Tyler Stockton played in six games in four years at Notre Dame. He's seen action in seven this year alone.
NOTRE DAME — In most cases, Notre Dame coaches reserve fifth-year invitations for their biggest contributors.
The Zack Martins, the Michael Floyds, the Kapron Lewis-Moores. The game-changers. The play-makers.
The guys who typically weigh a shot at the NFL Draft against returning for one final year with the blue and gold.
Those NFL offers won’t come for Tyler Stockton.
Stockton, who has battled injuries and conditioning issues, has been firmly entrenched as a third-string nose guard most of his career. In four years, he played in six games, all of which came in 2010.
But when the coaches unexpectedly approached Stockton during the offseason with an offer to return for a fifth year, the choice was easy.
Playing or not, Stockton wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the game he loved.
“Many people go through some situations, they get down, they don’t even like football any more,” he said. “I’ve loved it since I was a little kid. I’m not going to stop even if I’m not playing much.
“The whole week of school went by and I was like ‘I don’t think I’m going to be playing football anymore.’ (Coaches) called at the end of the week and they said we have a spot for you, and I said ‘Let’s go.’”
Head coach Brian Kelly said the decision to offer Stockton a fifth year wasn’t about his contributions on the field, but his influence on team chemistry. Stockton is the face of the weekly Trick Shot Monday videos, a relatively young Notre Dame tradition that features players attempting to bank a ping pong ball into a cup of water.
“He’s a great kid, really like his personality, he’s a team player,” Kelly said. “He’s done whatever we have asked him to do, whether it’s on scout team. Just a real good team player for us. He’s also a big body. The one thing that we lack around here is sometimes the depth in those positions.
“So we felt like he brought a lot to our program at the scholarship level, that 1 through 85, he brought value to this program.”
The decision to return has paid off in the most unlikely of ways for the Linwood, N.J., native. Injuries to Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke have left the door wide open for Stockton. As the two nose guards recover, Stockton has wedged into seven games and was part of the final defensive effort against Navy on Saturday, Nov. 2.
“I was joking around a couple of days ago, saying that if you would have told me last year that, in my fifth year, I’d be going in the game against Navy with 30 seconds left, I probably was going to be laughing,” Stockton said. “But I was ready. I was like ‘all right, let’s go. Let’s get a stop. Let’s win.’”
Suddenly, the man Kelly dubbed “a locker room personality” was getting his shot in the final games of his football career.
“I came into the season knowing that I’m gonna be a guy they have to count on,” Stockton said. “If that’s a guy on the sideline coaching or if that’s a guy that comes in and plays.”
Nix is still on the mend, recovering from knee tendinitis and a torn meniscus. Kelly said Nix is “hopeful” for Saturday’s trip to Pittsburgh, but he still may be limited in his play.
If that’s the case, Stockton is ready.
His four years on the sideline aren’t proving to be exactly a waste, either. Stockton found a niche for coaching, something he hopes to pursue after graduation.
“I was going to get my MBA this year, and I sat in my class and thought I can’t see myself at a desk, working on a computer,” Stockton said. “I love this sport too much. That’s what I want to do. Give back. All these coaches helped me out throughout my life. I feel like I need to do the same.
“I want to coach people like Sheldon (Day), people like Lou, people like Kona.”
This weekend, those three may be coaching Stockton.