INDIANAPOLIS — There aren't many things I have in common with a 6-foot-4, 255-pound, NFL-bound tight end. But being a small eighth grader is one of them.
Back in middle school, Cole Kmet wasn't the biggest kid in his class, as you might suspect looking at him now. In fact, he was probably closer to one of the smallest.
Though he had been playing football since he could walk, once the pads came on and his classmates started shooting up in size all around him, Kmet almost gave up football for good years ago.
"I actually wasn’t too big back in eighth grade," Kmet said. "I didn’t know where I was fitting in the game. But I had a really good coach who told me to stick through it. I ended up growing a lot going into high school and have just kept maturing throughout the process. Obviously, became a pretty big kid.”
Kmet came from a football family. Both his father and uncle played in the NFL. So when Kmet told his parents that he wasn't going to play youth football anymore, it was a bit of a shock. But Kmet had his reasons. The main one being his lack of size, at the time, took the fun out of playing the game.
“It was at a time where I wasn’t growing very much," Kmet said. "So I was wondering, ‘Am I fast enough? Am I quick enough?’ I really wasn’t big enough at the time. I just didn’t really have a position. But definitely glad I stuck with it.”
Notre Dame certainly was too. In his final season of play, Kmet recorded 515 yards with six touchdowns. The Fighting Irish football program should actually be sending a thank you letter to Jeff Holdsberg, Kmet's youth coach who was able to talk Kmet out of hanging his cleats up before his football journey even really began.
“My youth coach was a guy who told me to come out to the team,” Kmet said. “He told me it would be a lot of fun, and I ended up playing a bunch of different positions; played fullback, tight end, played some quarterback. … Being quarterback was a lot of fun being in control of the offense.”
For Holdsberg, convincing Kmet to stick with football was a matter of matching the enjoyment he saw from Kmet in other areas of his life.
“In Cole, I saw a kid who had so much spirit and so much zest — for not just football but life generally,” Holdsberg told the Indy Star. “I felt like it’s too critical a time in his life not to get the benefit of being on the field with all of his buddies and frankly getting a chance to understand how gifted he is, not only as a player but as a teammate.”
You can still see some of that versatility in his game. Kmet said he looks to guys like Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, players with the size to be both a reliable player on the line of scrimmage and a big slot mismatch off the line. Kmet said he loves to attack the seams. He noted that teams have told him that he needs to work on his blocking to get the most out of his value at his size, but that the mismatch opportunities in the passing game are there.
Wherever he ends up, Kmet has a good football future ahead of him. As an athlete who plays golf, bowling and could have even been a potential pro prospect in baseball — he had a 95 mph fastball at one point — Kmet is full steam ahead with his football life.
"At the end of the day, this is what I want to do," Kmet said. "Whether that's short-lived or not ... life short, you gotta do the things you love."