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On Guard At Notre Dame

Whenever an offensive guard slot needs to be filled at Notre Dame, one can often count on a familiar Fighting Irish football name to emerge. No single area the past 40 years is more replete with Notre Dame legacies than guard.

2013 Notre Dame Spring Football: Conor Han...

In the 1970s, two younger brothers, Gerry DiNardo and Tim Huffman, starred multiple years at right guard while succeeding All-American older brothers Larry and Dave, respectively, along the offensive interior.

In the 1980s, three-year starting right guard Tim Scannell followed the path of his father and 1954-56 Notre Dame end Bob Scannell. The 1990s included three-year starting right guard and two-time captain Ryan Leahy, grandson of four-time Notre Dame national champion head coach Frank Leahy, plus Jerry Wisne, son of 1966-68 Fighting Irish offensive lineman Gerard Wisne.

Now in 2013, there is a pretty good chance that a Hanratty might succeed a Golic as Notre Dame’s right guard.

Golic was Mike Jr., son of Mike Sr., a 1985 Notre Dame captain, NFL veteran and currently one of ESPN’s top personalities. Hanratty is Conor, son of 1966-68 Fighting Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty, who finished in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting three straight years and exploded onto the scene as a sophomore en route to the 1966 national title.

Fortunately, birthright or entitlement does not seem to be in the fabric of the younger 6-5, 309-pound Hanratty, who will be a junior in 2013 with three years of eligibility remaining. Although Hanratty has been the No. 1 right guard throughout this spring, he is averse at this point to label himself the starter, believing that will need to be earned over the summer and once the season begins.

“Nothing is etched in stone,” Hanratty said of this spring. “It’s all about getting your work in, getting used to playing with the other guys, and that’s all that is important right now. We’ll wait to see [about starting] when the season starts. It’s all about getting better now.”

The past several months have presented Hanratty plenty of opportunities to receive extensive work. During the BCS National Championship Game preparation, Hanratty was the main backup at guard while classmate Nick Martin, the heir apparent at center, was the top reserve tackle on both sides. This spring, the guard position needed current freshman center Mark Harrell to be the top backup for Hanratty at right guard.

Martin and Hanratty are the newbies along the line that returns fifth-year seniors Zack Martin (Nick’s older brother) and Chris Watt on the left side, where they have started 39 and 26 games, respectively, and right tackle Christian Lombard, who started all 13 games last season.

The third year is often used to gauge the progress of a head coach at a program, but it’s common to use that with players, too, especially offensive linemen who need the first couple of years to develop physically. Second-year Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand believes Hanratty and Nick Martin are “right on schedule” with their physical development.

“I was in need of a serious weightlifting, conditioning program,” Hanratty admitted. “That was one of the challenges of transitioning from high school football to Notre Dame. You’re in the big leagues now. You’ve got to look the part.”

Hanratty had a personal trainer, Bill Hayden, back in his New Canaan, Conn., home, while following Notre Dame strength and conditioning coordinator Paul Longo’s workout plan the summer after he signed. The next step for Hiestand with the Martin-Hanratty-Hegarty trio was honing the fundamentals.

“They understand what we want from them now much better,” Hiestand said. “Instead of learning, you understand it now and reps are [about] trying to perfect it. I’m pleased with their progress.”

Hiestand says that Hanratty’s passion for the game has been a vital attribute.

“He really plays hard,” Hiestand said. “… He just gives everything he’s got on every snap. He’s been getting more snaps than anybody in spring because of our depth issue. I’ve been really impressed with that.”

“I’ve been going with the ones and twos a lot,” Hanratty said. “That’s what I need, though. I need a ton of work to get better and get my fundamentals down. Getting all these reps is huge for me by getting used to the fatigue and then overcoming that and keeping my fundamentals consistent.”

Hanratty will work with center Martin with the ones, but also classmate Matt Hegarty, recovering from a December procedure on his heart, when he comes in with the second unit. On occasion, Lombard will shift to right guard to give Hanratty a breather.

Nick Martin appears to be the fourth-best player along the line, either at center or guard, depending on where he is needed. The fifth spot has a number of potential variables come next August:

• It could remain status quo with Martin at center and Hanratty at right guard.

• If sophomore left tackle Ronnie Stanley, recovering from 2012 elbow surgery, proves to be the fifth-best lineman, then he might start at right tackle, with Lombard shifting to right guard.

• What if Hegarty, who has some catching up to do after his surgery, is the fifth-best lineman? Maybe he then starts at center, with Nick Martin or Hanratty then lining up at right guard.

That’s why Hanratty’s first emphasis is on improving each day without having to game plan for an opponent.

“Our chemistry is building every day with the drills we do and going against a great defensive line,” he said. “That really helps. We are building experience when it comes to game play, but the more we work with each other and the more we go live, it really helps.”

Hanratty’s game is not about finesse. The other three schools he was interested in — Boston College, Stanford and Wisconsin — have been renowned for their physical attacks. However, while Hanratty grew up in the home of a Notre Dame icon and regularly visited the campus, there was little doubt where his heartstrings were pulling him. Last year, his father returned for all the home games, and made every road trip except the ones to Oklahoma and USC.

“I love what I do, I love this position,” Hanratty said of his appreciation to be at Notre Dame and excel on all fronts. “It’s fun. Hopefully that’s what it comes down to — just putting in the effort and striving to get better every day. It all boils down to consistency of not being great one play and then just off. You have to be reliable.”

That would be a fine legacy to continue.

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