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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played

Kurt Hinish

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: Kurt Hinish #41 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs off the field at halftime against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ¾, 296 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: Hinish is only eligible in 2021 due to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, thus granting him a very unexpected fifth season.
Depth Chart: Hinish will start at nose tackle with juniors Howard Cross and Jacob Lacey rotating in plenty to keep all fresh.Recruiting: Hinish serves not only as the evidence of what can come from a three-star prospect, but also as proof of what a steadfast commitment can do for a recruiting class as a whole. As Notre Dame stumbled to a 4-8 finish in 2016, the majority of its class held firm, led by a Pittsburgh contingent which was in turn led by Hinish.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly pointed to that grouping as holding together the group of 15 that ballooned into 21 shortly before signing day in 2017.

“All those pieces moving together started with the 15, why they wanted to be part of Notre Dame,” Kelly said that February. “... All those (Pittsburgh) guys were kind of together as one. They kind of ran in a pack. That helped.”

Some things transcend money and immediately vault themselves into true greatness. Hinish announcing his 2021 return qualified as such.

His actual quote describing that decision is also worthwhile, but nowhere near as entertaining, instead much more to the point.

“After the game last year, kind of had a sour taste in my mouth, and I had one more year that was offered,” Hinish said. “I took the opportunity to stay.”

Hinish found himself immediately in a contributing role as the second-string defensive tackle in 2017, a holdover symptom from the ills that plagued the Irish in 2016, furthered by injuries to Daniel Cage and Elijah Taylor. Appearing in 12 games that year set Hinish on a path toward a now-inevitable record.

He backed up Jonathan Bonner in 2018 before taking over as a starter the last two seasons.

2017: 12 games, 8 tackles including 0.5 for loss.2018: 13 games, 13 tackles including two for loss with 1.5 sacks.2019: 13 games, 15 tackles including 4.5 for loss with two sacks and one forced fumble.2020: 12 games, 19 tackles including 7.5 for loss with two sacks.

Further investigation is not necessary. No other Notre Dame player has had the opportunity to play in more than 52 games until former Irish defensive end Daelin Hayes could reach a maximum of 55 in his career thanks to the very exact timing of his 2019 shoulder injury. All the same, missing a few games earlier in his career capped Hayes’ appearances at 53.

Hinish has already appeared in 50 games. If he plays in four this year, he will set a record for most games in a Notre Dame uniform. If he plays in seven, then the record begins to reach unattainable status.

The impending expansion of the College Football Playoff would raise the maximum possible once it is instituted [(12 regular season + 4 playoff games) x 4 seasons + 4 games in an injury-shortened year = 68], but that begins to be a pie in the sky hope, not to mention one Hinish can get within vague range of this season.

If clichés are clichés for a reason — because they are true — then it is somewhat fitting a three-star nose tackle from Pittsburgh will hold the Notre Dame record for most games played.

“That obviously would be very cool that I’d leave my mark on this program, but that’s not something I’m worried about at this moment,” Hinish said in April. “As the season goes on and when the season ends, if that is the case, yeah, I’ll be happy that’s the way I left my mark on this program.”

Only trotting this out in this instance because it focuses on Hinish’s game totals …

“Presuming his own health, Hinish should start in 2020. In the end he could appear in 51 of 52 career games, starting in as many as 26. Gross tackle figures aside, those numbers will be the testament to Hinish’s career, ones bolstered by his ability to be ready from day one.

“He was not expected to be. This space very much predicted a redshirt season.

“Thus, do not look at Hinish’s lack of size as a sure sign he could not last for a few years in the NFL. He has already made it clear what he thinks of common expectations.”

For a nose tackle whose primary responsibility is absorbing and maintaining blocks, Hinish has made a quiet career of penetrating into the backfield. Making 14.5 tackles in the backfield, including 12 in the last two seasons, with 5.5 sacks is no small feat.

New Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s system may only emphasize that ability.

“I love the new scheme,” Hinish said. “Coach Freeman is a great coach. I’m able to be cut loose a little bit more. I get a lot more one-on-one blocks with the center, which I rarely lose, which is nice.”

RELATED READING: With Kurt Hinish returning, Notre Dame’s interior defensive line a 2021 strengthHainsey, Hinish and Pittsburgh key Notre Dame’s return from 2016’s debacle

Hinish opting in for this unexpected fifth season may be the single greatest boost to Freeman’s first year at Notre Dame. Despite losing both starting defensive ends, the Irish return not only defensive line experience and depth, but also stability.

Hinish will quietly, as is always his case unless it involves eye black, be the engine to Freeman’s defense. Three-technique tackle Jayson Ademilola may sometimes slide out to end or may interchange with tackle-turned-end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. The Vyper/drop ends may sometimes cameo as linebackers. Freeman’s entire approach highlights varying defensive line looks.

But in all of them, Hinish will be in the middle, facing off against that center.

His tackles for loss were slowly increasing even before Freeman arrived, so let’s be bold and suggest Notre Dame’s starting nose tackle will make 10 tackles for loss in 2021.

DOWN THE ROADAt the absolute least, Hinish will get a look at the next level. At that point, what sense would it make to bet against the eventual career leader in games played in an Irish uniform?

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. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
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?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed

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