Ben Koyack earns membership to ‘Tight End U’
Kit Loughran | Thursday, November 20, 2014
For the first three seasons of his career, Koyack had been playing in the shadows of former Irish tight ends Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas, who have both jumped from distinguished careers at Notre Dame to roster spots in the NFL, Eifert with the Bengals and Niklas with the Cardinals.
This season Koyack was no longer the number two-guy behind Niklas. It was his turn.
“I’ve tried to keep [the role] open, to keep a good relationship with all the guys,” Koyack said. “It doesn’t necessarily feel like a strict kind of environment but more like one where we have different authority, where we still have to do the right thing but can still have some fun with it. I think that helps the guys out a lot.”
With that humble approach, Koyack has quietly yet powerfully help lead the Irish on the field. The senior stands fourth in receiving yards for Notre Dame, with 27 catches for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
Perhaps Koyack’s most significant play this season was his game-winning touchdown against Stanford.
The Irish were down 14-10 to Stanford with one minute left on the clock. On fourth-and-11 from the Cardinal 23-yard line, Golson found Koyack in the back of the end zone. Koyack caught the pass on his way out of bounds to clinch Notre Dame’s 17-14 victory over Stanford on Oct. 4, keeping a then-undefeated season alive.
“I guess just execute and catch the ball,” Koyack said of his thinking on that play. “I knew there was going to be a guy coming who was going to try and knock it out, so I thought [to] just follow the ball, catch the ball and keep my feet up.”
The 6-foot-5, 254-pounder made getting behind the Stanford defense look completely effortless. But it’s plays like those in which Koyack leaves his mark. His poise and consistency in run blocking and receiving have made him a silent weapon for the Irish this season.
Just one week later, it was Koyack again, securing Notre Dame’s slim-margin, 50-43 win over North Carolina on Oct. 11, when he recovered a Tar Heel onside kick with 47 seconds on the clock. Earlier, he had a catch for nine yards during Notre Dame’s drive that ended with a touchdown by sophomore running back Greg Bryant to put the Irish up 21-14.
“I’d also say the North Carolina game was one of my favorite game experiences,” Koyack said. “Seeing everyone keep their heads up and play strong the whole entire game. Every game this season, there is always a scenario where we all come together, so I enjoy that with every single game.”
In addition to the team coming together, Koyack and his quarterback, fellow senior Everett Golson, have continued to find their rhythm throughout the season. Between run blocking and receptions, Koyack and Golson have worked together throughout the season.
“It’s definitely a good [receiving relationship with Golson],” Koyack said. “We spent multiple times after practice working on stuff so that we could get on the same page. He’s been throwing the ball to me since my freshman year, so I’ve had a lot of time with him before, and we are on the same page now.”
With Golson returning this season and Niklas gone to the NFL, Koyack said he has seen a change in the dynamic of his position from last season to now.
“This year, I do a lot more of single tight-end things,” Koyack said. “I run some more routes and do some blocking, but at the end of the day, it’s doing what [Irish head] coach [Brian] Kelly wants you to do.
“My goal heading into this season was to improve in all areas. I couldn’t focus on one exact thing because then I’d lose focus of everything else … so it’s just about being well-rounded and being able to be counted on for however many snaps. I can always improve. I’ll always be working to be the best I can possibly be.”
The starting tight end will continue to strive to be “the best that he can possibly be” as Notre Dame closes out the regular season with games against Louisville on Saturday and USC on Nov. 29. As his time at Notre Dame comes to a close, Koyack reflected on the time he has spent at the University, including the experiences that stretched beyond walking out the tunnel into Notre Dame Stadium.
“It went fast,” Koyack said. “It was hectic, but it was fun, and it feels like I was walking in the dorm freshman year, not knowing what I was doing, just yesterday. It’s been interesting, and it’s been a fun transition to go from my head swimming to now, knowing the entire offensive unit. It’s been something I will never forget.
“It’s been a great opportunity and privilege to go here, to walk away with a degree from here. I’ve met a lot of great people. Notre Dame is something I’m really happy to have been a part of.”