SOUTH BEND, Ind.— Durham Smythe hasn't played a down of college football, but there's plenty of hype surrounding the Belton, Texas native's upside at Notre Dame.
Coaches and teammates raved about Smythe's work during practice last December leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl. By all accounts, he's a skilled pass-catcher who's developed enough as an in-line blocker to complete all the tasks Notre Dame asks from its tight ends.
It's too early to add Smythe to the list of great Notre Dame tight ends, ranging from Kyle Rudolph to Tyler Eifert to Troy Niklas. Ben Koyack is Notre Dame's No. 1 tight end this year. But Smythe has done enough since coming to campus to foster a belief that, once he starts playing on Saturdays, he can make an impact.
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"He's seen kind of how to do things the right way with Troy and with Ben and so he's progressing the way we want him to," tight ends coach Scott Booker said. "He's gotta go out there and play, he's gotta play in front of the bright lights and he has to do it then."
Koyack said Symthe made significant strides in the spring and summer to get to the point where he can be relied upon in some two tight end sets this fall.
"It has felt like he is a completely different person. He kind of came out of his shell a little bit," Koyack said. "He was running routes and blocking well. That is something I think he has been doing a great job of. … He showed the coaches in the spring that he was very capable and he has only improved since then.”
Smythe's role this fall may not be very large, though. Koyack only caught 10 passes as Notre Dame's No. 2 tight end in 2013, while Niklas had five receptions in 2012. Freshman Tyler Luatua — who already weighs 260 pounds — will play, too. And Smythe missed about a week of practice this month with a hamstring injury, though coach Brian Kelly said he's expected back for practice Monday.
But the foundation laid by Rudolph, Eifert and Niklas has made it conducive for tight ends to succeed at Notre Dame. Booker doesn't have to look too far back in the past for examples of how to do things right. If Koyack is the next in line, then Smythe may not be too far behind him — though it still will take a lot of work for that to happen.
"You just have to make sure that the guys understand that the guy in front of them that got the accolades or got what they got, it didn't just happen," Booker said. "It happened through hard work, it happened through a lot of practices. It just didn't happen because they were the next one."