Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Atkinson III jumps into the arms of teammate Martin after a touchdown against Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their NCAA college football game in South Bend, Indiana

Martin’s return keyed by Hiestand’s results

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You won’t confuse Harry Hiestand for a man looking for greener pastures. The veteran offensive line coach, in his first season in South Bend, has no qualms being a position coach, a job that might seem like old hat for a respected assistant who has coached in a Super Bowl and spent the last three decades working in the trenches.

“As I’ve gone on in the years, I’ve found that what we do with the offensive line is what excites me,” Hiestand said. “It’s what brings me to work every day with a good attitude. An opportunity to work with those guys. It’s not to be a play caller or a head coach. That’s not really what motivates me everyday. What motivates me is seeing a group of guys, taking a group and trying to help them be the best that they can be as individuals and then put an offensive line together that can go out on the field and function and go out and win.”

Hiestand’s approach was music to the ears of the Irish offensive line, a group that rebuilt the right side and came together to be one of the most balanced offensive attacks in college football, averaging over 200 yards of offense on the ground and through the air this season.

While getting Mike Golic Jr. and Christian Lombard up to speed, and developing a second string with virtually no experience, Hiestand found one of his strongest supporters in his best player. Zack Martin, who decided to return for a fifth season after winning three straight lineman of the year awards for the Irish, paid Hiestand the ultimate compliment by returning for another year of tutelage.

“He’s everything I’ve ever wanted in an offensive line coach,” Martin said. “He pushes you on the field. He’s a technician. He’s taught us what it means to work, but off the field he’s somebody you can sit down and talk to and go have dinner with. The pride that he’s kind of instilled back in the offensive line here at Notre Dame, which hasn’t been here for a while, we started it and I want to finish it out next year.”

The return of Martin as the team’s left tackle means three veterans will anchor the line, with Martin, Chris Watt and Christian Lombard all returning. While finding Braxston Cave’s replacement at center will be imperative, having one of the nation’s top left tackles certainly cushions the blow quite nicely.

Hiestand was effusive in his praise of Martin, one of the most underrated linemen in college football according to the line coach.

“I’m not really sure who makes those decisions,” Hiestand said of All-American honors. “I watch an awful lot of film, so does our coaching staff. We don’t see anybody out there better than him. He’ll get it next year, I guess.

“He does everything: power plays, runs inside zone, outside zone. He’s a physical presence on the left side in the running game and he’s an excellent pass protector. I’d love to see the guy that somebody thinks is better than him, because I haven’t seen him.”

To his credit, Martin wasn’t too worried about the snubs, though he did earn second team All-American honors from the Walter Camp team.

“I’d much rather be on an undefeated team playing for the national title,” Martin said. “It didn’t bother me at all.”

After spending the past two years with Ed Warinner, there’s been no secret that the entire line has gelled under Hiestand’s supervision, a key hire for Kelly after Warinner left to join Urban Meyer’s staff as offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. And while the Irish ground game had taken steps forward in the first two years of Kelly’s tenure, Martin talked about the benefits of Hiestand’s hands-on philosophy, and how the communal play has helped the Irish succeed.

“So many people think that the offensive line is going out there and making one-on-one blocks,” Martin said. “But I’ve got to know what the right guard is doing. The ability to know what everyone is doing and playing together is a big thing we’ve been working on all year. We’ve gotten better, and we know that we haven’t played a complete game together.”

That opportunity to play a complete game is just less than three weeks away, against one of the most talented defenses in the country. But thanks to Hiestand, Martin and company are relishing the opportunity.

“The offensive line at Notre Dame the last how many years has been kind of the whipping boy of the team, so it’s time to change that,” Martin said. “I don’t think we could have gotten a better guy.”

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.