Notre Dame tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker’s face lights up when asked about the caliber of players he’s working with this spring. Without making too bold a prediction about junior tight end Troy Niklas, it’s obvious Booker believes 2013 will be a breakout year for the former outside linebacker.
Niklas, without a doubt, has confidence (exhibited by shedding his shirt at a pep rally last year), and he boasts a 6-6.5, 259-pound frame that is larger than the current NFL measurements of his predecessors Tyler Eifert (6-5, 250), Kyle Rudolph (6-6, 259) and John Carlson (6-5, 251).
This year is about polishing the raw materials with which Niklas, who appeared in all 13 games last season and caught five passes for 75 yards and a score, was blessed.
How good can Niklas be?
Booker: “He can be as good as he wants to be. He has a lot of great qualities as far as height, his body control is good, his hands are good, all that kind of stuff. He can be as good as he wants to be. He comes to work every day and has a great work ethic, practices hard, so I’m excited about his progress.”
How have you seen him progress from a defensive player to tight end?
Booker: “That’s the best part of college football as a coach — one of the best parts — to see the progress of guys. Troy was a defensive player. I had him in the spring and had him in fall camp and you saw the progress from the spring to the Alabama game and the USC game. If you would see the Troy in the Michigan game and the Troy in the USC game, it’s really not the same guy. And to see the progress again from the end of last season to now spring, I just enjoy those guys just really maturing and getting confidence in their abilities and getting better with technique and everything.”
Head coach Brian Kelly talks about Niklas’ blocking skills, but what about his receiving ability?
Booker: “He’s done a great job so far. He’s been able to catch the ball and snag the ball out of the air. He’s obviously a big target at 6-7 and has a wide range. Hopefully he can be a good target for our quarterbacks.”
Niklas has a supersized personality; what’s it like working with him?
Booker: “He is honestly a great kid. He loves to surf; he’s a California kid, so he’s a little bit laid back. Football means a lot to Troy — a lot. He really studies his craft and is really a perfectionist. He wants to be the best. We hope he’ll hopefully develop into one of the best.”
Is his personality the exact opposite of Eifert?
Booker: “No. I think both those guys had the drive to be the best. I think both those guys practice about as hard ad you can practice them. Tyler did it for three years. Troy, it’s year two for him at tight end.”
What are some signs Niklas has exhibited that he’s ready to lead?
Booker: “[Early enrollee Mike Huerman] and Troy are lifting partners. Now, Troy’s pushing a lot more work than Mike, but he’s showing him how to work in the weight room. Mike needs to have a guy to emulate in the weight room, and there’s no one better than Troy. He’s been able to look up to Troy as far as, ‘Hey, this what I need to get to as far as the weight I’m pushing.’ I’m great with that as a coach.”
Was that partnership by design?
Booker: “Nope, it just happened. I think it has to do with Troy. And as quirky as he sometimes may come off, again, he is one of the hardest working guys on the team and guys are attracted to that. Mike sees that; Mike knows this guy is working his butt off. Let me get like him so maybe one day I can play like him.”