SOUTH BEND -- Before Troy Niklas turned August camp into his personal carnival show, the Notre Dame tight end-in-training had to get past some anxious moments off the field.
"It really wasn't that bad," the personification of Bamm-Bamm all grown up insists.
In the rearview mirror, perhaps it does appear minimized. But the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Irish football sophomore had to deal with severe headaches and sleep deprivation issues last spring, all of which were originally investigated as a possible concussion.
The rumors got loud and extreme enough in early summer that Niklas' condition was supposedly considered career-threatening. But Niklas insists it was an overstatement.
And now, his progress may be causing sleep deprivation for the opposition.
"He's a big physical kid," Kelly understated. "As you all know, as he walks by, he passes the eye test. He can catch the ball. I just think he's a young guy learning every day.
"He's committed. He works hard. He takes great care of himself. He's a guy we're counting on in terms of helping us in the fall."
And that was the case even before junior backup Alex Welch suffered a season-ending injury on Aug. 8, the first day for the Irish in full pads this fall.
You don't move your likely starter at drop linebacker to a crowded tight end group that includes All-American Tyler Eifert, as Kelly did in January, if you don't project a tantalizingly high ceiling.
Niklas' growth curve at tight end, in the meantime, has been amusing to watch. For instance, on the very first day of training camp, the Fullerton Calif., product capsized a blocking sled. Then, moments later, he did it again.
"I didn't intend to flip it the first time," Niklas said, "but then when I found out I could, I was like, 'I might as well do it again.' "
No one defending Niklas in practice looks like they're in a hurry to go tackle him. He towers over safeties or runs them over or outruns them -- or all of the above.
"Physically, he can lift a car up," Kelly said. "It's not an issue. He's strong physically, but it was technique and understanding leverage and all the things that go with being at the tight end position.
"But he's made great strides. Losing Alex was difficult. There's a lot of anxiety when you lose a really good player who's shown himself well, but to see those other tight ends have a couple of really good days puts your (concern) somewhere else."
Niklas, first, had to get past some unsettling days of his own last spring. Kelly even held him out of the final week of spring practice and the Blue-Gold Game as a precautionary measure.
In between the end of spring semester and the start of summer schools, Niklas underwent biofeedback in California. His treatment delayed his arrival for the summer session by a week.
"It was actually some really interesting stuff that I got to be involved with," Niklas said. "They were doing some research, and I feel like that really helped me with my sleep and some other stuff. I was literally playing a video game with my brain. It was very cool."
Now carving out his niche in an offense, that will undoubtedly feature some multi-tight end sets, is the cool thing on Niklas' list.
"I'm really enjoying the switch," he said. "Obviously, going out, catching touchdowns, blocking on the edge, just really any way you can dominate at this position is really fun.