running the forty-yard dash in reportedly 4.59 seconds – it was no surprise the nation’s college football powers offered scholarships, such as LSU, Ohio State and USC.

The University of Notre Dame landed an elite high school tight end when Ben Koyack pledged to play his Saturdays in South Bend.

Reason for Optimism

Heading into the 2013 football season, an opportunity finally materialized for then-junior Ben Koyack.  The departure of Tyler Eifert in the 1st round of the NFL Draft to the Cincinnati Bengals, alongside fellow tight end Alex Welch struggling to recover from a torn ACL, left an opening for the second tight end position behind eventual 2nd round NFL Draft selection, Troy Niklas.  Koyack seized the opportunity and capitalized, earning a spot as a trusted option.

While Koyack’s reception total for the 2013 campaign is not something that would catch the eye, the numbers simply cannot reflect how crucial several of his catches were during the season.

Ben Koyack - Notre Dame TE
Ben Koyack (18) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in front of Navy Midshipmen cornerback Brandon Clements (1) and cornerback Parrish Gaines (2) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

When Notre Dame took on Arizona State in Dallas last fall, head coach Brian Kelly’s squad possessed a 3-2 record and were one loss away from a mid-season tailspin.  Matters were made much worse when the Fighting Irish sputtered out of the gate, trailing 6-0 to the Sun Devils as halftime approached, boasting only a missed field goal and two punts as offensive production.   The Irish finally wakened from their slumber, however, when Tommy Rees connected with Ben Koyack for a 19-yard touchdown pass, giving Notre Dame the lead and marking Koyack’s first career touchdown for the Fighting Irish.

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Koyack’s clutch performances continued to accumulate as his confidence grew.  If the former Pennsylvania high school star can carry that momentum into 2014, Notre Dame may have yet another productive season at the tight end position.

Reason for Doubt

As great as it was to see the former blue-chip prospect begin to tap into his vast potential in 2013, numbers cannot be completely argued away.  Koyack only managed 10 receptions for 171 yards and three touchdowns on the year, hardly putting together the kind of season that should inspire confidence.  To date, as Koyack enters his final season of eligibility, he boasts 14 career receptions.

Though Koyack is now a media and fan favorite to emerge in 2014 – with one NFL Draft analyst even telling the South Bend Tribune that with a strong senior season Koyack could become a high-end third round draft selection – caution should be urged.  While Koyack has had to try to emerge from the shadows of a host of NFL talent at the tight end position, he has never truly made a move since being on Notre Dame’s roster, even allowing Troy Niklas, a converted linebacker – though an extremely talented one – to surpass him on the depth chart.

This is the first time in Koyack’s career that he will be leaned on as the experienced, go-to tight end wearing a blue and gold uniform.  Making a few clutch catches in 2013 represented a nice first step, but is Koyack truly ready to handle the pressure of being “the guy” at a place known for producing elite, NFL tight ends?

2014 Outlook

Will Koyack continue his progression and truly emerge at tight end in 2014?  In reality, it may not matter.  With the return of Everett Golson, the depth and talent at the wide receiver position and a running back trio on the verge of breakout status, Koyack will not be asked to carry the offensive load in the same manner as Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert.  What will likely be asked of Koyack is consistency in production while the rest of the offense finally comes into its own, a challenge he should be able to manage.

Ben Koyack will likely never achieve the kind of success his predecessors experienced, but his ability to impact Tight End U is high.  Koyack has shown leadership potential, a trait that was on full display when the senior-to-be was present at the Irish Invasion camp offering tips and instruction to the next generation of tight ends.  Koyack’s wisdom and leadership will go a long way toward developing Notre Dame’s stable of young and gifted tight ends in sophomores Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman, as well as incoming freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua.

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The opportunity for Ben Koyack to leave his impact in South Bend has never been greater.  It’s now or never for Koyack in 2014.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com

 

 

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28 Comments

  1. Bruce Johnson, I hardly know where to begin!

    “If you’re in the game for 20 minutes and you do not know who the patsy is, then YOU are the patsy!” Warren Buffett

    Still believing preseason polls, eh? Raise your hand, you’re the patsy.

    One more time, what did this or any of your other favoritepollsforgulliblechumpswhoadmirethemediamorethanfootball have the Irish rated before 2012 or for that matter, before 2013?.

    Second, Inspector Clouseau, are you a dropout from the Moldavian intelligence agency? Is your technique here that Bruce Johnson is a disguise for “bj” or that “bj” is the disguise for “Bruce Johnson”
    Either way, mini-Clouseau your disguise does not fool us.

    Third, even you were able to transcend your previous clever malapropisms.
    “It’s a long way to mediocrity.” While I am generally loath to argue with someone with such foreknowledge and experience with mediocrity. It it’s a long way to mediocrity then we must still reside in the realm of excellence, as we actually, just 18 months ago, had bested all other D-1 contenders for the right to line up against Alabama for the National Championship.

    In one way, I agree that it is a “long way to mediocrity” Frankly, I can’t even see you from here.

  2. Sorry, Jack, not to go all Lloyd Bentsen on you, but I recall quite a few of your posts. I’ve seen bj’s work, and you, Jack, are no bj!

    Your three are fine.

    With one asterisk. I firmly believe that McGlinchey, especially since he will be the first beneficiary of this summer coaching shtick, will hold on to the right tackle job. Now, as a redshirt frosh, it would be feasible to put him in the questionable category, or bottom three, as I did in my Spring guesstimation of the ranking the 11 offensive players.

    And a healthy skepticism toward Golson is much more than reasonable. I believe we may have sparred on Golson before, as I posited some numbers showing that he improved in the second half of 2012, to which averral you demurred because the second half, to your view, contained weaker opponents.

    It would be nice if this board could migrate to serious discussion of football issues, some agreement, some disagreement, but always
    agreeing to disagree agreeably.

    For Burgundy, the Mackey Watch list has a quota, greatness doesn’t. As far as agreeing with the Bleacher Report, I am embarrassed. It was like the time I once made a comment to a coworker about how, with specificity, the Knicks should clean up post-Isaiah Thomas. He responded that
    my response matched Stevie Smith’s. I was horrified. Projective vomiting ensued.

    1. I’m glad you notified us of this. Now I wont need to waste a single moment watching any CFB games this year. Whew, that was a close one!

      1. I’ve read where ND has one of, if not the most difficult schedule in college this season. With that degree of difficulty and with all their youth, their final record will be less of an indicator of their quality than at any point in their recent history.

        I’ll be watching for how well they’re playing in November more than how many they win in October. Having said that, BK has to find a way to beat Michigan this season to shut them up.

  3. Koyack is interesting, and he was forced to play as a frosh without the benefit of the redshirt season that Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman enjoyed in 2014.

    He was neither big nor confident early, but his confidence emerged somewhat in Spring 2013 and by October he was very good. Troy Niklas was a converted linebacker like Knute Rockne was a converted chemist.

    Niklas was indeed Hercules, and his NFL career will show that.
    But from ASU on Koyack was very good, and while not at the level of Rudolph Eifert and Niklas he is EASILY one of the top 10 TES in the country. The most daunting TE in the country, who’s still finding his way around is OJ Howard at Bama . Remember, you heard it here first.

    But Koyack will be very good for us at tight end, and don’t sleep on
    Durham Smythe his backup.

    This TE debate is kind of nice. It is a symbol of things to come, such as at CB, S, OL and WR, that we are so spoiled by the recent spate of superstars like Rudolph, Eifert and Niklas that we regards a very good player like Koyack as disappointing.

    One other thing: the most common error of most posters on this and all sites is that they freeze frame a player at their last game, sort of a snapshot. But it is a moving picture, dynamic, organic, a living thing.

    Guys like Spond, TJ Jones, Riddick and Mota showed this. All players improve and get better at the college level, but Kelly’s program takes a back seat to no one at player development. If Koyack can take the improvement increment (Alpha) he made from 2012 to 2013 and match that from 2013 to 2014 we will all be pleasantly surprised.

    Not to go all Samuel Jackson, but I have to ask you again:

    “Who are the weakest three links on the offensive starting lineup?” Really, answer it. How does that make you feel?

    1. OJ Howard is on the Mackey watch list and bleacher report lists him as potentially the best TE in the country so you are hardly the first to say it.

      To quote Sam Jackson. “You know me. It’s my duty to protect that booty.”

      1. Stay classy, Burgundy.

        And to answer duranko’s question and recycle another trademark reply:

        scoring 31

        and still the Irish aren’t done

        will be much more fun

    2. To reply to your three weakest links on offense:

      1. Slot receiver both Prosise and Carlisle haven’t proven anything in games. I do believe they will develop but right now weakest link.

      2. Connor Hanratty has played sparingly and will need to step up as a starter

      3. Golson: not sold until he is the reason the team wins and not a great defense. He played well against Alabama, but the spring game really made me think.

      Now before Duranko starts putting me in BJ’s category I just wanted to point out areas that are a concern on offense. I do believe BK will coach these guys up, but if he doesn’t the season could be 8-4 again which will spell one more season and you are fired.

      1. BK will leave on his own accord long before ND cans him.
        The rest of your post seems rationale though.

      2. BK’s win totals through four years match those of Holtz after four years. We’ve FINALLY learned the value of hiring a coach with extensive experience as a college head coach prior to taking the ND job.

        They’ll fire him about the time they paint the dome white.

        He’s here to stay for as long as he wants…which I hope is a long time.

  4. Tight ends are vital to the style of offense that BK is running…they are always the “unexpected” open field receiver in the run/pass option.

    I expect Koyack will have much better numbers than he did last year…I don’t think he will hit Tyler’s numbers but if he does it will mean our offense is rolling…

  5. I dont disagree with you as far as how good the running game could be this year im just a little concerned about the depth at the position not just in 2014 but 2015 and 2016 as well. Losing Hood to North Carolina was not only a big loss but BK wasnt able to bring in another RB recruit to replace Hood. I guess I should be happy that we have like 35 WRs.

  6. Koyack struggled his first two years at Notre Dame, and unlike the folks like Durham Smythe and Heuerman, was not able to enjoy a redshirt year of acclimatization. But he found his confidence, a tad in the Spring of 2013 and by October he was a confident, VERY effective player. Of course, he played in the shadow of Hercules, the gifted Troy Niklas. While he is not at the level of Rudolph, Eifert and Niklas, he is CERTAINLY one of the ten best TE’s in the country. (A word to those who watch football when the irish are not playing. Keep an eye on OJ Howard at Alabama, he may the most gifted tight end of the decade.)

    If there is one common error made by most posters on this and other sites, it is that they freeze frame players. It is never a snapshot, always a motion picture, moving, dynamic, organic. Players are naturally maturing and improving, and at Notre Dame the rate of player improvement and development is unsurpassed in America.

    Players are getting better all the time, and we will certainly see this in 2014 with Koyack. Don’t sleep on Smythe as the second TE either.

    1. Maybe im missing something but I know we have three really solid RBs in Bryant, Folston, and Mcdaniel but is there any depth at the RB position. I know Carlyle can play RB but it seems were pretty thin at RB with the loss of GA111 and Mahone. A couple of injuries could really put the running game in a pinch.

  7. “The opportunity for Ben Koyack to leave his impact in South Bend has never been greater. It’s now or never for Koyack in 2014.”

    I think he will bloom this season. Golson will look to him with regularity.

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