Notre Dame football: A whirlwind year for OL Hanratty

Al Lesar

South Bend Tribune

Three career starts in three years with the Notre Dame football program hardly qualifies Conor Hanratty as a grizzled veteran.

Every minute of experience, though, is helping his transition from “next man in” to a starter who belongs on the Irish offensive line.

The 6-foot-5, 309-pound son of former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty has gone from a project who didn’t play as a freshman to a guy who made special teams and mop-up appearances last season to the odd man out at the start of this season to the emergency savior when injuries piled up on the offensive line.

It’s been quite a journey.

In August, Hanratty was competing with sophomore Ronnie Stanley for an opening on the line. If Hanratty won the job, he would start at right guard and Christian Lombard would be right tackle. If Stanley won, Stanley would be the tackle and Lombard the guard.

The edge went to Stanley.

“You can’t let frustration become a factor,” Hanratty said of his reaction to losing the battle. “I’m far from where I need to be right now. I just have to come out and improve every day.”

Hard to keep a positive spin on things when playing time is sporadic, at best. He watched the first seven games from the sidelines.

Left guard Chris Watt sustained a knee injury against Air Force. By then, Lombard had been lost for the season with a back injury. Steve Elmer filled in for Lombard and Hanratty finally found his way into the regular shuffle in the trenches.

“I feel like a guy who has to get better every day,” said Hanratty, not taking for granted his next start — Saturday in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers. “It’s not about whether you’re a backup or a starter. It’s about playing to your potential every day. That’s why we come (to practice) every day. Give our best effort; improve our fundamentals.”

The challenge is obvious. With very few options left along the line, Hanratty has to play well and stay healthy. He will be matched against a Scarlet Knight defensive front that is smaller — no one weighs more than 280 pounds — but very active. Darius Hamilton (6-4, 260) is easily the most productive Rutgers defensive lineman (42 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks).

“We play a lot of great players and (Hamilton) is definitely in the ranks of that,” Hanratty said. “That’s one of the great opportunities at Notre Dame. We see great players week-in and week-out. It’s going to be a real fun game.”

“(Being an every-down player) has helped (Hanratty) understand a lot more of the movements up front,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “He can block the guys in front of him. Some of the things he struggled with is movement up front in some games.

“He’s definitely doing a better job clicking off some of the inside game, and some of the movement things he’s struggled with. He has improved in those areas.

“They’re going to get a lot of movement from Rutgers. That front is going to be moving a lot. They’re going to have to pick up games and things up front. We’re spending more time with (the young guys) with that up front.”

“Part of offensive line play is versatility,” Hanratty said. “If you’re a great run-blocker, but you can’t pass-block, you’re not going to help the team. I need to develop into a versatile player. That comes back to the fundamentals; comes back to giving great effort every day.”

Rutgers (6-6) has been one of those statistically unusual defenses this season. The Scarlet Knights ranked fourth in the country against the run (allowing 94.6 yards a game), but 120th against the pass (311.4). They are 25th in sacks (2.67 a game).

The weather at Yankee Stadium will likely be cold, and the Irish better be ready to run the ball.

“(Rutgers is) great stopping the run,” Hanratty said. “We’ll give them that. One of the things we emphasize is that we’re going to have to run the ball. There’s no way around that. We’ll just have to go through it.

“Cold weather, that’s just another aspect of football. It doesn’t really bug us. As far as going out and playing, you can’t let that get to you. You’ve got to be mentally tough to overcome that.”

It’s been a whirlwind season for the New Canaan, Conn., product. From depth chart obscurity to a vital component in the Irish offense, Hanratty has taken what could be a huge step in the development process.

“(Being an every-down player) is very different (from his previous limited role),” Hanratty said. “There’s a lot of responsibility. That’s the greatest thing about it. If five guys (on the offensive line) aren’t functioning the way they need to, the play doesn’t stand a chance.”

Three starts have driven home the basic premise of the offensive line.

It’s a foundation on which to build.


Conor Hanratty