Dave Casper, Ken MacAfee, Dean Masztak, Tony Hunter, Mark Bavaro, Tom Rehder, Andy Heck and Joel Williams, Derek Brown, Irv Smith, Oscar McBride and Pete Chryplewicz, Jabari Holloway and Dan O’Leary, John Owens, Gary Godsey, Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, and Tyler Eifert.
After starting at left tackle for Notre Dame in 1972, Casper -- a member of both the NFL and College Hall of Fame -- made his initial move to tight end for the ’73 season. What followed and is subsequently listed above was an almost seamless and ongoing 39-year transition of starting tight ends that, with two notable exceptions, played at least one year in the NFL.
Remarkably, including position changes, a tight end on the Notre Dame roster from 1971 through 1977; and again *from 1979-through the present, played at least one year in the NFL, whether it be at tight end, linebacker, or in the case of Rehder and Heck, on the offensive line. (As did a sampling of backups such as former TE/LB Jerome Collins, who played linebacker for the St. Louis Rams.)
Tyler Eifert should keep the chain intact following either 2012 or 2013, and the link appears safe for the foreseeable future with ample tight end talent again populating the campus in South Bend, the latest addition in the person of Mike Heuerman of Naples, Fla.
(*Future pro Anthony Fasano was a freshman on Godsey's 2002 squad while Masztak, the only other starting tight end not to make it in the NFL, was one of the most talented tight ends in program history, his career truncated by injury. By all accounts from those that watched him play in the latter stages of the Dan Devine era, Masztak was better when in good health than most of the members of this list as a collegian.)
Joining the Parade?
Heuerman is a full three years away from a potential starting spot in South Bend (and likely four). He's a full five or six from NFL consideration, and that's the way it should be at Notre Dame, a program that can't stop landing top tight end talent.
Pending 5th-year decisions between the staff and 2012 seniors Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic (don't expect either to return for 2013), Heuerman will join a 2013 roster with three tight ends, each of whom should have two seasons of eligibility remaining: 2010 recruit Alex Welch, who red-shirted as a true freshman, and 2011 recruits Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas, who both played last year, Niklas at linebacker.
"When it came down to it, I had a few schools in mind, and they use the tight ends well," Heuerman told Irisheyes.com after giving his pledge. "But I can honestly tell you that no school uses the tight ends like Notre Dame does, and Notre Dame will continue to do so.”
Most incoming tight ends face a major step-up in terms of blocking prowess and reliability at the collegiate level (though 2011 frosh Koyack was deemed ahead of the game by Eifert and tight ends coach Mike Denbrock upon his arrival.) Heuerman should fall into the former category, but that's no longer a major road block to early-career contributions, as Brian Kelly's spread offense allows for a tight end to be detached and motioned, especially in tandem with one more accomplished and powerful as an in-line blocker (the Koyack/Welch/Niklas trio will be in their collective final seasons during Heuerman's red-shirt freshman/sophomore year of 2014).
A big athletic target with a knack for the passing game, Heuerman will enter South Bend in an ideal situation: he can learn from talented upperclassmen while he develops, either as a red-shirt or niche player in the offense, attempt to take it to the next level as a regular contributor in his second season (again with a trio of veterans on board), and move into a starring role for Years 3, 4, and possibly 5, with the tight end ranks likely replenished in the classes below him.
In other words, Heuerman's equipped and ready to add another link to Notre Dame's four-decade chain of tight end success.
For a look at previous pledges and where they fit upon entry to Notre Dame, click the links below:
Initial Offensive Linemen Haul