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Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert’s stock still climbing

Notre Dame senior tight end Tyler Eifert has 12 catches for 129 yards his last two games. | Jared Wickerham~Getty

Notre Dame senior tight end Tyler Eifert has 12 catches for 129 yards in his last two games. | Jared Wickerham~Getty Images

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:28AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Barely a quarter into his collegiate career, it looked like Everett Golson had it all figured out. Facing second-and-goal from the 5-yard line against Navy, Golson threw a jump ball to his 6-5 All-America tight end, Tyler Eifert, on a stop fade. It fell incomplete.

On third-and-goal, the Irish ran the exact same play. Touchdown.

It looked like the start of a something big. Instead, it was a false start.

Through the first eight games of the season, Eifert never caught more than four balls in a game. Coming off the greatest season a Notre Dame tight end has ever had, Eifert looked like a forgotten man.

Well, Golson suddenly has remembered him.

In consecutive wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College, Eifert has 12 catches for 129 yards. It’s no coincidence that Golson has had two of his most efficient games in that span.

“We’re growing together,” Eifert said. “He’s a young quarterback, and he’s learned now that he can trust me.”

Eifert is the ultimate security blanket for a quarterback. His rare combination of size and athleticism makes him almost impossible to cover — defensive backs are too small, linebackers are too slow.

On Notre Dame’s second offensive snap of the BC game, Golson threw a ball high to Eifert, who easily outleaped his defender for a highlight-reel 15-yard grab. It’s the kind of throw Golson knows how to make now — the kind that only Eifert can get.

“What I was trying to do was let Eifert be 6-5,” Golson said. “It wasn’t always the perfect pass, but wherever he’s at, I know he’s going to go get it.”

Heading into his last home game, Saturday against Wake Forest, Eifert needs just five catches to pass Ken MacAfee (128) as Notre Dame’s all-time leader in receptions by a tight end. But his numbers are way down from last year’s record-setting campaign, when he had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Through 10 games, he has 34 catches for 470 yards and three touchdowns as the Irish have focused on the ground game and opponents have focused on keeping him in check.

The upshot is it all has forced Eifert to become a more well-rounded player. He’s been critical in pass protection, he’s sprung the Irish tailbacks for big gains, and his mere presence on the field usually opens space for other receivers. The fact that he’s suddenly become a big part of the passing game again is a bonus at this point.

“This isn’t about numbers this year,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “This is about a guy that’s developing himself as a complete tight end.”

Eifert was projected as an early-round draft pick last season, but decided to return for his senior season. And while his numbers are down, his stock has only gone up.

“If you asked the guys at the next level about Tyler Eifert, they really don’t care about how many balls he’s caught,” Kelly said. “Because they know he can catch the football. They’re looking at other things he’s developed, and he’s going to find himself in a pretty good position in April.”

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