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Notre Dame Football

How Michael Mayer Developed into the Nation's Most Complete Tight End Under Gerad Parker

March 3, 2023

Michael Mayer became an All-American at Notre Dame after setting just about every Fighting Irish tight end receiving record. In three seasons, he snagged 180 catches for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

With a broad build and angry on-the-field demeanor, Mayer earned an early reputation as an elite run-blocker built in the model of former New England Patriots great Rob Gronkowski. 

Apparently, that’s a perception few NFL teams shared when Mayer declared for the upcoming draft.

A consistent piece of critical feedback Mayer has received from scouts and front office personnel at the 2023 NFL Combine is that he often gets by due to his brute strength and elite athleticism at 265 pounds.

“I have to work on my blocking technique,” Mayer said, “there’s no doubt about that.”

However, Mayer showed significant signs of improvement under tight ends coach Gerad Parker. 

 “I feel like this past year, it’s something I took a jump on,” Mayer said. “I started working on it way more than I did [during] my freshman and sophomore years at Notre Dame. At this point, it’s going to keep getting better.”

His growth was noticeable. In 2022, Mayer received the fifth best Pro Football Focus grade as a run blocker among tight ends with at least 50 snaps. 

The year prior, Mayer finished outside the top 100. 

He also continued to progress. Five of his six best run-blocking performances came in the second half of Notre Dame’s season. 

“It was the details,” Mayer said. “It was [Parker] coming in and really focusing on, ‘Look, your foot should be going here. Your hands should be going here.’ Instead of just saying, ‘Yeah, you got in front of the guy. You blocked him.’

Of the four tight ends to rank ahead of Mayer as a run blocker last fall, only Minnesota’s Brevyn Spann-Ford caught more than four passes. Nevertheless, Mayer outgained him by 312 yards and seven touchdowns. 

That’s not to say Mayer plateaued as a route-runner, even if his receiving numbers in 2021 and 2022 are similar.

Michael Mayer Receiving Statistics at Notre Dame By Season

Year Games Catches Yards Touchdowns
2020 12 42 450 2
2021 12 71 840 7
2022 12 67 809 9

Two seasons ago, opposing defensive coordinators couldn’t devote their entire game plan toward stopping Mayer. At the time, the Irish still had a legit No. 1 wide receiver in Kevin Austin, who caught 48 passes for 888 yards and seven scores.

Last fall, sophomore Jayden Thomas led Notre Dame wideouts with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, less than half of Austin’s production the year prior. 

Again, Parker’s detail-oriented approach helped Mayer thrive despite facing frequent double teams.

Parker gave Mayer tips like, “you need to go two more steps here because you have to go three or four more yards. You can’t cut that short. If you cut that short, the defender’s going to pick it. He’s going to get a hand on it.”

While dissecting the game of his prized pupil, Parker also built a lasting relationship with Mayer. 

“It was easy to get along with coach Parker,” Mayer said. “We’re both Kentucky boys. The first thing he did was call me right when he got hired. He wasn’t even on campus yet. Called me right away and said, ‘Look, we’re going to do some special things this year. I already have some things in my mind I know we can do.’”

Of course, it can’t be all football all the time. If a coach fails to invest in a player’s off-the-field pursuits, then it's easy to assume they’re more interested in what a player like Mayer can do to catapult their own career. 

According to Mayer, that’s far from Parker’s approach. 

“It’s always, ‘How’s life? How was your day?’ Things like that,” Mayer said. “That’s important for a coach to do. There’s no doubt about that. It doesn’t always have to be football. You can talk about life, talk about family, what’s going on in you’re life, things like that. 

“He builds a connection like that. He’s not always talking about football. He really cares what’s going on in your personal life too. That’s very important for a coach.” 

Of course, coach Marcus Freeman promoted Parker to offensive coordinator on Feb. 18. Per reports, Parker wasn’t Notre Dame’s first or second choice. 

He may lack the experience of Utah’s Andy Ludwig or the reputation of Kansas State’s Collin Klein. Still, Mayer believes his former position coach will thrive as a player-caller for the same reasons Parker developed him into college football’s most complete tight end. 

“[Those traits] will translate tremendously,” Mayer said. “He knows a ton about the game of football. He’s been around football a ton. He played in college. I’m excited to see what they can do there. They have some weapons there, that’s for sure. It’s going to be fun watching him this next season.”

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