Jul 19, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
One of four graduate students on the Irish roster, Christian Lombard feels like he’s been a part of the Notre Dame football program for a long time. As one of Charlie Weis’ earliest commitments in the 2010 class, Lombard has seen coaching changes, position switches and injury challenges in his five years in South Bend.
The injuries have only come recently. Back surgery ended 2013 for him after seven games. A freak wrist break ended his spring practice. But Lombard is healthy and will be back in the starting lineup, manning the right guard position for Harry Hiestand.
Let’s take a closer look at the Chicagoland product.
6’5″, 315 lbs.
Graduate Student, No. 74
A USA Today and Parade All-American, Lombard played in the Army All-American Bowl, and looked the part of a blue-chip offensive lineman. The Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois pledged very early to Notre Dame, a key building block to a transitional recruiting class.
Looking the part of an elite tackle, the Irish staff thought they had two key building blocks with Lombard and the late Matt James. Here’s more from Kelly on his first Signing Day in South Bend.
“Another premier offensive lineman,” Kelly said of Lombard’s talents. “If you’re looking at national recruits, both Lombard and James fill the bill for that, and on the offensive line, that’s why we’ve got some short-term successes and both of these guys are going to help us short-term and in the future as we develop our football program.”
Freshman Season (2010): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2011): Backup offensive tackle. Played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams.
Junior Season (2012): Started all 13 games for the Irish at right tackle.
Senior Season (2013): Shifted inside to right guard, starting all seven games he played in before a season-ending back injury.
There’s a very real chance that Lombard has the type of skill-set that allows him to continue playing this game for a long time, with his versatility paying dividends on the next level. Interestingly enough, while most recruiting analysts saw him as a tackle, the Irish coaching staff evaluated some of his high school film at right guard, a position he now mans, first because of Ronnie Stanley and now to give way to Mike McGlinchey.
Lombard has the body type of a guard, not quite big enough to be a right tackle. He also views himself as a guard, fully immersed in the transition. So if he’s capable of staying healthy this year after two injuries in the last calendar year, he should be a very productive veteran lineman for the Irish. And that could help get his name called in the next NFL draft, especially under Hiestand’s tutelage.
While Kelly didn’t originally target and recruit Lombard, he’s always been high on him. One of the bigger decisions the Irish coaching staff made was letting tackle Matt Romine walk and play his fifth year elsewhere, counting on Lombard to step into the starting lineup and play. He did just that, starting all 13 games in 2012’s dream season.
From listening to Brian Kelly and sniffing around, there’s no reason to think that there’s any lingering issues with either the back or wrist. So if Lombard’s healthy, he’s a very key piece at guard, where Notre Dame has Steve Elmer playing in Chris Watt’s spot and Conor Hanratty serving as a primary backup.
One of just four fifth-year players on the Irish roster, both Lombard and Austin Collinsworth are slotted into the starting lineup. That’s a career to be proud of, especially with the way Kelly has restocked the roster these past few years.
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Torii Hunter Jr.
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