Notre Dame's Hounshell has unfinished business

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Two years away from football can give a guy enough time to do some serious thinking.

While everyone around him was focused on getting better, Chase Hounshell was consumed with getting healthy.

Giving up was always in the back of his mind. But the 6-foot-4, 271-pound rising senior had unfinished business at Notre Dame.

Walking away would have caused a void not easily filled.

After an uneventful freshman season, two severe shoulder injuries and subsequent surgeries forced the Irish defensive lineman to miss most of his sophomore campaign and the entire junior slate. A senior year loaded with promise has been getting a jump-start this spring.

But, how close did he come to saying coming back wasn’t worth the time and effort?

“I would say about 50-50,” Hounshell said. “I went home some days (after rehab) and said, ‘Maybe this is the end of my career.’ I still had this burning desire inside of me: My career never even started.

“I played in a couple games freshman year and that was it. I haven’t played a lot of football. I have this desire to get back on the field and help my team out.”

“Initially, I didn’t think (Hounshell) would be back,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “His resolve and want to come back were pretty evident as we went through the season. When he started to practice with us (limited last November), it was pretty clear to me that he wanted to come back.”

Actually, in his freshman year of 2011, Hounshell made cameo appearances in seven games, finishing with four tackles. He played in the 2012 season opener against Navy, the game in which the shoulder problems began.

“They were both labrum injuries, where my shoulder popped out,” Hounshell explained. “The first was in (the Navy game) and the other (was the second day of spring practice, 2013).

“My last surgery was a more serious reconstruction. They nailed the bone and plate to my (right) shoulder so I could keep up with the o-line and the d-line hitting. It helped out a lot. I can really feel the difference.”

That stability has led to confidence. That confidence has made the opportunity he’s had on the field this spring a reality.

Undersized at 270 pounds, Hounshell is being used at defensive tackle in Notre Dame’s revamped 4-3 alignment. He is playing behind Sheldon Day.

An end by trade through most of his Notre Dame career, Hounshell responded to the desperate call for interior linemen.

“I’m learning a lot from Sheldon,” Hounshell said. “I’m a tiny bit undersized, but… I make up for it with my speed, my toughness, my motor.”

“If he can stay in that 270-280 (-pound) range, I think (conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo feels like he can be athletic for us,” Kelly said. “He can do some things for us.

“He’s very, very strong. He plays well with his hands. One of the things he’s always taken care of is his body. He’s not a guy who’s going to play 60 snaps, but he’s going to contribute in a manner than we’ll use him to be an effective player.”

While finding a route toward making an impact, Hounshell has had hurdles to clear. The most obvious – and imposing – was that first hit. Delivering and taking that first blow was as hard as anything he’s done on a football field.

“I thought about (the first hit),” Hounshell said. “‘Alright, first day … Let’s get out there and take it play by play.’ After the first play, I never thought about it again. Still haven’t.”

“(The game) is as I remembered it. It’s still fast-paced. Everything’s moving really fast. You have to stay on your toes.

“I’m a year out of surgery now and there’s nothing I cannot do.”

Except take the game for granted.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6318

Chase Hounshell participates in a 2013 practice. SBT photo/SANTIAGO FLORES