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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ½, 304 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Fifth-year with only one season of eligibility remaining to be used in 2018.
Depth chart: Mustipher will start at center for the third straight year, and, as has been the case for most of that time, his backup is to be determined.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Mustipher chose Notre Dame over the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Stanford and most other top-tier programs in the country. An Under Armour All-American, rivals.com rated him as the No. 3 prospect in Maryland, the No. 12 guard in the country and the No. 203 overall recruit.

CAREER TO DATE
Mustipher returns 25 starts to the Irish offensive line, all of them at center in the last two seasons. He first preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman before working as a reserve in nine games in 2015.

QUOTE(S)
Irish head coach Brian Kelly named Mustipher one of three initial captains the first day of spring practice, an honor easily predicted.

“He’s got grit,” Kelly said. “He’s got all the things off the field. Engineering student who has graduated, great student, great role model, represents Notre Dame football in the manner that you would want your student-athletes. He just has an immense amount of respect from his peers, coaches, players.”

Mustipher’s growth over the last four seasons, and in particular the last few as a starter, has not been limited to earning respect from the rest of the roster, though.

“It’s been his best [offseason], obviously,” Kelly said in late March. “In terms of his numbers, we had a full staff meeting with the strength staff on Tuesday and he’s in the top three in every category physically.”

Of course, the focus of Mustipher’s performance has little to do with his work in the weight room and only somewhat pertains to his leadership.

“There’s a lot of confidence when Sam is in,” offensive line coach Jeff Quinn said in mid-April. “He’s able to direct calls and make adjustments based on what defenses are doing. [The entire offensive line] trusts Sam without a doubt, as I do. Certainly his experience is pretty evident when we flip on the film. He’s always on his A-game with the calls and various different techniques that are applied based on the situations that present themselves. He hits those marks all the time. It’s just great to have somebody that has that kind of experience.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Mustipher will continue to be the fulcrum on the Irish line next season, as well. [Left tackle Mike] McGlinchey and most likely [left guard Quenton] Nelson will be off to the NFL, leaving Mustipher and presumably [guard Alex] Bars as established starters, plus whoever gets the final nod at right tackle.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Mustipher will likely become the vocal leader of the offense. As the most-established starter and an obvious choice as captain, he will do well in that role. When the going gets tough, his figurative and literal support will come from his immediate left side and fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, also a captain. The two have worked together, usually alongside each other, for five years now.

The only question around Mustipher is what happens if he twists his ankle, let alone suffers a long-term injury. Quinn identified senior Trevor Ruhland, sophomore Dillan Gibbons, Bars and incoming freshman Luke Jones as possibilities at center. None of them are centers by trade yet, but then again neither was Mustipher when he arrived at Notre Dame. If Mustipher is out for a series or a quarter, Ruhland or Gibbons would likely fill in. If the prognosis were to sideline Mustipher longer than that, then perhaps Bars would move to center and someone else could emerge at guard.

Either way, Mustipher’s health is of paramount importance to the Irish offense’s success, arguably even more so than that of starting quarterback senior Brandon Wimbush.

DOWN THE ROAD
Mustipher’s technical ability has steadily improved throughout his collegiate career. Combined with some impressive strength, his progression makes him an intriguing draft prospect. Centers are not pursued as highly as other line positions, partly due to needing exactly half as many of them, but elite centers get noticed.

A three-year starter at Notre Dame, Mustipher’s draft fate may come down to his combine numbers as much as anything else, considering his film will almost certainly be outstanding.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 79 (theoretically) Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 77 (theoretically) Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 73 (theoretically) Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 (theoretically) John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically), Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

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