Like most Chicago-area kids born in the late 1990s, Bears second-round NFL draft pick Cole Kmet’s formative football years were filled with the team’s top-ranked defense led by Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher.
But Kmet's devotion to his hometown NFL team ran deeper.
The former Notre Dame tight end, who grew up in Lake Barrington, Illinois, and attended St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, became a second-generation Bear when general manager Ryan Pace used the 43rd overall pick on Friday.
Cole’s father, Frank Kmet, a defensive lineman from Mount Prospect, Illinois, played at Purdue and was a fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills. Then he spent the 1993 season on the Bears' practice squad.
“It was something that I was aware of, that [my dad] would talk about,” Kmet said Friday. “Playing for the Bears, for him, was a dream for him, too, because he grew up in the area as well. It’s just pretty amazing to know that now I’m going to be suiting up for my hometown team.”
The expectations for the younger Kmet will be significantly higher than they were for his father.
Kmet was a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame (football and baseball) and was the top tight end prospect in this year's draft class. He left Notre Dame with 60 career catches for 691 yards and six touchdowns, and the Bears believe Kmet only scratched the surface of his potential.
“He’s definitely an ascending player,” Pace said Friday. “I can’t imagine a two-sport athlete at a major university like Notre Dame and trying to do both and now just focusing on football. But with the mindset that he has, the drive that he has ... You talk to everybody at Notre Dame, and they just raved about the person that he is and just the approach that he has. I think that’s all going to lead to him ascending as we go forward.”
Kmet joins a crowded tight end room. The Bears have nine tight ends on their roster after Chicago also added veterans Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris in free agency. The front office and coaching staff view Kmet as a classic "Y" tight end.
Cole Kmet's 2020 NFL draft profile
Revisit former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet's top highlights as he scores big for the Fighting Irish to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft.
“You really have two different styles to TEs in this offense,” Pace said. “You have the ‘U’ tight end, that would apply more to Jimmy Graham, and you have the ‘Y’ tight end, which is a little bit more of an in-line guy, good in the run game, and he needs to have the size to be able to do that, and that’s what we see in Cole."
The Bears had one of the league's least productive groups of tight ends in 2019. Veteran Trey Burton (released) led Chicago tight ends with 14 catches, and J.P. Holtz topped all tight ends on the roster with just 91 receiving yards.
"Where [Cole is] at growth-wise," coach Matt Nagy said Saturday, "growing as a run-blocker, as a pass-protector, and then also you can see the highlights of what he can do with that football in his hands. He's the total package."
Kmet called the idea of playing close to home a best-case scenario -- not just for him but for his entire family. Most rookies will eventually (when the league reopens) relocate to unfamiliar cities around unfamiliar people. But that fate does not await Kmet as he adjusts to NFL life.
“My mom was the most pleased just because she knows I’m going to be staying around home, which she’s really happy about,” Kmet said. “I mean, my whole family, we grew up Bears fans. So this is just unreal for us. It’s a huge dream come true.”