New Bears tight end Cole Kmet’s 2019 season at Notre Dame got off to a rough start after the then-junior broke his collarbone in fall training camp. Kmet missed the first two games of the year, both Irish wins, and made his debut in one of the most anticipated games of the year - a September showdown that pitted the #7 Fighting Irish against the #3 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.
Former ND offensive coordinator Chip Long, who parted ways with Brian Kelly’s staff after the season, had high praise for his former tight end on the most recent episode of the Under Center podcast, and recalled how Kmet was able to overcome injuries throughout his career in South Bend. “He’s a mutant... the year before, he had a horrific high ankle sprain that easily takes people a month (to recover from), and he’s back in 2 weeks. It’s the most amazing thing.”
Being able to play through pain is an important trait for any NFL player, and what Kmet did that September night against the Irish’s toughest competition all season likely raised eyebrows amongst the NFL scouting community. Despite not being 100%, Kmet carved up the Bulldogs defense for 9 catches, 108 yards, and a touchdown to lead all receivers in the 23-17 Georgia win.
“It shows his mental toughness,” explains former Notre Dame wide receiver and current NBC Sports contributor Corey Robinson. “When you’re in a situation like that, ‘I can’t feel my leg and I gotta go up against a top-5 Georgia team,’ that’s when the real athletes come to the forefront. There are guys who could tap out, there are guys who could let it get to their head. You’re a big-time recruit because you play in big-time moments when the lights come on, regardless of what happened. What you saw there with Cole, he’s ready to play, he’s a professional about it.”
Obviously, a player doesn’t get selected in the top 50 picks of the NFL Draft based on one game alone, but one game can certainly set a tone, and make an impression that scouts and GMs remember when they’re on the clock months later.
“I thought he was a man amongst boys, and I know a lot of the coaches on Georgia’s team, they were just like, ‘we couldn’t tackle him,’” said Long. “I think that game right there really set him apart from a lot of guys, and made him the number one tight end in the draft.”