By John Brice
Jarrett Patterson isn’t quite sure how many pizzas. Boxes full of them, all deep-dish.
“We did an NIL with Jet’s last fall,” says Patterson, Notre Dame’s graduate-student left guard. “We weren’t going crazy, but we tagged them on social media and they fed us pretty good. The Detroit deep-dish pizzas, really good.”
Josh Lugg doesn’t want to know the wings count, exactly. Quality time with teammates goes hand-in-hand with quantities of food; thus is an offensive lineman’s life.
“Mike Golic Sr. came to speak to us (Wednesday), and he talked about moments and milestones,” says Lugg, the nearly 6-foot-7, 316-pound sixth-year all-purpose lineman settling in at right guard. “The moments get you the milestones, the milestones are great but it’s the moment that you cherish together. A lot of that is what we’re doing off the field to build the togetherness on the field. We can’t say that we want to see things through one set of eyes on the field, if we’re not doing everything to be together and be accountable off the field.
“So whether that’s doing a bonfire at Zeke (Correll) and I’s house, or whether it’s going to the movies on Tuesday night because it’s half-price movies – that’s a good deal, you should get into that – or just getting wings. We’ll go into Jay’s Lounge and get a massive table and we’ll do half-price wings on Wednesdays.”
Many chickens are consumed in the O-line’s quest for synergy on and off the field.
“So it used to be 33-cent wings,” says the gregarious Lugg, moments after holding court Thursday with print and video reporters inside Notre Dame’s pristine Irish Athletics Center following the team’s first day in full pads. “So at that time, we were doing like 30 or 40 wings each.
“Now, they’re like 79-cent wings, so I’m only doing like 20. We’ll do that and did Jet’s pizzas a lot. But we’re not with Jet’s anymore, we’re with Mimmo’s Pizza.”
With Golic’s message resonating and drawing on their own experiences passed down to them even before their arrivals as Irish players, Lugg, Patterson and Notre Dame’s offensive linemen seek one goal: 10 eyes, one vision.
“It’s a position that requires guys really getting to know each other, and being able to think about what that guy sees and what they all see and that they all learn how to kind of see things the same way,” says veteran offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, back with the Irish as among Marcus Freeman’s most significant offseason acquisitions. “That’s part of blocking, when they play with one set of eyes, then you have your best chance for success.
“And you can’t do that if you don’t know each other, if you aren’t in regular communication, if you don’t like being around each other; it’s just not going to happen. So it’s something that is very important in developing an offensive line.”
For Hiestand, it’s now an ingrained trait; the essence of a football DNA that traces its roots to fabled former Notre Dame offensive line coach Joe Moore, a Hiestand mentor and for whom college football’s top award for an offensive line is named. Hiestand likewise credits both John Matsko, the NFL’s Washington Commanders’ offensive line coach, as well as the late Dan Radakovich, a former college and NFL coach with a career spanning parts of six decades in the game, for helping instill in him that mindset.
Hiestand keeps paying it forward.
Did so once again this summer – with an impromptu meal high atop Notre Dame Stadium – that reminds Patterson of his first such gathering away from the field with ‘The Unit.’
“The first time in 2018, we had an O-line camp, high school kids came out over here all day, and we all got together right after, had a huge barbecue,” says Patterson, back for a final season after eschewing NFL opportunities following the 2021 season. “It was like the tight ends, O-line, and that’s kind of like now a tradition. Of course, when Covid hit, we couldn’t do it. But this past year, we did the same thing. We had the O-line camp and we had the alums like Zack (Martin), Nick Martin was here, few other guys, Liam Eichenberg. So Coach (Hiestand) got us food, we went on top of the stadium and all hung out. It’s a good time. Just that camaraderie is what makes it so special.
“The one set of eyes, it’s important to be that on the field, but to build that chemistry, you’ve got to spend that time together off the field. So that you’re so in sync you know what the other guys are doing and have each other’s back and go to battle for each other every day.”
Believe it or not, Lugg traces his brotherhood moment back even further in recent history; seven years ago at one of those high school prospect camps.
Participant, not instructor.
“I did a camp in like 2015, and after the camp, Coach Hiestand had us all get together, we went up to Mike McGlinchey’s and Hunter Biven’s house and we hung out till the sun went down,” recalls Lugg. “And then my parents came and got me and (former Irish offensive lineman) Dillan Gibbons and took us back the hotel.
“And that moment in my life was something I have cherished forever. I wasn’t committed yet; I had an offer, but they took me in as one of theirs.”
Lugg now does the same for the next generation.
“That’s something we want to keep doing,” Lugg says. “So like whenever we had recruits come in this year, I’m a six-year, I’m not going to play with these (incoming) freshmen.
“But that doesn’t matter, because I know whatever guy Coach Hiestand is recruiting is probably a lot like me. Probably a lot like Jarrett, probably a lot like Joe Alt. So it’s worth it to bring him under my wing and show him the way and (say), ‘Hey, this is what we do.’ I think that’s why we find success in that.”
It’s a trait that, in part, keeps the first-year-head-coach Freeman coming back to hang around a group he’s never coached.
“Man, I love being around our O-Line; I do,” Freeman says. “That is, I say it all the time, we’re an O-Line and D-Line-driven program. And those guys work and they’re pushed. And they continue to respond to being challenged. I love being around them. I love just the culture in that room, the vibe.
“I really spend a lot of time looking at those guys, maybe because I’m behind the offense and those guys are looking kind of in my direction. But as much as I can spend time with that O-Line and D-Line, I’m gonna continue to do it because those guys will drive our culture and our program.”
More succinctly, Hiestand explains, that’s simply Notre Dame.
“That’s a Notre Dame characteristic,” he says. “That’s how people that come to Notre Dame have a genuine care for other people, they’re not just looking out for themselves.
“And I think the sacrifices they have to make on a daily basis lends to that. They’re already naturally inclined to care about somebody else, so that part is always refreshing about coaching here.”
It is, perhaps, cause to celebrate. Pizza and wings, anyone?
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