After helping one former Servite football player establish a long career in the NFL, the New England Patriots are hoping to extend the stay of another.
Troy Niklas, who graduated from Servite in 2011, signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in April, putting him in position to compete for the backup tight end job.
The Patriots play their first preseason game against the visiting Washington Redskins on Aug. 9.
Niklas told the Providence Journal after the second day of minicamp in June that the Patriots operate with a different mindset than his former team, the Arizona Cardinals.
“Just the intensity that everyone plays with and the detail of the coaches and all the players,” he said. “It’s unparalleled.”
Niklas won’t need to look far for guidance either.
Matthew Slater graduated from Servite eight years before Niklas and remains one of the best special team players in the NFL.
In addition to helping New England win two Super Bowls in the past four seasons, the 33-year-old Slater has been named to seven Pro Bowls.
Slater was drafted in the fifth round by the Patriots out of UCLA. Niklas was drafted in the second round by the Cardinals out of Notre Dame, the fourth tight end selected that year.
Injuries slowed Niklas from the start of his pro career, however.
He underwent hernia surgery a few months prior to the draft and his recovery kept him out the first few offseason practices. Shortly after his return, he broke his hand when his finger got tangled in a teammate’s jersey. Niklas appeared in seven games his rookie season with Arizona, catching three passes for 38 yards.
Niklas remained healthy for the entire 2015 season, but his offensive numbers didn’t improve much. He caught four passes for 33 yards, though two went for touchdowns.
He broke his wrist three games into the 2016 season and missed the rest of the year, then returned to the Cardinals last season and remained mostly healthy, starting 12 of 15 games and finishing with a career-high 11 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Many believe Niklas can be a reliable pass catcher in the NFL, a skill he demonstrated at Notre Dame. Heading into his junior season at the school, Niklas had combined for five catches his first two years, but then grabbed 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He skipped his senior year to enter the NFL.
“It’s not my job as an athlete to say whether I think I should get more catches or not,” Niklas told the Providence Journal. “That’s what the coaches are for, so I’m going to keep grinding and, hopefully, I can grind out a little bit of a role here in the passing game.”
Even before coming to Notre Dame, coaches were trying to usher Niklas away from a pass-catching role.
He played tight end his first two seasons at Servite, but was moved to offensive guard as a senior. He didn’t pout, instead helping Servite to a 14-1 record and a second straight CIF-SS Pac-5 Division title. He was named the Trinity League co-lineman of the year by the OC Register.
When he arrived at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish moved Niklas to defensive end. Again, he succeeded at his new position, but was hopeful to return to tight end, an opportunity that reemerged the following season.
Niklas hasn’t changed positions since, but he’s hoping a change of scenery will alter the course of his career.