Brian Kelly surprised Tyler Eifert and Zack Martin on Tuesday. The issue wasn’t so much that the tight end and offensive tackle were named captains. Each ranks as a future early round NFL pick. And both seniors represent two of Notre Dame’s most conscientious contributors.
The surprise came when Kelly asked each to address the team, along with defensive captains Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, after the announcement.
“That’s like my nightmare,” Eifert said. “No, I didn’t know it was coming and didn’t prepare. I just said I’m not going to change the way I do things. My head’s not going to get bigger. I’m still going to stay the same guy.”
Eifert and Martin represent two of Notre Dame’s more introverted captains, although considering the Irish didn’t have one on offense last year and went game-by-game in Kelly’s first season, the potential All-Americans should say more than a vacant post.
Kelly, who named the captains after conferring with the coaching staff instead of putting it to a team vote, said he wasn’t looking for vocal leadership, even if that’s something usually linked to the job.
“They're not afraid to tell others how it needs to get done. Maybe not in a vocal fashion,” Kelly said. “Also, they're great guys to mirror. When your best players are your best workers … those guys were our best workers in the summer, they did all the things and they're great players as well.”
With Notre Dame set to depart for Dublin on Wednesday afternoon, the task for Martin and Eifert becomes helping the Irish avoid repeating the season-opening disaster of South Florida. That means settling an offense with a new starting quarterback, new starting running back, new starting right tackle and four key receivers that have never seen the field.
Martin plans to talk to Golson about his first start three years ago when he matched first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan, playing the Purdue defensive end to a virtual draw. Eifert’s message might be more about embracing anxiety considering the tight end still gets nervous before games.
“I remember my first start going against a guy like (Kerrigan), it was don’t screw up, don’t screw up the first couple plays. Don’t make an idiot of yourself,” Martin said. “That’s the best thing I can give to Everett (Golson) or any of the other first-time starters, take it a play at a time. If you get beat, it happens, you can’t be perfect. Go to the next play.
“That was the biggest thing as I was younger, I’d get stuck on plays. The best thing is just to go to the next play.”
Martin has done that ever since, rated as Notre Dame’s top offensive lineman each of the past two seasons with a potential NFL draft decision coming after the season. Eifert’s future career track seems more certain after he tweeted about this semester being his final one at Notre Dame.
While what comes next could be a distraction, the reason Kelly appointed both captains is their hyper-focus on the present. Their perspectives might be understated, but their Notre Dame careers speak volumes.
“The perception of when there’s a captain or a leader is that they have to give speeches and all that stuff,” Eifert said. “Obviously that’s something I have to work on, but my every day work ethic and trying to be a reliable and accountable guy helped me get where I am.”