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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year

Brigham Young v Notre Dame

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 08: Wide receiver Jayden Thomas #83, defensive linemen Jason Onye #47 and Isaiah Foskey #7, tight end Holden Staes #85, cornerback TaRiq Bracy #28, offensive lineman Zeke Correll #52, safety Houston Griffith #3 and cornerback Cam Hart #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate after the team’s 28-20 victory over the Brigham Young Cougars in the Shamrock Series game at Allegiant Stadium on October 08, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-4 ¼, 242 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Staes has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Staes was one of just two tight ends healthy this spring, along with junior starter Mitchell Evans. Staes may be jumped by classmate Eli Raridon once the latter is fully recovered from an October ACL tear, but it is more likely Staes’ health keeps him as Notre Dame’s No. 2 tight end in 2023.
Recruiting: The recruiting rankings industry can be hard to understand. Staes signed with the Irish in December of 2021 as the No. 23 tight end in the class, turning down offers from Alabama, his homestate power Georgia and Texas. He had previously broken a six-month commitment to Penn State, one made in the midst of the recruiting dead period in the pandemic.

But when the recruiting cycle completely concluded two months after Staes signed with Notre Dame, he had risen to be the No. 8 tight end in the class, per A slight move in one direction or another could make some sense in the final rankings update, but jumping 15 spots in his positional rankings is an example of the recruiting rankings industry being an enigma.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story was published before Notre Dame announced Staes will change his number to No. 13 from No. 85 this season, hence him popping up so much earlier in the annual 99-to-0 countdown than No. 13 would suggest.

As the Irish tight ends fell to injury last season, combined with Notre Dame having nearly as few healthy receivers, Staes was pushed into more playing time despite arriving on campus just in the summer. After playing minimally in the first three weeks, he appeared in the final 10 games of the season. His sole catch came against BYU, an 11-yard first down.

The vintage-designed Notre Dame crewneck worn by Staes in the second photo here, is that widely available for purchase?

Staes arrived to a depth chart that placed him fifth or sixth in the pecking order in the summer of 2022. He had less experience than any of those ahead of him. There was no reason to think he would have a contributing role as a freshman. Playing in 11 games, no matter the limited stat, stood out. Staes recognized that.

“I was definitely happy with my role last year, coming in as a freshman in the summer,” he said in March. “I just wanted to show [tight ends coach and now offensive coordinator Gerad Parker] what I could do in fall camp and learn from the best tight end in the country in Michael Mayer. I did that.

“It was definitely a great experience for me, playing in most of the games last year, and get a new off-field experience, the crowds, the away games.”

If Staes lucked into that life at the misfortune of others, he made the most of it and knows the dividends should continue to pay off for him, even after sophomore Eli Raridon and senior Kevin Bauman return to health.

“This is my first spring, I feel a lot more comfortable with my opportunity, the playbook, my mental aspect of the game, presnap, stuff like that,” he said. “Just show how comfortable I am.”

“At fifth or sixth on the depth chart, it is hard to envision Staes making an impact in 2022. He should appear in four games, nonetheless, particularly given he could fit well on kickoff coverage teams.

“Scout-team work could have a long-term dividend, in that early-enrolled freshman quarterback Steve Angeli will be throwing at that level in many practices, as well, giving Staes a chance to develop a rapport with a possible future Irish starting quarterback. …

“Presume Staes remains at tight end — his body profile could fit at boundary receiver, a position desperately lacking options at the moment. When Mayer heads to the NFL draft’s first round in 2023, Notre Dame will need to find a new all-around option.

“Evans and current sophomore Cane Berrong both fit that description on paper, though Evans is still new to the position as a former high school quarterback. Raridon’s athleticism will draw many eyeballs in practice, as well. But Staes has the frame to be the all-around tight end needed.

“In many respects, Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees likes a pseudo-receiver at tight end. Tyler Eifert served him well in his playing days, and he has gotten to enjoy the play-calling luxuries of Cole Kmet and Michael Mayer in his current role.

“When realizing those are the three Notre Dame tight ends Rees has the most experience with, it is stark how big the shoes will be to fill.”

Staes oozed confidence this spring. When he arrived on campus less than a year ago, he weighed about 220 or 225 pounds. At the start of spring practices, so let’s call that eight months after he began working in a collegiate strength and conditioning program, Notre Dame listed Staes at 242 pounds. His confidence stemmed from knowing he had addressed a significant lacking in his game, something he had known he would need to fix before he became a top-line player.

“Proving that I’m a capable blocker in my game,” he said this spring. “I made some good offseason weight-room improvements, seeing my weight go up, see how that translates from the weight room to the field and holds up in my game. Proving that I’m better with my feet than with my hands, being a good blocking teammate.”

Strengthening that aspect of his game should get Staes only more playing time. He came to college with a promising background running routes. That was never the worry. Now, there should be little keeping Staes from a near full-time role.

“I think I’m a mismatch nightmare,” he said. “In the slot for any linebacker or safety that tries to guard me, I think I’m faster than them. Any ball that touches my hands, I’m going to catch it. And then I think I’m really athletic in the run game.”

Speculating on Staes’ 2023 stat line is difficult, given Evans should still lead Notre Dame’s tight ends and the Irish hardly used a No. 2 tight end in the passing game the last couple of years while Mayer dominated all comers. But if Staes ends the year with a dozen catches for 150 yards, that would be enough to keep defenses worried about him at all times.

All of the Irish tight ends may return in 2024. The odds are, at least one will transfer. As the No. 2 tight end, though, that probably will not be Staes. Too much can land on that nominal backup role to lose it with a transfer.

He will hardly want for playing time behind Evans, Notre Dame’s personnel still geared for multiple tight end sets even if Tommy Rees is no longer calling them.

A starting role may not arrive for Staes until 2025, but he should be playing plenty the next two seasons, readying him for that mantle.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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