Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center

Zeke Correll 2021
Notre Dame Athletics
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-3, 295 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: A junior, Correll has four seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Irish head coach Brian Kelly spent all of one weekend casting doubt on Correll’s starting status this spring. Exactly one week later, Kelly acknowledged Correll would once again be Notre Dame’s starting center.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, Correll was rated the No. 6 guard in the country, per rivals.com, fitting with where he spent his high school career. The Under Armour All-American narrowed his decision to Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State and Stanford.

CAREER TO DATE
Correll nominally played in four games as a freshman in 2019, but he was so dramatically underweight — needing to add at least 20 pounds before being a viable contributor — those were all uncompetitive moments.

Entering 2020, Correll had earned the backup center gig behind junior Jarrett Patterson, the position Correll was specifically recruited for, and when Patterson suffered a foot injury in November, Correll took over … for a week.

Though the Irish bulldozed North Carolina in Correll’s first start, running for 199 yards and three touchdowns, a mild ankle injury prompted the coaching staff to want to try Josh Lugg at center on Senior Day against Syracuse and in the ACC championship. Lugg did not change the reality that Notre Dame could not compete with the Tigers at full strength, while Correll had a higher ceiling, so he stepped back into the starting lineup in the Playoff semifinal against Alabama.

In both his starts, Correll displayed why he was recruited as a center, though undersized when he arrived in January of 2019 as an early enrollee. An aggressive blocker, Correll trusted his veteran guards to handle the defensive line, and he quickly took to moving linebackers out of the way.

RELATED READING: Correll, Lugg to fill holes along Notre Dame offensive line

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Food. It always comes back to food.

QUOTE
It was less coach-speak or inspiration and more a reflection of how things shift throughout spring practices when the rest of an offensive line is in flux. One week, Kelly was saying, “I don’t want to give Zeke the starting job at center because I want to keep competition,” and the next, “Zeke’s one of our five, so he’s the center because if you want to get your five best …”

More than anything, that was the only piece of certainty for the Irish offensive line this spring: Correll is a center.

In finding the others of the “five best,” Notre Dame mixed and matched positions, but Correll remained at center.

WHAT WAS SAID TWO YEARS AGO
“It is feasible Correll sees genuine playing time [in 2019], but that would hinge on multiple injuries, including one to [center-turned-guard Jarrett Patterson]. If the starting center suffered a long-term injury, and Lugg was already stepping in for, as an example, an injured guard, then perhaps Notre Dame would lean on Correll. That likelihood gains credence if fifth-year line utilityman Trevor Ruhland continues to struggle with injuries.

“Obviously, that scenario includes multiple steps and exact circumstances. It is more probable Correll spends the season in the weight room adding much-needed heft to his 275-pound frame. At the start of spring practice, that exact need is what Irish head coach Brian Kelly pointed to when discussing Correll.

“A year spent focusing on weights may not be what Correll hoped for when he enrolled early — the departure of Sam Mustipher put a starting job on the table, even if the chances for a freshman to earn that gig were slim — but it is a good sign for Notre Dame. Instead of a desperate situation forcing an undersized freshman into action, the Irish have a sophomore starter everyone gives high praise, a promising interior lineman as a backup (Lugg) and, if healthy, a veteran providing a failsafe in Ruhland. …

“The patience Correll will need to use in the weight room this season will need to apply to his approach to his career for a few years yet. Presuming health, Notre Dame’s interior is set for two seasons, and at that point, only Tommy Kraemer’s right guard spot will open up.

“In due time, though, Correll should get a chance at either guard spot, or at center if Patterson moves to another position. Correll primarily played guard in high school; by no means is he wed to the pivot point.”

2021 OUTLOOK
Correll serving as that piece of certainty along Notre Dame’s line this spring should yield him benefits this summer. While Patterson and Lugg are the veterans in the unit, deservedly so, Correll can be the offseason’s piece of consistency.

Furthermore, if the offensive line ends up as increasingly expected, Correll can be the bridge from the veterans to the rookies, literally so, between Patterson and Lugg on the right side and early-enrolled freshmen Rocco Spindler and Blake Fisher on the left.

DOWN THE ROAD
To say someone has never been faulted is facetious and lazy, but the faults have not yet been found with Correll. He spent more than 18 months diligently adding 20-25 pounds, in the appropriate manner, to be ready for the collegiate game. Even before that process was complete, he was a scout-team headache for the starting Irish defense.

Continuing such a trend line would bode very well for Notre Dame. The very real possibility of starting two freshmen and a junior with four seasons of eligibility remaining suggests the Irish offensive line could be a force in 2022 and 2023.

That would be the end of the expected road for Correll, but he could return in 2024, technically speaking. A dominant offensive line, however, would increase his professional possibilities. Spindler’s and Fisher’s success will stem from a steady fulcrum and thus boost that fulcrum.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?