Over the past decade or so, the Notre Dame football program has made a name for itself as Tight End U. It has promoted the likes of former Irish tight ends such as Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, Durham Smythe, Cole Kmet, Alize Mack, and Tommy Tremble to the NFL. In addition, the current roster contains Michael Mayer, who many believe is the best tight end in college football and likely an early first-round NFL draft pick.
Combine that with a winning program plus a world-renowned university, and it will force most prospects to always have the Irish in the mix for their signature come signing day. For Cooper Flanagan, Notre Dame was a place he always had set his sights on. That vision became a reality on September 2, 2021, when he verbally committed to the Irish.
“It was definitely a big factor on why I chose Notre Dame,” Flanagan stated. “It is very cool and inspiring to see so many Notre Dame tight ends get to the next level. Honestly, I know that’s where I want to go. I know that’s the place where I want to end up at. I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan.
Although the four-star prospect grew up rooting for the Irish, he stated that there was another program in the running for his services.
“It was hard,” Flanagan said of the recruiting process. “There were some other colleges, and Washington was one, but Notre Dame was definitely a no-brainer for me. The football program, the history, and the fact that the school itself and academics are both superb as well is what separated them from the other schools.
“I loved it, Flanagan said of his unofficial visit to Notre Dame. “It was beautiful. The city was amazing. Obviously, the football facilities were amazing, and the school itself was amazing. All the coaches were really cool. The whole trip was beautiful.”
Following their verbal commitment, some players are often old news to programs as the coaches seek to bring in other recruits that are still deciding. However, Flanagan said that was not the case with the Notre Dame staff.
“I’m usually in touch with coach (John) McNulty, and then I touch base with coach (Tommy) Rees and coach (Dre) Brown,” Flanagan confirmed. “We probably talk a couple of times a week. It’s one of the biggest parts for me, like how true they are to me and how real they are with me.
“Coach McNulty played a big role in my commitment, too,” Flanagan continued. “Of course, the academics, community, and overall football program were significant factors, but coach McNulty was also a big one. He was honest and transparent through the recruiting process. He’s obviously a great coach, but he is a really good person as well. I’m super honored to have him as a coach.”
Some recruiting analysts have the De La Salle (CA) High School product labeled more as a blocking tight end than as a pass catcher, but Flanagan said he sees himself as both.
“I definitely want to say that I see myself being more of a Michael Mayer kind of guy,” Flanagan expressed. “I know it’s something that takes a lot of work, but I see myself being a blocking tight end and a receiving tight end. I think I’ll be able to do both.”
Flanagan’s stat line may not show receiver-type numbers, but the offensive play calling sometimes dictates those results.
“I think it does a little bit,” Flanagan stated. “I think this year and next year I’ll be able to get the ball a little more, but De La Salle is definitely a run-heavy offense, so it sucks that I can’t show my stuff, but I know I can do it.”
In between his team’s games, practices, school, and homework, the Irish commit made some time to watch his future team play on Sunday night against Florida State. There were a few things that stood out to him.
“I was surprised at the final score,” Flanagan stated. “I think Notre Dame was kind of dominating, and I don’t think we should’ve let them come back. I got a little nervous at the end. I’m not going to lie.”
The 6-foot-6 238-pound tight end may have been surprised by the Irish’s tight finish, but someone else was caught off guard earlier in the week when he delivered his verbal pledge to the Class of 2023.
“He was pretty fired up,” Flanagan said of Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly’s reaction to his commitment. “I think he was a little bit surprised. I don’t think he thought that I was going to commit that fast, but I think he was definitely happy.”
Now that his commitment to Notre Dame is out of the way, Flanagan will shift all his focus on his team and its season.
“I think my team is killing it this year,” Flanagan said of De La Salle football. “We are 2-0 right now. I think my goal, and obviously, the team’s goal is to win state. That is my number-one goal for my team is to definitely win a state title.
“As for an individual goal, I want to be a great team player, Flanagan concluded. “I think that’s my biggest goal. I want to do everything I can for my team. I’m also going to continue to work on my strength, conditioning, and speed so I can make an immediate contribution to Notre Dame once on campus.”