Freshman Elmer ahead of the curve

Bob Wieneke

SOUTH BEND -- When Notre Dame director of football strength and conditioning Paul Longo speaks, he does so with a combination of calmness and intensity, the kind of voice that convinces guys twice his size and half his age to lift more weight than they think they’re capable of and run longer distances in shorter amounts of time than they deem necessary.

In short, it’s the kind of voice that you pay close attention to and take very seriously. Which makes his comment about where Irish freshman offensive lineman Steve Elmer is in terms of his development pretty darn noteworthy.

“He’s eight months in,” Longo said, “and he would look like some of the normal guys that would be in for ... two years at this point. He’s ahead of it.”

That in turn has helped Elmer move ahead of others — some older, many younger — in the Irish O-line pecking order. The ascent has been so steep that Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week that the 6-foot-6, 317-pound product of Midland (Mich.) High School could wind up the starter at right tackle when ND hosts Temple Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

There are a number of reasons why Elmer has vaulted so high. First, there’s the size. Spot Elmer walking down the sidewalk and looking at his face involves some neck-craning. The fact that he took part in spring practice as an early enrollee nudged his development. And he’s smart.

“He’s a very intellectual guy. He’s a little nerdy,” starting left tackle Zack Martin said. “So you kind of think, ‘Big nerd going on the field, very nice kid,’ but on the field he really comes out and is a different guy. He was pushing people around this camp, which is great to see.”

Second-year ND offensive line coach Harry Hiestand liked what he saw between the time after Elmer committed nearly two years ago and when he arrived on campus. While Elmer, who has not been made available for interviews since arriving at the school in January, could have coasted the summer before his senior season, he instead attended Notre Dame’s camp.

“Which is kind of rare,” Hiestand said, offering that there have been others who have done the same but it isn’t exactly commonplace. “You knew that it was going to be extremely important to him, that he was going to figure it out. It tells you that No. 1, he wants to learn from us the things that we’re going to teach him when he gets here, and he wants to get a jump on it.”

There are more hurdles to clear. Elmer will get bigger, stronger and faster. And Hiestand expects that layers of savvy also will be added.

“His process in learning right now is more, ‘When I can come off and go after a guy like a wild man, and then when do I have to take a little something off based on the play, based on what the defense is doing?” Hiestand said. “So he’s figuring that out as he goes. But it seems that every day he’s making progress with starting to be where he’s supposed to be all the time and then use that athletic ability, power and strength to move people.”

The next move is to contribute this fall, which seems a certainty. Longo, now in his 27th season coaching strength and conditioning, noticed gains in Elmer’s stamina and strength.

“He’s improved across the board,” Longo said.

So much so that Martin, a fifth-year senior, potential All-American and future NFL player, offered high praise for Elmer, calling him one of the most talented freshmen he’s seen at ND in his five years at the school.

“For a freshman, he’s one of the most talented freshmen I’ve ever seen, any position,” Martin said. “He’s not tentative at all, which is great. He goes after people. He’s very coachable. He does what coach Hiestand and the coaches tell him to do, and he’s smart. And he’s a real big guy.

“So you put all that together and he’s going to help us this year.

Steve Elmer