Troy Niklas becoming elite weapon for Notre Dame

Troy Niklas becoming elite weapon for Notre Dame
October 21, 2013, 8:45 pm
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With one more touchdown reception, Troy Niklas will do something that hasn't been done since 1977 at Notre Dame: Catch six touchdowns in a season as a tight end.

Tyler Eifert didn't do it, Kyle Rudolph didn't do it, John Carlson didn't do it, Anthony Fasano didn't do it -- and all those guys are playing on Sundays. The last Notre Dame tight end to have six touchdown catches in a season was Ken MacAfee 36 years ago, and he’s the only Notre Dame tight end to hit that mark since 1956.

Chances are, Niklas will tie and surpass that record sooner rather than later.

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In just his second year playing the position, the 6-foot-7, 270-pound guy nicknamed "Hercules" has developed into a matchup nightmare in the end zone.

"I've just been trying to work as hard as I can to develop as a tight end," Niklas said after Notre Dame's 14-10 win over USC. "I want to be the best, so just practicing, I've been doing well in practice and the coaches have noticed that, and they want to throw me the ball."

When Niklas caught his touchdown against USC, it gave him five on just 15 catches. He wound up reeling in three more passes, and finished the day with 58 yards. He has 40 or more receiving yards in five of Notre Dame's seven games, and has caught touchdowns in three straight contests.

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Niklas is slightly taller than Eifert, but weighs 20 pounds more than he did his final year at Notre Dame. He's nowhere near as smooth as Eifert as a route runner or pass catcher, but has figured out how to use his massive frame to his advantage in the end zone.

For his touchdown against USC, he engaged 6-foot-1, 230 pound linebacker Hayes Pullard and easily created enough space for Tommy Rees to find him in the end zone. Against Arizona State, he boxed out 5-foot-11, 195-pound safety Alden Darby for a touchdown, looking like a power forward grabbing a rebound over a point guard.

Niklas said improving his body control has been a point of emphasis, and it's showed on those two touchdowns.

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Notre Dame still is among college football's worst teams at scoring touchdowns from the red zone -- their 54.5 touchdown percentage ranks 92nd among FBS teams. But as Niklas continues to establish himself as an elite red zone weapon, chances are Notre Dame's success inside the 20 will increase.