Notre Dame OL signee Pat Coogan prepping for spring football season and college career

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Pat Coogan still struggles to understand why the state of Illinois postponed high school football last fall.

The three-star offensive lineman who signed with Notre Dame in December saw his senior football season at Marist High in Chicago delayed to the spring. Fellow Irish safety signee Justin Walters enrolled a semester early, so he missed his senior football season at Bolingbrook (Ill.) High.

Walters and Coogan watched as every other state in the Midwest completed a high school football season by last month. States that were relatively cautious about the coronavirus. States with higher COVID-19 infection rates. States on different sides of the political spectrum.

Even Michigan and Minnesota changed course after initially postponing football to the spring. But Illinois never wavered, a decision that prompted lawsuits and backlash.

“I’m not very political, but I was disappointed in our leadership as a state,” Coogan said. “They weren’t doing what was best for the kids. And they weren’t following the science, even though they said they would.”

After months of uncertainty, the Illinois High School Association now has a plan for football this spring. Marist intends to play a six-game schedule, beginning at Niles (Ill.) Notre Dame on March 19 and ending April 23 with Wilmette (Ill.) Loyola Academy.

For now, there will not be a postseason. No state championship. No reduced playoff format. No bowl game.

“Six games, two games, one game or 12,” Coogan said, “it doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve been with some of my best friends playing now for four years. It’s just one final shot to put it all together, have fun and play the game we all love.”

How Coogan performs this spring will be worth following. No, he’s not considered one of the more vaunted signees from this past cycle. 247Sports ranks Coogan as its No. 31 offensive tackle and No. 613 overall player in the class, while Rivals pegs him No. 36 at the same position.

There’s a realistic possibility, though, that Coogan cracks the two-deep on the Notre Dame depth chart as a true freshman.

Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn will replace all but one starter in senior center Jarrett Patterson. There’s speculation that Patterson may slide to left tackle, the position Notre Dame recruited him to play. Patterson leaving the center position would presumably elevate junior Zeke Correll to starter status. Correll replaced Patterson (left foot) as the starter against North Carolina and Alabama last season and held his own.

There would be no solidified options behind Correll at center. And the offensive guard positions are littered with inexperience. Senior Josh Lugg (eight starts), who projects to play right tackle, and Correll are the only returning offensive linemen beyond Patterson who have made multiple starts.

So Coogan could serve as Correll’s backup if Patterson moves to left tackle or compete at one of the offensive guard positions. He will join the team in June.

“It’s all up in the air right now with Jarrett,” said Coogan about Patterson’s position next season. “But I know Zeke played really well in the big games he played in this past season. I haven’t been putting too much pressure on myself. I’m just going to focus on these six games that we have coming up and then start focusing a lot more on ND.

“But yeah, I know the depth chart a little bit. There’s not much behind him. I’m going to come in ready to work. Even if there was five guys behind Jarrett, I was going to come in ready to work and prove my game every day.”

Whether Coogan will begin his Irish career at center or offensive guard remains unclear. Still, he has prepared for both positions. This season, Coogan will continue to play left guard for Marist. Since the beginning of last fall, he has worked on snapping daily.

“It’s just about getting more comfortable at the position,” Coogan said, “because I’ve never snapped in my life. I’ve only played guard and tackle. So getting comfortable coming off the ball like that, translating the quickness and the speed while also snapping the ball.”

From around Thanksgiving until last month, Coogan said Marist’s football program did not meet for weight training, conditioning or practice. He still had access to equipment and started boxing to improve his conditioning, hand speed and footwork.

Held back by COVID-19 restrictions, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Coogan managed to add an inch and approximately 35 pounds since his junior season.

“Obviously there’s a different speed at the college level. I want to improve my overall lateral quickness and footwork speed so I can make that transition a little easier,” Coogan said. “That would be extremely beneficial. And then coming in as healthy as possible. It’s going to be a challenge. But if I come in with no bumps or bruises, that would be perfect for me.”

Aiden Gobaira, a defensive end verbally committed to Notre Dame’s 2022 recruiting class, started his football season for Chantilly (Va.) High on Tuesday. Groton (Mass.) Lawrence Academy offensive lineman Ty Chan, another 2022 Irish pledge, hopes to play football this spring.

Warwick (R.I.) Bishop Hendricken defensive end Jason Onye, Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite cornerback Chance Tucker, Chatworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon kicker Josh Bryan, Honolulu Punahou School linebacker Kahanu Kia and Coogan are Notre Dame’s signees looking to play this spring.

Before committing to play this spring, Coogan checked with the Irish coaching staff. Finishing a six-game slate fewer than six months before starting a college football season could be challenging for Coogan. They still signed off. And after waiting all fall and winter, he’s up for the challenge.

“But it also might be an advantage for me to have my body in that physical shape and mental sharpness that you have during the season,” Coogan said. “I’ll have the whole month of May to heal up those bumps and bruises that I’ll hopefully have that comes with playing football.

“I think I’ll be ready. I believe I’ve positioned my physical and mental health to overcome the challenge.”

Chicago Marist’s Pat Coogan, a three-star offensive lineman who signed with Notre Dame in December, will play his senior football season this spring.