NCAA FB

Notre Dame TE Eifert starting to shine for Irish

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)

(Eds: With AP Photos.)

After the biggest game of his career, Tyler Eifert found time to catch a Toby Keith concert in Chicago last Saturday night.

Eifert enjoys a number of other country singers, but the Keith concert couldn't have been more fitting for the rugged Notre Dame tight end. After all, one of Keith's biggest hits is titled, ''How Do You Like Me Now?''

The Irish like Eifert plenty.

The 6-foot-6, 249-pound junior had four catches for 34 yards on Notre Dame's game-winning drive against Pittsburgh on Saturday, including the go-ahead touchdown. He then added a two-point conversion to his career-high total of eight catches to put the Irish ahead for good, 15-12.

''I'm not the guy that's going to be loud and run my mouth and be a tough guy,'' Eifert said, ''but I just do my job. That's what I've been taught to do. That's how I've been raised.''

Eifert has been developing a close relationship with Tommy Rees since the young quarterback arrived on campus. It paid off in a tense fourth quarter at Heinz Field.

''I think we feel real comfortable with each other,'' Rees said. ''We both kind of started playing at the same time last year. As far as a connection and chemistry, I think it's real strong on the field and I think our off-the-field relationship helps that.''

The two hang out regularly, playing video games and golf in their spare time. Rees acknowledges he's no match for Eifert on the golf course.

''We compete back and forth a little bit, but never that close,'' Rees said. ''He's a pretty good player.''

Eifert is pretty good on the football field as well. With 20 catches for 244 yards in the first four games, Eifert is a threat that helps Brian Kelly's spread attack.

''You need that balance inside-out within your passing game,'' Kelly said. ''Tyler offers us that kind of balance.''

Former Notre Dame tight ends like Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson had more size and strength than athletic ability, while Eifert is more wide receiver than tight end. His ability to catch passes was never doubted, but his development as a run-blocker has allowed Kelly to keep him in the game.

''For a guy that at times was seen as a hybrid wide receiver, he's done a nice job of in-line blocking,'' Kelly said. ''He's not perfect, but he's a pretty tough guy.''

Teammate Harrison Smith, a safety, said he admires Eifert after facing him in practice and seeing him continue to go up for balls across the middle.

''He's always taking a shot, but he always holds on to the ball,'' Smith said. ''I think that's something that shows his toughness.''

Eifert said he expects to catch those throws, and he expects to get back up after a big hit.

''It's just the way I've learned to do things and I've been taught to do things,'' he said.

The son of a former Purdue basketball player, Eifert is plenty familiar with the Purdue campus, where Notre Dame (2-2) will face the Boilermakers (2-1) on Saturday. He attended countless football games growing up and his strongest memory comes from the 2000 Rose Bowl season when Drew Brees threw a late 64-yard touchdown pass to Seth Morales to beat Ohio State.

Eifert also caught a few Notre Dame games at Purdue. He doesn't remember much about those matchups.

''Except that Notre Dame usually won,'' Eifert said. ''That was annoying.''

Eifert played his high school football in Fort Wayne, Ind., and expects plenty of friends and family to be in attendance this weekend. This time, he hopes to be part of that Notre Dame annoyance.

''It will be cool,'' Eifert said. ''I just need to approach it as any other game. Get mentally prepared and be ready to do my job.''

Tagged: Purdue, Notre Dame, Buffalo, Tyler Eifert, Tommy Rees, Brian Kelly

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