Eifert returning for senior season

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When the Irish head to Ireland next year to kick off the 2012 season, they’ll have their two best senior leaders with them. With Manti Te’o already set to return for his senior season and lead the Irish defense, it now looks like All-American tight end Tyler Eifert will be there with him to take charge of the offense.

After seriously considering a move to the NFL after his junior year, Eifert has decided to return for his senior season, according to reports from both IrishIllustrated.com and the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s really come around and wants to come back,” Eifert’s father Greg told Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com. “He wants to come back, get bigger, get stronger and get to a BCS bowl next year.”

For those keeping track at home, Eifert’s return makes three “six-star” recruits in a row staying put at Notre Dame, with Michael Floyd, Te’o, and now Eifert telling the NFL it can wait while deciding to stay in school for a final season. In Eifert’s case, he’s actually got two years of eligibility remaining after a back injury kept him out of action his freshman season. But after a breakout season that saw Eifert put up the most statistically impressive year of any tight end in the country, the Irish coaching staff will be just fine with one more year for the record-breaking tight end from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Eifert family welcomed new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin into their home on Thursday night, and the Irish’s recruiting coordinator must have impressed as Eifert reportedly informed Brian Kelly of his decision Friday morning. The return gives the Irish a proven pass-catching threat while question marks surround the receiving corp, now without the school’s all-time leader in Floyd.

Eifert reportedly received a third-round grade from the NFL’s advisory board, not all that surprising given the limited body of work Eifert has at Notre Dame. Entering his sophomore year, Eifert was an unknown entity, sitting his freshman season with a back injury that many thought could threaten his career. Eifert received minimal attention in the Irish offense as he played next to Kyle Rudolph, but an injury to Rudolph opened the door for Eifert, who immediately made his presence felt during Kelly’s first season. Eifert’s breakout 2011 was predictable for Irish fans, but none saw the season Eifert put up coming, where he broke the school’s all-time receptions record for a tight end, catching 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns.

Eifert can certainly help raise his draft stock this season by improving his physicality and in-line blocking skills, two areas that lack compared to the tight end’s ability to make plays in space. His return also pokes holes in a growing narrative that there’s some kind of schism between the head coach and players from the previous coaching regime, with three All-American caliber players returning to school when the NFL was clearly ready for them.

No official announcement has been made yet by Notre Dame, with the coaching staff dispatched around the country recruiting.