Culver, Ind. — This town in northern Indiana annually produces two things when the calendar turns to August: Corn and Notre Dame offensive linemen.
Where sports icons Roger Penske and George Steinbrenner once marched as students, the Culver Academies are where Irish coach Brian Kelly witnessed assistant coach Harry Hiestand seed, nurture and harvest future NFL first-round linemen.
Following Notre Dame’s 10-3 season, in which the offensive line won the first Joe Moore Award, Hiestand left for the Chicago Bears. The left side of that unit went in the first round of the NFL Draft — guard Quenton Nelson sixth by the Indianapolis Colts, tackle Mike McGlinchey ninth by the San Francisco 49ers.
Now Jeff Quinn steps in as an assistant coach of the offensive line. He was Kelly’s offensive-line coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Quinn inherits Hiestand’s silo, which is anything but empty. It includes a pair of senior co-captains in guard Alex Bars (6-foot-6¼, 315 pounds) and center Sam Mustipher (6-2½, 306). They’re mentioned for postseason honors and appear in 2019 mock drafts.
“We have serious potential to live up to what we did last year,” said Bars, who moves from right guard to replace Nelson. “It’s different with a new coach, for sure, but I think the guys are attacking it the same way as we did last year with Harry.”
The 55-year-old Quinn was rehired by Kelly in 2015 after he went 20-36 as head coach at Buffalo from 2010-14. He’s most recently been an offensive analyst for the Irish. Kelly credits Quinn for building on Hiestand’s legacy.
“It’s a group that’s younger, no question, but there’s some really good veterans on it that bring it all together,” Kelly said.
Replacing McGlinchey is junior Liam Eichenberg (6-6¼, 308). Bars’ replacement at right guard is junior Tommy Kraemer (6-5¾, 316), who in 2017 shared the right tackle spot now belonging to sophomore Robert Hainsey. Reserves like sophomore Josh Lugg and senior Trevor Ruhland can multitask, if needed.
Last season, the Irish ground game finished seventh in the nation, averaging 269.3 yards. Besides the loss of McGlinchey and Nelson, Josh Adams (1,430 yards, 6.94 yards per carry, nine touchdowns) left a year early to join the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent.
Quinn’s line will receive an early test when the Irish open under the lights on Sept. 1 at Notre Dame Stadium against a Michigan defense that finished third in total defense (271 yards per game).