2023 Notre Dame Breakout Stars: Is Holden Staes the Next Great Notre Dame Tight End?

The departure of Michael Mayer to the NFL has left a gaping hole at the tight end position for Notre Dame. As the primary receiving option over the past three years, his absence means that a battle for that spot is likely set between Mitchell Evans, Eli Raridon, and Holden Staes. All three have limited receiving experience, though Staes could be the one who emerges from this group.

Staes is the definition of an athlete, having competed in three sports during his high school days, including on both sides of the ball in football. He also has good size for a tight end at 6-feet-4 and 240 pounds while also possessing the type of agility and speed that could make him dangerous as early as this season.

After originally committing to Penn State, Staes changed his mind in early 2022, with the Georgia native receiving interest from many of the usual college football powerhouses. He didn’t take too long before deciding to head to the Golden Dome, with the expectation that his first collegiate season would be a quiet one.

Last Man Standing

Staes and Raridon were both recruited as part of last year’s class. Getting both of them soothed the pain of losing Jack Nickel, who ended up at Michigan State. The fact that Staes was able to actually see so much action last year was somewhat surprising, given that he was a relatively late arrival to camp and put deep down the depth chart.

Injuries then made the decision an easy one for Notre Dame coaches, with the season-ending ACL injury to Kevin Baumann moving Staes up. Raridon was used for blocking purposes in goal-line situations, but like Baumann, his season ended with a right ACL tear in October.

The problem with Raridon’s injury is that it marked the second time he’d torn the same ACL in less than a year. The hope is that he can make a full recovery, though Irish coaches figure to be extremely careful in making sure that he’s ready to go before risking yet another injury.

Ready to Battle It Out

Right now, Mitchell Evans is expected to be the player with the imposing task of taking Mayer’s place in the starting lineup. Given Mayer’s ample production, saying that Evans will replace him might be considered something of a stretch. Foot surgery in mid-July of last year delayed Evans’ season debut, with his first reception not coming until the UNLV blowout.

One oddity about Evans’ career with the Irish is that he’s actually racked up more rushing carries than pass receptions. All three of his catches last season came in the last season’s Gator Bowl win, with the final grab coming in the final two minutes to give Notre Dame the wild 45-38 win.

For Staes, his only catch of last year came in the Shamrock Series win over BYU. His clutch 11-yard grab came on third down late in the first half and helped eventually lead to a scoring toss to Jayden Thomas. Staes also saw action in other contests, but with Mayer in the lineup, his potential as a receiving option was limited.

Continuing the Tradition

Staes may not have been much of a receiving target last season, but he starts this year with a completely new slate. The transfer of Drew Pyne and the arrival of Sam Hartman means that the new signal-caller will have the opportunity to develop a solid connection with the second-year tight end.

Over the past half-century, Notre Dame and tight ends have forged a solid bond. Names like Dave Casper, Mark Bavaro, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert, and Cole Kmet have delivered for the Irish and gone on to thrive in the NFL. In the case of Casper, it ultimately led to his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For Staes, focusing on that lofty tradition or the nearly impossible task of replacing Mayer is a waste of time. His virtually non-existent body of work offers no guarantee that he’ll eventually join that prestigious list. Yet, there’s nothing that’s preventing him from emerging as a large receiving weapon and building on his accomplishments in the year ahead.

Notre Dame’s relatively soft early schedule could afford Staes the chance to grow into the position. Given the shaky health histories of his competitors for the starting role, just staying on the field can only serve to offer him benefits now and in the future.

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