After a little bit of a hiatus we get back to our countdown of the top 11 players to play for the Fighting Irish over the last 11 years. Checking in at #3 is the last truly dominant offensive lineman to play for Notre Dame in the last decade – Jeff Faine.
Jeff Faine Notre Dame career summary
Faine came to Notre Dame as a heralded recruit out of Florida after earning USA Today First Team All American honors after his senior season at Seminole High School. Despite the accolades Faine red-shirted his freshman season at Notre Dame as he learned behind then starting center John Merandi. By his sophomore season though, Merandi had graduated and Faine stepped into his starting role – a position he would not let go of until he moved on to the NFL.
Over the course of the next three seasons, Faine started every game at center for the Irish anchoring the Notre Dame offensive line for three seasons. As a sophomore, Faine was part of an offensive line that paved the way for a 380 yard rushing effort including four rushing touchdowns against Boston College. For the season, Notre Dame ranked 14th in the nation in rushing despite not having a single running back top 700 yards on the season.
As a junior, Faine again led the Irsih offensive line although the offense struggled in Bob Davie’s final season at Notre Dame. Despite an ineffective passing game, the Irish ranked 30th nationally running the football despite quarterback Carlyle Holiday being the leading rusher.
In 2002, the Notre Dame offense again struggled at times, but Faine anchored a line that paved the way for Ryan Grant’s 1,000 yard season. Against Air Force the Irish ground attack racked up 335 yards and added another 249 yards against Stanford. Faine was the standout of the Irish line in 2002 earning 2nd team All American honors from the AP and first team honors from both ESPN and Sporting News.
Faine had a 5th year of eligibility remaining in 2003, but he was projected as a first round pick and decided against coming back for a final season.
Why Jeff Faine is on the countdown
Whenever there is a new offensive line recruit that comes along and is described as nasty or mean they are immediately compared to Faine and that’s because Faine was head and shoulders above the other offensive linemen to pass through Notre Dame over the last 11 years. There was really only one other lineman we even considered on this list and that was Ryan Harris. There’s been a few solid linemen but Faine was the only one to become a first round draft pick. In fact, Faine was only one of two players in the last 11 years to be selected in the first round regardless of position – the other being Brady Quinn.
Some may think that Faine is ranked a bit too high on this list, but unlike some other positions where there have been multiple great players to pass through Notre Dame over the last 11 years, Faine really stands out along the offensive line. Part of the problem with Notre Dame football in general over this time period has been ineffective offensive line play and a lack of players like Faine.
If Notre Dame had a few more linemen of Faine’s caliber, maybe the Irish wouldn’t have had four coaches over the last 11 years.
Notable performances, records & awards at Notre Dame
- AP 2nd Team All-American in 2002
- ESPN and Sporting News 1st Team All American in 2002
- Finalist for Remington Award in 2002
- Semi-finalist for Lombardi Award in 2002
- USA Today All American coming out of high school
- Started all 36 games for Notre Dame from 2000-2002
- One of only two Notre Dame players to be 1st round draft picks from 2000-2011
Post Notre Dame career
After being a first round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2003 NFL Draft, he spent three seasons in Cleveland before being traded to the New Orleans Saints during the 2006 NFL Draft. Faine spent the next two seasons in New Orleans where he earned a Pro Bowl Alternate selection following the 2007 season.
In 2008 Faine signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Bucs where he has played the past three seasons while serving as an offensive captain for the team.
Faine’s pro career hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of a first round pick, but he has had a solid career and looks to have a place in the league for the next several years. With the Bucs as an up and coming team led by the young and promising Josh Freeman at quarterback, Faine has a chance for some successful seasons in Tampa.