Irish TE finding double relief
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly offered Cole Kmet a day off last Saturday.
Kmet, the freshman tight end for Kelly and a left-handed reliever for Fighting Irish baseball coach Mik Aoki, said thanks, but no thanks.
“He said, ‘Coach, I threw 15 (actually 12) pitches, I didn’t do anything for two hours . of course, I’m practicing,”’ Kelly said before Notre Dame’s sixth practice of the spring.
It came 12 hours after Kmet earned his third save of the season, striking out one and allowing one hit in two-thirds of an inning of Notre Dame’s 5-2 baseball victory over Wake Forest.
When Kmet finished practicing late Saturday morning at Notre Dame’s indoor field, he dashed over to Eck Stadium for game two of the three-game Atlantic Coast Conference series with the Demon Deacons.
Kmet wasn’t used in the Saturday game, a 7-6 Irish victory in 10 innings, but Sunday he hurled an inning of relief, allowing three hits, a walk and an earned run while striking out two in a 9-3 loss.
Offensive coordinator Chip Long remembers Kmet making it to a 6:30 a.m. weightlifting session just hours after the baseball team returned from a southern trip.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Long said. “He does a great job for me and then he goes and gets a bunch of saves in baseball. And he’s pretty good in the classroom with an over 3.5 grade-point average. I’m sure he’s pretty tired.”
It’s no big deal to Kmet, who with younger brother Casey, a junior third baseman committed to Notre Dame, led St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, to the 3A state championship last season.
“I’m just making sure I’m having fun with it,” said Kmet, whose father Frank played defensive line at Purdue in the late 1980s.
“If I’m getting too stressed about it, then it may get a little hectic. Being able to balance everything can get difficult at times, but I’m making it work and it’s been fun so far.”
Kmet’s typical day includes football practice or workout from 7:45-10 a.m., classes from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., baseball practice in the late afternoon and study hall.
The most challenging part for the 6-foot-5 1/2, 255-pound Kmet? “Making sure I stay on top of all of my meals,” he said. “I tend to forget about (it) sometimes. I need to keep my weight up.”
Kelly seems OK with it.
“Other than the physical tools that we all see – he catches the ball, soft hands, he’s physical at the point of attack, he catches the ball and runs through tacklers – Cole handles two sports and is never on a list,” he said. “He’s not a guy we have to worry about going to class.”
Aoki, who has coached two-sport players Pat Connaughton (basketball-baseball) and Torii Hunter Jr. (football-baseball) at Notre Dame and coached against Irish two-sport star Jeff Samardzija (football-baseball) while head coach at Boston College, likes how Kmet has fit in with his team. The Notre Dame baseball team is 10-12 overall and 4-5 in the ACC.
In addition to his team-high three saves, Kmet’s low-90s mph fastball and sweeping curve have produced a 2.78 earned-run average in 22.2 innings over 10 appearances. He’s allowed 20 hits and walked 10 while striking out 19.
“He’s been one of our pillar guys coming out of the bullpen,” said Aoki, who gets Kmet full-time after Notre Dame’s spring football season concludes April 21 and believes he can help at the plate. “Cole can swing the bat – he’s a big strong kid with power.”
Kmet’s only plate appearance so far was a fielder’s choice as a pinch-hitter. His best mound appearance came on Feb. 17 when he picked up a four-inning save in a 10-5 victory at LSU, allowing one hit and two walks with three strikeouts.
“Cole is a strike thrower first and foremost,” Aoki said. “He’s a kid who is fearless in terms of putting his stuff into the strike zone. His curve can get sharper and his change-up can get better. But he’s got the most important thing – the mental toughness to go out there and compete.”