Senior tight end Tyler Luatua’s football career has come to an abrupt end. Irish coach Brian Kelly announced a medical hardship will prevent Luatua from continuing to play, though he will remain enrolled at Notre Dame on scholarship as he pursues a degree.
“It’s always a difficult decision for a player to step away from football,” Kelly said. “Most importantly, Tyler will still have an opportunity to earn his degree from the University.”
In the case of a medical waiver, the scholarship no longer counts against the NCAA limit of 85, putting Notre Dame now at 83 scholarship players by rough math.
Luatua appeared in all 12 games last season, though largely on special teams. Before last spring’s practices, he briefly publicly entertained a transfer to BYU, before changing his mind in time for Kelly and the Irish to accept him back onto the roster.
This spring early-enrolled freshman Brock Wright appeared to pass Luatua on the depth chart, partly due to the latter’s limitations in the passing game. With Wright ahead of him, Luatua was, at best, the fifth tight end in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme.
Nonetheless, it is never a happy ending when medical reasons truncate a passion.
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3 ½, 260 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with only 2017 eligibility remaining
Depth Chart: As mentioned above, Luatua had slid down the depth chart largely due to the talent influx provided by the incoming freshman class and the return of junior Alizé Mack. Fifth-year senior Durham Smythe and Mack headline the tight ends, and senior Nic Weishar’s better receiving acumen than Luatua elevated Weishar to the No. 3 spot, a coveted position in Long’s offense which often depends on two tight ends. With Wright also moving past Luatua, and incoming freshman Cole Kmet looming, Luatua did not project for much action this season.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star prospect, and the No. 12 tight end in the class of 2014, Luatua enjoyed offers from many of the nation’s premier programs, including Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State. Aside from Notre Dame, Luatua most considered Alabama.
CAREER TO DATE
Luatua appeared in 32 career games, though never made a catch. From the outset, he was recognized for his blocking, but that was never enough in a Kelly offense to establish Luatua as a mainstay on the field. For thoroughness’s sake, let’s note he did return one kick for six yards his freshman season.
As has been something of a theme with the past week’s departures — Luatua makes four, though the other three were quite different in nature as transfers (junior linebacker Josh Barajas to FCS-level Indiana State, junior offensive lineman Tristen Hoge to BYU, sophomore offensive lineman Parker Boudreaux) — not much was said of Luatua this spring due to his drop down the depth chart.
Kelly did include Luatua in the grouping of tight ends he praised on National Signing Day in February.
“We think we’ve got two tight ends coming in to obviously a very good situation already with Durham Smythe, Alizé [Mack], Nic Weishar, Tyler Luatua,” Kelly said. “We have great depth at that tight end position, and these two guys only add to it.
“I think you start and you look at the depth at that position, it really jumps out at you.”
WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“With Alizé [Mack] transitioning to receiver and Durham Smythe having health struggles these past few years, Luatua could very well be one of the team’s snap-leaders at the position. But he’s got to improve his technique and consistency.
“Skipping spring ball isn’t the best way to get a jump start on a position battle. But credit Luatua for making the tough decision to come back and to Kelly for welcoming him back with open arms.
“Luatua has too much experience not to play a significant supporting role. I don’t suspect he’ll find his way into the passing game with better options at the position, but this offense’s DNA could be that of a power-running team. And that means a significant role for the third-year contributor.”
In many respects, Luatua’s most-vital contribution this season was going to be as a mentor of sorts to Wright and Kmet. Depending on the health issues — and this is not a space prone to speculation on that regard — Notre Dame will certainly welcome Luatua to stick around the team for 2017, a la former Irish receiver Corey Robinson after concussion issues halted his career. Luatua still could provide that leadership for the incoming freshmen.
2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically): Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman, granted transfer release
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State