Notre Dame football recruiting: Hoge adds to ND run of top linemen

South Bend Tribune

That Tristen Hoge chose this weekend to add himself to Notre Dame football’s 2015 recruiting class hardly came as a shock.

The consensus best junior center in the country and Pocatello, Idaho, product was close to committing a couple of months ago, for one. And it’s been that kind of run for Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“Coach Hiestand gets a lot of the credit here,” 247Sports national recruiting writer Steve Witlfong said. “He built a great relationship with Tristen and his whole family. He’s definitely liked by the offensive linemen already on the team.

“And then you look at the guys who have committed since he joined the staff — in the 2013, 2014, 2015 classes. He’s one of the reasons Notre Dame is recruiting offensive linemen as well as any school is recruiting any position group nationally.”

Hoge on Saturday became the third member of a class that’s two national signing days away during his third visit to the Notre Dame campus in the past six months — all at his own expense.

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound nephew of former NFL running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge joins fellow offensive lineman Jerry Tillery of Shreveport, La., and quarterback Blake Barnett of Corona, Calif., in a class that can sign binding national letters-of-intent 14 months from now.

“As good as he is at center,” Wiltfong said, “he could play anywhere across the line of scrimmage.”

A lot of the prospects Hiestand has had a hand in landing for the Irish, since leaving Tennessee after the 2011 season, bring that kind of versatility. They also bring that kind of prowess as well.

ND’s top two rated players, regardless of position, in the 2014 class are both offensive linemen per Quenton Nelson from Red Bank, N.J., is the nation’s No. 21 prospect overall, while Alex Bars of Nashville, Tenn., is No. 37. Jimmy Byrne and Sam Mustipher are the other offensive linemen in the soon-to-be-signed class.

Freshman Steve Elmer is already a starter from the standout 2013 group that includes Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern and John Montelus.

“The talent Harry Hiestand and Notre Dame is bringing in will make Notre Dame loaded at that position more than at any time in the past 30 years.,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “Even the Joe Moore years.”

Moore set the standard at Notre Dame during the Lou Holtz Era. Hiestand said his career has been strongly impacted by Moore and spent some time one spring job-shadowing him at ND.

Hiestand’s current line — which includes a redshirt freshman (Ronnie Stanley), a true freshman (Steve Elmer) and a pair of first-time starters at center (Nick Martin and now Matt Hegarty) — has allowed just eight sacks this season.

That’s the fewest sacks allowed by an Irish line since the 1989 ND squad yielded six, one year removed from the national title.

Hiestand was not known as a front-line recruiter at Tennessee, and the Vols fan base seemed indifferent at best to his move to ND to replace Ed Warinner. Warinner left ND for a job with Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

But those in coaching circles marveled at Hiestand’s ability to adapt to different offensive systems, and, at Tennessee specifically, fix big problems. Now he’s added the recruiting piece to that résumé.

“He’s just a real good fit at Notre Dame,” Lemming said of Hiestand. “I love his intensity. He took Quenton Nelson away from Urban Meyer. He’s got a background in the pros and in college. He’s made it work for him, and you’re seeing the results.”

Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is attracting alot of offensive line talent, most recently Tristen Hoge of Idaho. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER