Notre Dame has certainly earned the moniker of "Tight End U", and no program has done a better job of producing top college tight ends and high draft picks at the position than have the Fighting Irish. That fact is certainly not lost on Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster School standout tight end Holden Staes.
Measured at 6-4 and 230 pounds, Staes has offers from all across the country and was at one time committed to Penn State, but the versatile prospect backed off of that pledge in February. Since that time, Staes has been hearing regularly from the Fighting Irish among a long list of interested suitors.
“I would say Notre Dame, Texas, LSU and Georgia are the four school that are the most anxious for me to come check them out,” Staes told Irish Breakdown. “Those are the four schools I talk to the most frequently, then North Carolina is in there and a couple other schools but those are the ones I talk to the most.”
Last season, Staes started at both tight end and defensive end for the Wildcats, but his season was shortened due to injury. Despite missing some time, Staes still showed that he can be a downfield threat in the passing game when called upon in addition to his natural blocking ability. And as a result of that profile, Staes is a major target for the Fighting Irish.
“It started off with the offer from Coach [John] McNulty,” Staes said. “For the first few weeks, I was really talking to him for the most part. Once we started getting deeper, I started talking a lot to Coach [Tommy] Rees. We started doing a lot of offensive Zooms where I would get on with Coach Rees and Coach McNulty.
"They would take me through where they see me fitting in in their system," continued Staes. "Then after we got through with those first Zooms of me getting used to what they're doing offensively with the tight ends and all that, that's when I started getting into more of the academic stuff of Notre Dame and the strength and conditioning program, everything that the school has to offer.”
Though Staes is located in Georgia, he is well-versed in what his future could look like in South Bend thanks to the ND coaching staff and he touched on several factors that currently stand out.
“Notre Dame is one of the most historical programs in college football, so definitely the opportunity to play for a program like that, definitely the opportunity that it gives you academically and football to play on such a big stage,” Staes added. “Two of the past three years they've gotten to the playoff, which is something a lot of schools can't say they've done. The rich history they have with the tight ends position is definitely impressive. They have been putting tight ends in the NFL for a very long time, and I don't see that stopping anytime soon. Those are the things that are the most intriguing to me for sure.”
Over a series of Zooms and virtual calls, Staes has learned more about how he would fit in specifically with the Notre Dame offense, and he sees the program's ability to develop pro-caliber tight ends as an important aspect of the program's selling points.
“The tight end position is so unique,” Staes explained. “A lot of schools pitch that they have big plans to use the tight end and are going to use the tight end more, but there are very few schools that are actually following through on that and taking advantage of the mismatch opportunities that the tight end can present. That is definitely a big piece for me.”
Since Staes already committed and decommitted from Penn State, and he is no longer interested in releasing a group of top schools. Instead, Staes says that he will forgo that route and just plans to commit when he feels comfortable, so that is a dynamic timetable that could change at any time.
Until that time comes, Staes is working on rehabbing his hamstring with a series of trainers after suffering a minor injury during the offseason. Overall, the Notre Dame target is aiming to refine his route-running and boosting his football IQ prior to the 2021 season.
Staes is a consensus four-star recruit, and ESPN ranks him as the nation's No. 96 overall player and the No. 1 tight end in the country.
“Staes is a very intriguing prospect, and it's clear why the Notre Dame staff is pushing for him in the class. He is one of those prospects who has all the measurables and tools you want, but he's still a bit on the raw side, which means he's more about upside than being a fine-tuned prospect.
"Staes is listed at 6-4 and 230 pounds, and he looks to be every bit of that. I'm impressed with his length, which helps him as a pass catcher and blocker. Staes has the length and body control to provide his quarterback with a bigger than normal catching zone (catch radius), and his natural power and length combines to help him be effective in the run game.
"Staes is a pretty good high school defensive lineman as well, and I like his willingness to play physical on both sides of the ball, traits that make him a legit weapon as an attached tight end. There's room for him to improve his weight room strength and blocking technique, but Staes has a high ceiling as a run blocker.
"Staes is a smooth athlete that shows the kind of second gear you need to be able to stretch the field on seams and vertical routes, and to outrun linebackers horizontally on crossing routes and drags. Although he needs work on the finer points of route running, Staes has impressive agility and balance, traits that should allow him to develop into a top-notch route runner.
"As his route running improves he'll be an incredibly difficult matchup as an attached or flexed tight end. Linebackers are going to have a hard time matching up with his athleticism, and safeties will have a very difficult time handling his length and ball skills. Staes won't wow you with elite athleticism like a Kyle Pitts (Florida) or a Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame), but his all-around skillset is impressive.
"Staes shows excellent focus in traffic, and he's more than willing to lock in on the field while the defense collapses around him. He shows good feel for finding open spots against zone defenses, and with his catch radius and strong hands he presents his quarterback with to go high in order to get the ball into tight zones.
"Staes shows loose hips for such a big athlete, and when you combine that with his length and ability to track the ball he's able to be a highly effective bad-ball and back shoulder pass catcher, traits that should make him dangerous in the red zone.”
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