Kurt Hinish reset the countdown clock for his final moments at Notre Dame when he chose to return for a fifth season with the Irish.
If not for the NCAA’s COVID-19 exemption, Hinish’s college eligibility would have expired following the 31-14 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff. The Irish nose guard played in all but one of Notre Dame’s 51 games the last four seasons with the lone exception coming in the home game against N.C. State in 2017.
Hinish could push his total career games up to as many as 64 if Notre Dame makes another run into the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame football historians still have time to figure out if he will become a program record holder.
“As the season goes on and when the season ends, if that’s the case, then yeah, I’d be happy if that’s the way I left my mark on this program,” Hinish said. “But that’s not something I’m worried about right now.”
The 6-2, 296-pound Hinish has a whole slew of “lasts” ahead of him, but the list will get shorter this weekend when he plays in his last Blue-Gold Game on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium (12:30 p.m. EDT on Peacock).
The spring scrimmage will be just another step in Hinish’s quest to rectify last season’s unsatisfactory ending.
“I love this university and I want to give my all to this university just like they’ve given a lot to me,” Hinish said. “After the game last year, it kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. I had one more year that was offered and I took the opportunity to stay.”
Hinish won’t be able to drag out his Notre Dame career long enough to have a chance to play with his younger brother, Donovan. The Irish are recruiting the younger Hinish as a defensive tackle recruit from Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound Donovan Hinish, who remains uncommitted late in his junior year, has a similar recruiting profile as his older brother. 247Sports currently ranks Donovan — a three-star recruit and the No. 41 defensive tackle in the 2022 class — in the exact same spot Kurt finished the 2017 recruiting cycle. Rivals ranks Donovan as the No. 33 defensive tackle and ranked Kurt at No. 38 for the position.
Donovan will be in South Bend this weekend to watch his older brother play in the Blue-Gold Game. Because it’s still a recruiting dead period, Donovan can’t interact with Notre Dame’s coaching staff while on campus, but he can certainly become more familiar with the Irish.
Kurt is willing to admit that Donovan, who wears No. 51 at Central Catholic just like his brother, is a better all-around athlete.
“It is what it is,” Kurt said. “The youngest get it all. He’s going to be a really good football player wherever he chooses to go. I hope it’s here.”
Before Donovan enrolls at the school of his choice, Kurt will play his fifth season at Notre Dame under his third different defensive coordinator with Mike Elko and Clark Lea preceding new coach Marcus Freeman. Consider Kurt a fan of the early tweaks in Notre Dame’s defense under Freeman.
“I’m able to be cut loose a little bit more,” Kurt said. “I get a lot more one-on-one blocks with the center, which I rarely lose, which is nice. I love the scheme. I love what we’re doing right now and I think coach Freeman is a great coach. We play a lot more fast and a lot more free because the defense isn’t as complicated as we’ve had in the past.”
That could spell trouble for the centers asked to block Kurt in Saturday’s scrimmage. His return for a fifth season followed the most productive season of his career with 19 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. His 7.5 tackles for a loss finished third on the team behind only linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (11) and Drew White (9).
Kurt certainly doesn’t take it easy against Notre Dame’s offensive linemen even though they’re teammates.
“I’m a very competitive person with everything that I do,” Kurt said, “and I rarely like losing with anything I do — whether it be board games that I play with my family or out on the football field. I’m just very competitive.
“I’ve always been that way, so anytime I step out onto the field, it’s always something in the back of my mind that I really don’t want to lose to anybody to be honest with you. You can get better every single day. Anytime you get an opportunity to step on the field and get better, that’s always something you want to do.”
Fortunately for Kurt, he found a position that allows him to physically fight to be better than the person lined up across from him. Even in an intrasquad scrimmage in May.
“I feel really good,” Kurt said. “My strength’s at an all-time high. My hands are good right now and they’re getting to be excellent.
“Every time I step out on the field, I try to tell myself to be the most violent and dangerous person on the field, so that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”