SOUTH BEND – People want to tug on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert about his NFL future. He sheds them like cornerbacks after a catch.
If there's one asset to Eifert's success that seems to rank above all others – and the short list of others include strength, speed, phenomenal hands, leaping ability, instinct and determination – it's his ability to stay in the moment.
When he's on a pass route, he stays in the route. When the football is spiraling his way, he stays focused on the ball. When there's a Notre Dame football game that's the biggest of at least 20 years for the school, his mind will be there, and there alone.
“One thing that Dwenger taught me, and coach (Chris) Svarczkopf taught me, is never stop till the play's over,” Eifert said. “Notre Dame knows when they recruit a Dwenger kid, they get a guy who goes to the whistle and never takes a play off.”
Leave it to Eifert to reference his roots at Bishop Dwenger High School, and his high school coach. That's in his makeup, too: Loyalty and humility. I'd give credit to Dwenger, too. Svarczkopf runs a great program, focused on all the right things.
But the ability to maintain singular focus seems an innate Eifert trait as he and the unbeaten Irish head into the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.
A great example comes in his interactions with the media. Eifert is friendly, honest and open. He's not effusive. Ask a question. He gives an answer. Singular focus.
During Notre Dame's media day event earlier this month, an hour's worth of endless and sometimes mindless chatter about playing Alabama, being undefeated, the Gipper, Fighting Irish mystique, blah, blah, blah, Eifert patiently addressed every inquiry.
The NFL question is an intriguing one. Look at the top tight ends from last season – Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, both drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. They stepped right in, now they're in the playoffs.
Eifert could do the same. He has the size (6-foot-6, 251 pounds) and the resume (2012 Mackey Award winner and most productive tight end in Notre Dame's storied history).
Has he thought about where he might fit, what NFL team might call his name?
“Not really where I would fit in, but I watch the other tight ends to see how they're doing, how they block, and stuff like that,” Eifert said.
Someone mentioned the Chicago Bears might be a possibility.
“I'm game for wherever, I don't really care,” Eifert said. “I'll figure that out after the game.”
There's no reason why Eifert won't be a productive NFL tight end with his build and skill set. But, again, the reason he's in position veers right back to his approach. No one would have slated him for the NFL coming out of high school. Many were surprised he was recruited by Notre Dame, where the tight end spot was fairly loaded.
The odds might have looked daunting to a less focused player.
“I think a lot of people were ranked ahead of me,” Eifert said. “I just do what I can control and that's how hard I try and how much work I put in. The extra work has got me where I am now. It got me to Notre Dame. I just keep trying to learn, trying to get better and let things fall where they may.”
Has Eifert gotten better over his time with the Irish? Pull out the Notre Dame record book: most career receptions for a tight end (134), most career receiving yards for a tight end (1,779), most receptions in a season for a tight end (63 in 2011), most receiving yards in a season for a tight end (803 in 2011), second-most receiving touchdowns by a tight end (11), second most tight end TDs in a season (5 in 2011) and fourth-most (4 in 2012).
Eifert had more catches, more yards and more touchdowns last season. But when his number is called, there's that focus again: 31 of his 44 catches this season were for first downs or touchdowns.
“What can I say? He's an all-star,” Notre Dame senior running back Theo Riddick said. “They asked him to block more this year and he definitely improved upon that.”
Eifert's career has tons of numbers, but his legacy for future Irish players – and maybe Dwenger and other Fort Wayne younger players – is the single-minded way he approached his athletic career. Eifert looks at what needs to be done, and figures out how to stay in the moment and finish it.
“Coming in here, a lot of people asked me why I would come here,” Eifert said. “There were six tight ends on the depth chart when I committed here. Coming here, I was just trying to get on the bus and figure out a way I could help the team win.”
Eifert found his way onto the bus and into the driver's seat, one focused step at a time.