Notre Dame OG Steve Elmer plans to graduate early, end football career

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame's offensive line just got a little bit thinner.

Steve Elmer — a 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior guard — will graduate in May and leave the program, foregoing his final season of collegiate eligibility, Elmer announced via a handwritten letter on the university's athletics website on Tuesday.

He will not pursue a future in the NFL.

"I have no problems with the coaching staff, no academic issues, and no violations of team rules that normally come along with a statement like this," Elmer wrote.

"My reasons for cutting my playing career short have nothing to do with any negative experiences at Notre Dame; in fact, I would consider my commitment to this exceptional University the best decision I have ever made. Playing football here was a huge challenge, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of doing battle out there on that field with my brothers for anything.

"While playing football for Notre Dame has been nothing short of an honor, I have been presented with an incredible opportunity to pursue a career doing something in which I have great interest, and at a great company to boot. The experience of balancing Notre Dame’s academic rigors with my football commitments has given me a great foundation for my next endeavor.

"I will graduate from Notre Dame this May and start my professional journey this summer in the Washington, D.C. area."

A Midland, Mich., native, Elmer started 27 consecutive games at Notre Dame, including all 13 games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The junior, who enrolled early in South Bend, also started four games as a true freshman in 2013.

Elmer also explored life outside of football last summer, when he served as a Congressional intern in Washington, D.C., under Rep. John Moolenaar, who represents Michigan's Fourth District.

That, it seems, was a sign of things to come.

"No matter how excited I am about what the future has in store for me, the question that inevitably comes up is: why don’t you just wait until next year?" Elmer wrote. "My answer is pretty simple; the excitement I feel about the professional opportunity in front of me has helped me to realize that I’m just ready to be done with football. I’ve been playing this game for many years, and quite honestly my heart is no longer in it.

"I realize that this may be considered sacrilege to some, but it’s truth. What I do love, and where my heart will always be, is the University of Notre Dame."

Though he leaves Notre Dame with a season of eligibility remaining, Elmer maintains the full support of his coaching staff.

"Notre Dame is a special place that develops unique and talented people. Steve Elmer is such a person," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. "He chose Notre Dame to earn a degree from the top University in the world and play football at the highest level. He's accomplished both and so much more.

"This is an incredible professional opportunity for Steve. We as a coaching staff talk about how attending Notre Dame isn't a four-year decision; rather it's a 40-year investment in your life. This university provides so many different avenues towards success, whether it's on the football field or in the boardroom, and Steve's another outstanding example."

The former consensus four-star recruit follows left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Nick Martin — both senior standouts — out of the Irish starting lineup, though he won't test the waters in the NFL. The trio, which started 107 combined collegiate games, helped propel Notre Dame to 2,699 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry and 29 rushing scores in 2015, as well as 3,364 passing yards and 25 more touchdowns through the air.

Of that group, only right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quentin Nelson remain.

But who will offensive line coach Harry Hiestand anoint to fill their shoes? Senior Hunter Bivin or junior Alex Bars, who missed the final six games of the 2015 season with a fractured ankle, will likely slide into Stanley's vacancy at left tackle.

Junior Sam Mustipher and highly touted sophomore Tristen Hoge should compete at the center position, while seniors Colin McGovern and John Montelus might be the most immediate contenders to fill Elmer's newly unoccupied spot at right guard. If Bars doesn't fit at left tackle, he could potentially shift to right guard as well.

It's conceivable that Mark Harrell — a 6-foot-4, 306-pound senior — could be invited back for a fifth season of eligibility to provide needed depth along the offensive line.

Notre Dame also signed three highly touted offensive linemen that will compete as freshmen in the fall — Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg and Parker Boudreaux. Kraemer and Eichenberg will likely fit at the tackle position while Boudreaux is a more natural guard.

There's plenty of talent to work with, but as of yet, little proven production. Besides McGlinchey and Nelson (25 combined starts), only Bars (two starts) has started a collegiate game at Notre Dame.

Elmer's early departure provides both unease and opportunity.

After 3 unforgettable years, I've decided to forgo my final season of athletic eligibility. I'll always be Irish!

— Steven Elmer (@Steve_Elmer) February 16, 2016

Proud of my guy Elmer!! Best of luck!! @Steve_Elmer !

— Jarron Jones™ (@Who_GotJones94) February 16, 2016

Best of luck to my man. Going to be incredibly successful and that's a guarantee. Proud of you bud

— Mark Harrell (@MarkHarrell_75) February 16, 2016

@Steve_Elmer happy for you man!✊ #Blessup

— Rico Suavee (@ronnie_stanley) February 16, 2016

love you steve

— Isaac Rochell (@Isaacrochell90) February 16, 2016

Been a privilege to play next to @Steve_Elmer for the last two years. One of the best guys around. All the best, brother!

— Mike McGlinchey (@BigGlinch68) February 16, 2016

Notre Dame's Steve Elmer during the Notre Dame-Syracuse game on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN