The last time Troy Niklas made a public speaking appearance it ended in him shirtless, emphatically professing his love of pain. Monday night the 6-foot-6 tight end stood in front of a room of roughly 200 people and showed he liked to alleviate pain as well.
Irish tight end Troy Niklas led a fundraising effort for the homeless while preparing to play USC.
Niklas, a junior and an emerging offensive star for the Irish, organized a team dinner at South Bend’s Center for the Homeless this week, an event six weeks in the making. The team raised $4,600 for the shelter and provided toiletries, blankets and some welcome company for its guests. Roughly 70 Notre Dame players and members of the coaching staff spent a few hours eating and swapping stories with a room full of the building’s residents.
“I couldn’t be more blessed and couldn’t be more happy that all of them showed up,” Niklas said. “That really is what made the event happen with raising the money and coming here, and I couldn’t be more happy about that.”
Last week, while preparing to play against his hometown Trojans — a game in which he led the Irish receivers with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown — Niklas spent his free time strolling through Stanford Hall passing out Halloween candy and asking his dorm mates to donate money to the homeless. He asked his teammates to take up a similar collection across campus, and they more than doubled their goal of raising $2,000.
The philanthropic side of Notre Dame’s quirky Atlas look alike in Chuck Taylor’s is one that head coach Brian Kelly had not seen. In his first two years on campus the Fullerton, Calif., native was known more for his fun-loving goofball antics.
He grew a mustache that missed its time by a generation or two. Last September, the day before playing Michigan, he tore of his team polo during a pep rally speech and delivered a bare-chested soliloquy on “loving the pain.”
“It was really fun him to watch him kind of grow,” Kelly said Monday night. “As a young guy in the program who was kind of goofy and zany to one that you know really took this and it was inspirational for him.”
Niklas first started organizing events to help the homeless as an upperclassman at Servite High School. A student government leader, he coordinated an effort to put together bags of basic necessities — socks, toiletries, water bottles, etc. — that his fellow students could then pass out to homeless people in their town rather than just giving them cash. He also participated in the school’s weekly meal for the homeless in a nearby park.
After settling in on campus and around his teammates, Niklas felt it was time to continue that work in South Bend.
“The more comfortable I get I guess the more of me comes out,” he said. “As a freshman and sophomore you don’t really have the opportunity and the position to do stuff like this, but as you grow and mature on the team you get the opportunity to be a part of this.”
At Monday’s dinner the team passed out bags similar to the ones that Niklas put together in California. Each one was complete with a personal note from one of the players. Senior linebacker Prince Shembo started the meal with a prayer. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt share some of his thoughts afterward. Several of the residents spoke up as well to thank the team for stopping by.
Niklas wrapped up the night by telling them he felt he was getting more than they had given. He stayed fully clothed this time, but his shirt-off-my-back attitude was still easy to see.