Notre Dame OL commit Robert Hainsey earning national praise at All-America practices

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Keeping track of Robert Hainsey during a pass protection drill can be a challenge.

That’s because the Notre Dame offensive line commit is willing to line up anywhere for a chance to receive some more work.

One moment, Hainsey will be lined up at tackle and riding Michigan defensive end commit Luiji Vilain around the edge of the pocket. Later Hainsey will slide inside to guard and finish off UCLA defensive tackle commit Greg Rogers into the ground.

#NotreDame OL commit Robert Hainsey went one-on-one against #Michigan DE pledge Luiji Vilain Friday at Under Armour Game practices.

— Jeremy Crabtree (@jeremycrabtree) December 30, 2016

Friday was a day of mostly victories for Hainsey at practice No. 3 for Sunday’s Under Armour All-America Game. In addition to his blocking dominance, Hainsey won the Lineman Strength Competition by edging out five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, Alabama offensive tackle commit Alex Leatherwood, and four-star defensive end LaBryan Ray in a timed event.

“I was having a lot of fun,” Hainsey said between practice and the competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “High energy, going out there trying to compete on every rep. That’s just how I am. I don’t take losses lightly. I just try to win on every rep.”

Hainsey, a four-star recruit, hasn’t shied away from taking on some of the best defensive line recruits in the country. He named Wilson, Rogers, Ray and LSU defensive tackle commit Tyler Shelvin as some of the toughest linemen he’s had to block this week.

Hainsey also listed Florida State defensive end commit Joshua Kaindoh and Georgia defensive end commit Robert Beal, who was once a part of Notre Dame’s recruiting class, as tough competition. Hainsey teamed with Kaindoh and Beal this past season at Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy. Having to block two of the top defensive ends in the country in practice this season has improved Hainsey as an offensive lineman.

“Iron sharpens iron. That’s just what this is,” Hainsey said. “We have the best players going against each other. That’s the only way to get better — to go against someone who is going to make you work to beat them. If not and everything’s too easy, you’re not going to have a chance to grow.”

Most agree that Hainsey has been one of the best offensive linemen this week. After Friday’s practice, he made top performers lists from Rivals, 247Sports and Scout. He’s also proven to be Notre Dame’s best offensive line recruit in the 2017 class ahead four-star prospects Aaron Banks and Josh Lugg and three-star prospect Dillan Gibbons.

247Sports slates the 6-foot-5, 276-pound Hainsey as the No. 6 offensive guard in the country. Rivals ranks him as the No. 10 offensive tackle. He could play either position in college — he even played center at The Opening Finals this past summer — and that’s on purpose.

“That exposure is really going to help me,” Hainsey said. “There are a couple guys who are really locked into a position, and that can really hinder you when you get to college. If that position is not the first one open — which a lot of people here play left tackle and a lot of times that’s not the first position open — that could hinder you.

“If you want to get on the field, you have to be able to play wherever. Which is why I’m glad I can do that and keep working on all my techniques for both sides because I just want to be able to get in as soon as possible wherever the coach needs me.”

Hainsey played left tackle for IMG Academy, which finished a perfect 11-0 season in November. He appears to be the perfect fit for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who prefers to play his best five linemen regardless of their position history.

While many of Notre Dame’s commits have dealt with the coaching staff changes following the 4-8 season for the Irish, nothing has changed for Hainsey. He wants to play for Hiestand in head coach Brian Kelly’s offense, but first and foremost he wants to play for and attend Notre Dame. He’ll get to start next month as an early enrollee.

“There are a lot of great football programs in the country. I could have gone to a lot of those great programs, but everything else about Notre Dame — the history, the atmosphere, the education, the connections it can give me and will give me in the future — is what really made me decide,” Hainsey said. “It’s a forty-year decision. Not just a four-year decision. While I’ll still be playing great football for one of the best universities in the country, I’m definitely going to have a lot of success in my future after my (football) career.”

He's big. He's strong. And he can move! Congrats to @RH56__ , your offensive line @amfam Skills Challenge champion.

— All-America Game (@AllAmericaGame) December 30, 2016 | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Robert Hainsey is establishing himself as Notre Dame's best offensive line commit in the 2017 class with his practice performances for the Under Armour All-America Game. (Photo courtesy of Intersport)
Robert Hainsey is establishing himself as Notre Dame's best offensive line commit in the 2017 class with his practice performances for the Under Armour All-America Game. (Photo courtesy of Intersport)