I’ve been pretty open about Notre Dame’s need to embrace redshirts. Whether they continue to ignore the term, a fifth-year of college football is an incredibly important opportunity for not just linemen, but also skill position players as well. (If you don’t believe me, consider Harrison Smith’s transformation from defensive liability to team captain and All-American contender.)
Last year, I took a look at how Charlie Weis’ inability to properly use redshirts cost the football program. This isn’t all on Weis, he was playing the hand that he was dealt, but his decision to go very young in 2007 to try and develop depth on the field ended up costing him dearly as his tenure went on.
Incoming freshman Matt Hegarty’s hometown newspaper, The Farmington Daily Times, had an in-depth article on Hegarty as he begins final preparations and leaves home in New Mexico on his way to South Bend. It was a great look at some of the things we forget about big-time college student-athletes, mainly that they are just like the rest of us as we embark on that uncertain journey to college and life away from home.
“This opportunity is very exciting. At the same time, I have a lot of people here that are dear to me that I will miss and everything,” Hegarty said. “A melancholy feeling set in when (Aztec Coach Brad) Hirsch started the spring workouts and the messages on the whiteboard didn’t exactly pertain to me anymore. Things like that, it is just weird. I know kind of looking at the schedule it is not going to leave me a lot of time off to come home, so it is kind of a different feeling knowing that the next time I come around to Aztec I will be kind of a stranger.
“I’m going to miss it, but at the same time the Aztec program and the Brotherhood was great to me, and I enjoyed my time,” Hegarty said. “It has been kind of hard for me, though. A lot of what I have been thinking is just about the things I will be missing. I spoke with a friend the other day and she was stressing to me to focus more on the things to be excited for, and I think that is really a part of it. There is a lot out there and I really just want to soak it all in and try to enjoy it. I am excited to see where it goes because it is all going to be kind of unknown for me.”
When you consider a goliath 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman who immediately bolsters depth along the Irish offensive line, you forget to consider that he’s also dealing with the challenges that come with attending school 1,500 miles away. And while Hegarty’s recruiting profile and experience playing in a spread offense makes him a likely candidate to be in the running for early playing time, the Irish’s depth along the offensive line, not to mention Brian Kelly’s experience on the collegiate sidelines, makes the decision to redshirt a promising athlete like Hegarty all the more wise.
“They have a pretty good rotation going on right now with lineman, so there won’t be a real high demand for me to play right away, which I really appreciate getting the extra year of schooling,” he said. “Coach Brian Kelly brings a lot of great concepts I am used to here, and this next year I really just want to adjust to the game’s speed and tempo. It will be a lot easier for me, I think, staying in a spread instead of coming from a triple option or something.”
The strength and conditioning coaches finally get their hands on Hegarty and the rest of the incoming freshman, as summer semester and unofficial workouts are set to begin soon. While some freshman (more on this later) are expected to challenge to see the field soon, Hegarty and fellow linemen Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin and Troy Niklas will likely spend the season on the scout team.
Exactly where they should be.