Is Notre Dame the Next ‘Offensive Line U’?

Notre Dame Offensive Line
Photo: Fred Kfoury III // Icon Sportswire

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was effusive with his praise of Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens’ first-round NFL Draft selection and No. 6 player taken overall.  And Harbaugh was quick to reference Notre Dame’s offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand, as a reason why taking Stanley was an easy choice.

“You have people you trust in the profession, and that goes a long way,” Harbaugh told the media, solidifying Notre Dame’s reputation as a program NFL teams can trust to produce qualify offensive linemen.  It has taken Notre Dame a long time to turn around its spotty NFL reputation over the past two decades, but Harry Hiestand has played the most critical role in the transformation.

Hiestand has coached two left tackles since arriving in South Bend and both became first-round NFL Draft picks, and many experts have new starter Mike McGlinchey as a real threat to keep the first-round club going.  Nick Martin – one of the aforementioned left tackles – has since been moved to guard by the Dallas Cowboys and became the first rookie since 1947 to make the NFL’s All-Pro team.  It’s that kind of NFL-caliber development that head coach Brian Kelly was seeking when he reeled Hiestand in from Knoxville.

“He’s respected in the ranks of the NFL for developing players,” Kelly said.  “They know when Harry gets his hands on them that they can expect somebody who has been coached in all the fundamentals – that they’ll be ready to move on to the next level.”

As exciting as it may be to see Notre Dame once again producing top-flight offensive linemen, the true excitement should stem from the fact Hiestand is just as effective as a recruiter.  Two years ago Hiestand brought in 5-star viral sensation Quentin Nelson – now starting at left guard as a redshirt sophomore – and last year managed to sign Tristen Hoge, the No. 1 ranked center in the nation.  And so far Hiestand is lining up an elite recruiting board for the Class of 2017.

Foster Sarell is a 5-star offensive tackle from Graham, Wash., with offers from the likes of Alabama and USC.  Sarell’s quick feet and athleticism despite his large frame – he was 320 pounds as a junior in high school – has earned him a spot as one of the nation’s top 2017 prospects given his ability to play any position at the next level.  The West Coast talent has become a top priority for the in-state Huskies as well as Stanford, yet Hiestand has managed to lock Sarell in for a June visit to the Irish Invasion.

The same could be said for 4-star offensive tackle and Atlanta, Ga., native Andrew Thomas.  A top 100 recruit with offers from Alabama, Georgia and Michigan, Thomas has elite size and maneuverability, and he’s the kind of prospect that rarely leaves SEC territory.  Yet Thomas is set to visit Notre Dame with his parents for the Irish Invasion, and with a desire to major in business, Hiestand has positioned himself to pull a major recruiting upset.

And Notre Dame is also doing well with 4-star offensive tackle Trey Smith, arguably one of the most intriguing offensive linemen on the recruiting board.  An unranked player nationally, Smith boasts elite SEC scholarship offers and shows flashes of Ronnie Stanley but with a mean streak.  What Smith lacks in technique – likely due to the lower level of competition he faces in high school – he more than makes up for with desire, a fact frequently seen on his Hudl highlight film as he routinely punishes the opposition with pure power.

Should any of the listed offensive linemen choose Notre Dame they would be teaming up with an elite lineman already in the commitment column in Joshua Lugg.  A top 100 player from Wexford, Pa., Lugg pledged to play for the Irish nearly one year ago after an impressive visit with Hiestand.

“It felt like family,” Lugg said after giving his commitment.  “I think the biggest thing that impacted me that was different than any other visit I took was that every person I met came up and introduced themselves to me.  That stood out.”

Harry Hiestand’s ability to not only recruit elite players to Notre Dame but to produce high NFL Draft picks has been one of strongest elements of the Brian Kelly era in South Bend.  A few more successful cycles and Notre Dame might be able to add “Offensive Line U” next to its “Tight End U” moniker.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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4 Comments

  1. Now we just need to get some elite “big nasty’s” for the D-line, and then the Irish will be ready for glory once again!

    Nice article, Scott.

  2. Wow, just looking at the pic above would make any RB want to run behind that group. And the pic is missing big nasty Q Nelson.

  3. @Bob Rodes

    Good call. I suppose Notre Dame has been putting so many linemen into the NFL recently that I’m starting to mix them up!

  4. Hey Scott,

    You have “Nick Martin – one of the aforementioned left tackles – has since been moved to guard by the Dallas Cowboys” and you mean Zack Martin.

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