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Notre Dame TE Koyack ready to ascend to starter's role

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With departure of Troy Niklas, senior is set to be No. 1 at position

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 3:58 pm

SOUTH BEND – With a massive, Hulk-like frame and hands as big as dinner plates, senior-to-be Ben Koyack definitely fits the physical mold of a Notre Dame pass-catching tight end.

But can he fill the starting role that Troy Niklas left open following his departure for the NFL?

That is one of the questions Notre Dame hopes to answer this spring.

At 6-foot-5, 261 pounds, Koyack does not need to work on his body to prepare for the spot that Coach Brian Kelly hopes he can fill, but consistency will be a focus leading up to the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game on April 12.

“Obviously, there is more responsibility (as the No. 1), but guys like Troy did a great job and left a great imprint that we still talk about,” Koyack said. “It's a lot of work but nothing that can't be handled.”

Koyack will be looked upon to not only continue to be a solid blocking tight end, a role he has filled admirably in past seasons, but help replace some of the 498 receiving yards and five touchdowns lost when Niklas left early.

The impact of a big tight end that can stretch the field is considerable for the Fighting Irish offense. In each of the last five seasons, a tight end has finished in the top three in receiving yards.

Koyack is ready to make it six straight.

“You don't come here unless you want to (be the starter),” Koyack said. “Coming here as a freshman, that's what everyone wants, to get out there and be that No. 1 guy, especially with the reputation that we have (at the tight end position).”

Koyack lined up in multi-tight end sets last year but did not see too many passes thrown his way due to the effectiveness of Niklas.

Koyack finished the season with 10 receptions for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He had a three-week stretch against Air Force, Navy and Pittsburgh when he caught eight passes for 138 yards and two scores, but was held to just one catch over the final two games of the season at Stanford and against Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Koyack will be pushed in the spring and into the fall by sophomores-to-be Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe, both of whom preserved a year of eligibility in 2013 as true freshmen.

Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua will also enter the mix this summer as incoming recruits.

While the depth chart is stockpiled, at this point it is Koyack's job to lose. He feels he is ready for the challenge.

“It's a lot of responsibility but it's something that's built and kind of worked up to,” said Koyack about running with the No. 1 offense this spring. “It's a little nerve-wracking at first but it's something that's nice.”

Koyack knows the key to the position for the Fighting Irish is being able to contribute on every play and not just being good at one aspect of the game.

“You have to be well-rounded,” Koyack said. “You have to be a mixture of a good pass blocker, run blocker and be able to go out and catch a ball and block in space.

“I'd say right now I'm comfortable with wherever they have me.”

That is exactly where Notre Dame wants to be with its starting tight end.