The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 02, 2020 7:20 pm

Kmet, Lyght departing South Bend

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet will forego his final season of eligibility with the Irish and declare for the NFL draft, he announced Thursday.

"This was an incredibly difficult decision," Kmet posted on social media. "Because while I am ready for the NFL, I was not ready to say goodbye to Notre Dame. The Notre Dame experience has exceeded all my expectations as a football and baseball player and as a student.

"Whether it was running out of the tunnel wearing our gold helmets, walking across campus to the grotto or simply hanging out in the dorms, Notre Dame is a magical place because of the people you meet under the Golden Dome."

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Kmet, who also spent time as a pitcher with the Irish baseball team, caught 43 passes for 515 yards and a six touchdowns in 2019, ranking second in all three categories despite missing the first two games of the season with a broken collarbone sustained in training camp. 

He becomes one of the top tight ends in the draft and a likely early-round draft pick. ESPN has him listed at the No. 6 tight end available. Kmet joins safety Alohi Gilman and running back Tony Jones Jr. as Notre Dame players who this week have announced early departures for the NFL.

Kmet had said during the season that he planned to play baseball in the spring with his brother, Casey Kmet, who is also on the Notre Dame team, and then return for his final season of eligibility in football. His calculations likely changed after getting a lot of positive feedback from NFL scouts about his chances of being drafted in the early rounds. 

With Kmet departing and Chase Claypool graduating, the Irish are losing their top two pass-catchers from 2019. The return of Kevin Austin from season-long suspension, and the additions of five-star wide receiver Jordan Johnson and graduate transfer Bennett Skowronek (a Homestead graduate) will help fill that void, but the Irish also need Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III to step up. Losing Michael Young to transfer hurt in that department, as well.

Notre Dame also announced Thursday that cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght, who was an All-American with the Irish in 1989 and 1990, has left the program. Multiple reports say personal and family reasons caused his departure after five seasons with the Irish coaching staff.

"I’d like to thank Todd for his years of service to his alma mater," coach Brian Kelly wrote in a statement. "He has been a valuable part of our staff and his impact as both a player and coach here at Notre Dame will be lasting. As he leaves the university to pursue future endeavors, I’m grateful for everything Todd contributed, and we wish him, Stefanie and their family nothing but the best."

Lyght helped the Irish put together consistently excellent cornerbacks groups in his time in South Bend. His top accomplishment was assisting Julian Love's development from an overlooked three-star recruit into one of the top cover corners in Notre Dame history and a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft.

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