SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The first reaction, like that of most others, was a bit of shock. Then the personal ramifications set in for Ben Koyack.
Troy Niklas was gone a year earlier than expected, Tight End U. was in need of a new face and, well, who better to step up than a rising senior who saw his production jump down the stretch last season.
"Yeah, I'm the oldest guy in the group, and I'm a guy I feel that the younger guys respect," Koyack said when asked if he felt like a No. 1 tight end. "And that's something I feel like definitely makes me comfortable out there."
Notre Dame will turn to Koyack now to be the next-in-line at its position of strength, following Niklas, Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano. Of Koyack's 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns last season, all but a 19-yard scoring grab came during the Irish's final six games. The primary blocker in two-tight end sets knows he'll be asked to do more now, and he knows the example he sets this season can pay dividends beyond 2014.
"It just meant to me that I really need to step up," Koyack said. "It's no longer just, 'OK, I've got to be good for that role and just know what the No. 1 guy does.' I've got to be able to do it. I've got to be able to do it in my sleep. I've got to be able to show all the younger guys. I've got to be able to draw it up. It was more or less knowing that I have to accept all the responsibilities that could be thrown on me."
He has taken on a stronger leadership role, shooting text messages to redshirt freshman Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe and inviting them to his room to review plays. And while he says he's more focused on doing whatever is required of him in 2014, he is well aware of what he is stepping into: A lineage that, this May, could see a fifth straight Irish starting tight end taken in the NFL draft's first two rounds.
"You don't come here unless you want to do that," Koyack said of being a starter. "Coming here a freshman, every one wants to get out here and be that No. 1 guy, especially with the reputation like we have. That's pretty much the reason I came here, to have that role. It's something I do definitely look forward to."