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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center


Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ½, 305 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Mustipher starts at center. The questions come when figuring out who is behind him after the outgoing transfers of junior Tristen Hoge and sophomore Parker Boudreaux.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Mustipher chose Notre Dame over the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Stanford and most other top-tier programs in the country. An Under Armour All-American, rated him as the No. 3 prospect in Maryland, the No. 12 guard in the country and the No. 203 overall recruit.

Mustipher preserved a year of eligibility in 2014 and then backed up Nick Martin in 2015, seeing sporadic action in nine games. With Martin gone in the second round of the NFL Draft, Mustipher started all 12 games at center last season.

Irish coach Brian Kelly knows what he has in Mustipher, a captain and a returning 12-game starter. Nonetheless, Mustipher impressed Kelly this spring.

“We know who the guys are on the left side,” Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “Sam has had a really good eight weeks, as well.”

Kelly also cited Mustipher — along with fifth-year senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey and senior left guard Quenton Nelson — as a leader on and off the field.

I don’t think Mustipher will be as solid as Martin was last season (a deep-dig into game tape had Martin surging up draft boards before the Texans took him), but expect a strong season. Perhaps the best version of Mustipher is the one you don’t notice. First-year centers who spend a lot of time in the shotgun need to make sure that every play gets started correctly, and from there he can make sure the Irish win the battle at the point of attack. (It sounds remedial, but let’s not take the snap for granted.)

“Mustipher’s strength let him win more than his fair share of battles last spring with Daniel Cage, a physical force on the interior. If Mustipher can anchor, play with solid technique and get to the second level, Notre Dame’s running game should continue to surge.

“When Tristen Hoge signed with Notre Dame, most thought the high school center had the inside track to multiple seasons starting. That still could happen, but Mustipher might end up the one with three seasons at center, while Hoge battles to be one of the two linemen playing next to him.”

Mustipher will start against Temple on Sept. 2. (That’s 75 days away, for those counting.) The Irish desperately hope he will be starting against Stanford to close the season. With both Hoge and Boudreaux gone, Notre Dame does not have a clear-cut backup at center. Whether junior Trevor Ruhland trains at the position or senior Alex Bars readies to move over from right guard should Mustipher get hurt, avoiding those contingencies is an obvious preference.

Mustipher will continue to be the fulcrum on the Irish line next season, as well. McGlinchey and most likely Nelson will be off to the NFL, leaving Mustipher and presumably Bars as established starters, plus whoever gets the final nod at right tackle between sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg.

With three seasons of starting experience in college, Mustipher will have NFL prospects, though projecting those odds for a center this far ahead of time is a fool’s errand.

More pertinent will be who fills in behind Mustipher at center in 2018. That backup in 2017 will be more of a bandage than a long-term solution, though Ruhland, or perhaps freshman Dillan Gibbons, could certainly turn into that forward-looking answer. Neither will be in 2017, though. Notre Dame could also find a center in the developing recruiting class and give him a year behind Mustipher to learn the craft.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship