Notre Dame senior Tyler Stockton planned on being in South Bend next fall all along. He just was unsure about who would be picking up the bill.
Fifth-year senior Tyler Stockton (92) notched two sacks during Saturday’s spring game.
Stockton amassed one tackle during his first four years on the Irish football team and spent most of his senior year watching games from the sideline in street clothes. He intended to return to Notre Dame next year to work toward his master’s degree in business, but assumed he wouldn’t be doing it as a football player on scholarship.
“At first when I came this semester, I was thinking I’m done with football,” Stockton said. “Now that I’ve got a fifth year I just want to be with my teammates for another year, and I’m really happy about it.”
The 285-pound nose guard was the least expected of six Irish players that the staff asked to return for a fifth season on the roster. Linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese are co-starters at inside linebacker. Offensive linemen Zack Martin and Chris Watt have started next to one another for two seasons on the left side of the line. Placekicker Nick Tausch was a question mark, but he could end up playing an important role on special teams this season. Stockton falls third on the depth chart at nose guard behind All-America candidate Louis Nix III and senior Kona Schwenke.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said at the outset of spring practice that he expected Stockton to develop into a leader for the defense.
“We’re seeing guys are starting to understand what it takes to be a leader,” Kelly said when asked about Stockton. “It means holding others accountable and we’re starting to see that on a day-to-day basis. It’s still a work in progress for us.”
When the coaches first told him they wanted him to return for another year, Stockton said they asked him to be “someone they can count on.” He hurt his knee several years ago and the injury has nagged him since. Stockton didn’t play in any of Notre Dame’s games during the past two seasons. He said he returned knowing that he likely wouldn’t make a big impact on the field.
“I’m not a guy who is going to be playing a lot,” he said. “I just gotta keep working hard and when my time comes to make a play, I gotta make a play. Be someone that’s reliable.”
He made a couple of plays when he had the chance last Saturday in the team’s Blue-Gold Game. He finished with six tackles (two shy of the team lead) and two sacks. While that production won’t do much to change the amount of playing time available at the position, Stockton said his job on the defense clicked this offseason and he’s in better shape than he has been in the past.
It would seem like human nature to mentally check out after back-to-back seasons without a snap, but Stockton and his teammates said he has remained an active part of the defensive line during meetings and practice. That attitude earned him the respect of his teammates, which in turn went a long way in earning him another year on the team.
“You don't hear his name much, but he’s the guy, he’s the heartbeat of our D-line,” Nix said. “You hear a lot about me making plays, but he’s the one that keeps us together. He’s the guy that we look up to a lot because he has a lot of stress off the field. He’s trying to get his MBA and stuff like that. He shows us how much he works off the field and he did all he could to get us here.”
With former team captain Kapron Lewis-Moore moving off this year, Notre Dame’s defensive line became significantly younger. The exciting new stars like Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt were suddenly veterans this spring. The Irish needed an experience presence on the defensive front to make sure they continued moving forward, so they called on Stockton.