Matt Hegarty will transfer for fifth year

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As the focus begins to turn to spring football, it appears one very big roster move is taking place along the offensive line.

Matt Fortuna of ESPN reports that starting center Matt Hegarty will be leaving Notre Dame and playing his fifth year elsewhere.

The move shakes up an offensive line that returned every starter from the Music City Bowl, and points to a return to center for Nick Martin.

Hegarty released a statement to Fortuna that showed nothing but class and appreciation for his time in South Bend. It also spoke to Harry Hiestand and Brian Kelly‘s impending moves along the offensive line as the Irish begin to prepare for spring practice.

From Fortuna’s report:

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that the Notre Dame Football program has afforded me,” Hegarty said. “I want to thank Notre Dame, my coaches, my teammates and friends at school for the four great years I had at Notre Dame. I also want to thank the Notre Dame Nation for all of their support over the years. My focus has been to pour myself into everything that I have done at ND. I have worked hard and have always done everything that was asked of me. Recently my coaches informed me that they wanted me to change positions. They also explained that with many younger players in the wings, they wanted to develop them more heavily in the rotation– a need that I understand and appreciate.

“Unfortunately, I have already had to miss a precious amount of football battling back from my stroke, and I value every rep and opportunity going into my final year of college ball that much more. My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Because of this goal, I have asked for a transfer to play at another school where I can contribute more on the field. Notre Dame has amassed formidable depth on the O-line and have many very talented players to fill all positions.

“So I wish everyone at ND the best this year and especially to my 15 brothers on the offensive line as they prepare for the 2015 season.”

Reading between the lines, Hegarty’s move has the starting center job going back to fifth-year senior Martin. It also paves the way for rising sophomores Quenton Nelson or Alex Bars to force their way into the lineup.

A thumb injury to Martin forced the move to guard after snapping became too difficult, pushing Hegarty into the starting lineup. (He was sharing time with Conor Hanratty at guard earlier in the season, who will also be exiting the program after battling concussions.) That same offensive line shuffle also pushed Steve Elmer back inside to guard, swapping Christian Lombard to right tackle, where he played in 2012.

Hegarty should find a home relatively quickly. While we can almost assume that former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin or former DC Bob Diaco would welcome Hegarty at either Miami or UConn, Hegarty’s ability to play center should have many Power Five conference teams looking at the veteran, maybe even closer to home.

Hegarty is on track to graduate this May, joining another program for summer classes and conditioning.