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Lazerus: Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert growing into the spotlight

Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (80) makes move get around FloridState linebacker Nigel Bradham (13) after receptifirst half Champs

Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (80) makes a move to get around Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham (13) after a reception in the first half of the Champs Sports Bowl NCAA college football game, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:07PM



DUBLIN, Ireland — When Tyler Eifert was deep in the throes of the most difficult decision of his life — whether to return to Notre Dame for his senior season or enter the NFL Draft — Manti Te’o steered clear of his fellow All-American. There was no discussion, no commiserating between the two gut-wrenched stars.

That is, until Te’o decided to come back to college in early December.

“I started chiming in a bit,” Te’o said. “‘Hey, Eif, I’m not gonna say anything, but if No. 80’s out there with me, it’ll make my job a lot easier.’”

Well, it took four weeks, but Eifert chose to come back, too, making his decision in early January. As with Te’o, it wasn’t a decision Eifert came by lightly. The 6-6, 260-pound tight end caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns as a junior, and was slotted anywhere from a late-first-round pick to a third-round pick in the NFL, where big, hyper-athletic tight ends like Eifert are all the rage.

“It was very legitimate,” Eifert said of his dalliance with the NFL. “I took my time with it. I’ve never been in that position before, so I tried to take in as much advice as I could, and tried to make the best decision for me. It was hard, because it has to be a selfish decision in a way. For everything this university has done for me, that was hard to do.”

Now that he’s back, being selfish might not be such a bad thing. With Michael Floyd and his 100 receptions gone to the Seattle Seahawks, Eifert is Notre Dame’s clear-cut No. 1 weapon in the passing game — if not the offense as a whole. And while veterans such as T.J. Jones, Robby Toma and John Goodman, along with three touted rookies — “You’ll need a media guide, because we’re going to play them all,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of his receivers — will offer quarterback Everett Golson plenty of targets, Eifert is sure to be the first-time starter’s safety blanket when the season opens Saturday against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.

On top of that, he’s now one of four team captains — a new role for a guy who came to Notre Dame as an introvert.

“I’ve gradually see him come out of his shell, which is pretty funny,” said Goodman, who played with Eifert at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School. “I’ve known him since we were in fifth or sixth grade. At Dwenger, he was a shy guy, but obviously a good football player. When he got here, he was shy, and every single year he stepped up, stepped up, stepped up, and now he’s the player he is today — and he’s going to be a friggin’ first-round draft pick. He’s worked his way up to this point.”

That last part is what has Kelly so excited.

“Here’s what I love about Tyler Eifert,” he said. “You know you’re moving your program along when your best players are your best workers, and our best players had an incredible summer. Here’s a young man that’s up to 260 pounds, and can hit a 7-iron 195 yards. I’ve never seen a guy hit a golf ball that far. I hope he catches everything, too. He’s just been incredible to work with over the past couple of years, to see his development and his maturity. … From my perspective that’s exciting when your best player, one of your best players, has that kind of desire to be the best.”

Part of what drives Eifert is the fact that he doesn’t feel he is the best — or at least, at his best. That’s why he passed on the NFL.

“I just wasn’t ready, maybe physically or mentally, to make that jump to the NFL, and that lifestyle,” he said. “Also, I made some great relationships with coaches and teammates, and I wanted to spend another year with them.”

Te’o has said that he doesn’t care if he leaves Notre Dame Stadium for the last time on crutches and never can play in the NFL, that the memories of one more season in college will be worth risking guaranteed millions of dollars.

Eifert agrees with the sentiment — but only to a degree. Because he knows that for 6-6, 260-pound hyper-athletic tight ends, the NFL will be there, no matter what. So for now, he can just focus on making the most of his senior year.

“Modern medicine’s pretty good,” Eifert said with a smirk. “I’m not too worried about it.”



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