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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Toledo at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Josh Lugg (75) battles with Toledo Rockets linebacker Jamal Hines (91) during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Toledo Rockets on September 11, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6 ⅞, 305 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sixth-year veteran, this will be Lugg’s final season, one granted by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, along with the fact that he did not play as a freshman in 2017.Depth Chart: The most likely starting offensive line for Notre Dame at Ohio State (97 days) will have Lugg at right guard, but it is conceivable returned Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand moves fifth-year Jarrett Patterson to right guard from center, leaving Lugg as the offensive line utility knife, called upon in case of injury at any of the five positions.Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American, Lugg committed to Notre Dame before the 2015 season. If slightly exaggerating the involvement of a pledge from a high school junior, Lugg will spend eight seasons as part of the Irish program.

When he chose Notre Dame over Alabama, Michigan State and Ohio State, Lugg did so on the advice of Hiestand, who was actually not only Lugg’s recruiter, but his first offensive line coach in 2017 before Hiestand headed to the Chicago Bears for two seasons.

Lugg served as an injury replacement in both 2019 and 2020, trusted at most offensive line positions, before he started all of the 2021 regular season at right tackle. A slight knee injury that required December surgery cost Lugg the Fiesta Bowl, where then-freshman Blake Fisher started in his place.

2017: Preserved a year of eligibility.2018: Field-goal protection duties.2019: Five starts at right tackle in place of injured Robert Hainsey.2020: One start at right guard in place of injured Tommy Kraemer, two starts at center in place of injured Jarrett Patterson while the Irish coaching debated if it preferred Zeke Correll or Lugg at the pivot.2021: 12 starts at right tackle.

In total, Lugg has played in 48 games in his career, putting him in the mix to tie Kurt Hinish’s record of career appearances at Notre Dame at 61, but he would need fifth-year linebacker Bo Bauer (51 appearances to date) to miss some games, as well as fifth-year safety Houston Griffith to miss at least one (49). Of note: Bauer has played in every game of his career.

Those high school All-American games serve not only to give star recruits some exposure and a chance to measure themselves against the other best players in the country, but they also give those players an opportunity to make some connections.

Lugg developed some relationship with the IATW Foundation (It’s About the Warriors), based in Lugg’s hometown of Wexford, Penn.

While a nagging back limited Lugg late in 2020, he has largely been healthy in his career. His NFL draft stock was not soaring after the 2021 season, part of the reasoning for his return, but it may never soar. A multi-year starter at Notre Dame will end up with an NFL career to at least some extent, but Lugg seems like he will be at peace if that possibility does not materialize.

He instead focuses on the younger linemen. He discussed the responsibility he feels in working with them last fall, and then again in January.

“I want to come back, I want to help Notre Dame win, I want to become a better version of myself and win the Joe Moore Award, and a lot of the emphasis is on how I can help these younger guys coming in, develop, just like Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson did for me when I was coming in,” he said.

“If I have another year where I can do that and help guys become Notre Dame men, then it’s definitely attractive to come back.”

That may sound like the kind of clichés that usually prompt a reference to Crash Davis, but Lugg offers them with a rare tone of sincerity.

“The most important things are our unit goals,” he said. “Help Notre Dame win, be the best version of ourselves and win the Joe Moore Award. If I really focus on that, then any personal goals that really aren’t as important as unit goals are going to fall into place.

“My mindset is really, help Notre Dame win, be the best version of myself each day, which is helping other people, and win the Joe Moore Award. If I have that in mind, then everything will fall into place.”

Taking all of that at face value allows for the possibility that Lugg could be knocked off the starting unit by Hiestand rearranging his pieces without causing any strife in the locker room. Lugg would simply keep working forward, despite losing that prominent role in his sixth season.

“Lugg at tackle is a best-case scenario for him, and as much as Lugg has been a team-first player by stepping in wherever and whenever needed, by waiting his turn, he obviously hopes for some version of a best-case scenario for himself at some point.

“‘Being able to move and get my hands on you, use my length outside, and also be able to communicate my defense to the rest of the offensive line,’ Lugg said when asked why he was most comfortable at tackle, basically describing everything about the position in granular detail. …

“Here is a moment where perhaps the universal eligibility waiver during the pandemic could come into play. Lugg will have only so much film to show NFL front offices after this season. While it could be good enough to make him an NFL prospect already, it is more likely a second year of film could be useful.

“Notre Dame would have to have roster space, and that math is going to be a challenge simply because it is unprecedented, but a proven and talented starter at tackle is the type of building block to make an exception for.

“Otherwise, a healthy 2021 and Lugg’s length alone should make him worthy of a flyer by a front office at the next level.”

Perhaps Hiestand moves Patterson to right guard, deeming the combination of Correll at center and Patterson at guard superior to Patterson at center and Lugg at right guard. Or perhaps that musing is the result of too much time to ponder during the summer.

It is most likely Lugg starts at right guard in Columbus, with Fisher and Patterson flanking him. The three of them combine to weigh 947 pounds. Patterson will be a preseason All-American and widely viewed as one of the — if not thee — best centers in the country. Lugg has experience, length and versatility, presuming his back holds up for a second year. Fisher is a generational talent based on the simple fact that he was the first freshman to start on Notre Dame’s offensive line in the season opener in 15 years and only the second to ever do so.

That could quickly become the strong side of Notre Dame’s offensive line. That is typically assumed to be the left side of the line, partly a nod to the usual elevated talent at left tackle and partly an Irish residual from the dominance of McGlinchey and Nelson in 2017. But there is no reason it cannot be the right side.

Notre Dame will run behind Lugg and Fisher with Patterson cleaning up behind them. It will pull Lugg to clear a path on the left side when variety is needed. Hiestand loves little more than setting a tone and then using a pulling guard to deliver a blow.

All while Lugg continues to mentor Fisher, sophomore left tackle Joe Alt, sophomore guard Rocco Spindler and the quintet of freshmen.

RELATED READING: Lugg brings experience back to Notre Dame offensive line in 2022, but further OL questions remain up in the air
Experience along Notre Dame’s offensive line lies in the eye of the beholder as Lugg, Patterson and Hiestand return
Many sets of eyes and far from light work: Josh Lugg’s unique spring

Lugg has the measurables the NFL wants, and being a multi-year starter at Notre Dame provides him the pedigree. Hiestand will offer blunt and trusted assessments to front offices.

Lugg should get a chance. A strong 2022 could turn that chance into a mid-round pick, but he will probably end up an undrafted free agent, signing up for a few seasons of six-figure incomes before beginning his “real” life.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77* Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle

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