Tommy Kraemer ready to wade into deep end at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The first and only swim meet of Tommy Kraemer’s high school career was far less memorable for his eighth-place finish in the 16-person, 50-yard freestyle field and more for the stir the 6-foot-5, 317-pound senior caused when he stepped into the starting blocks.

“They actually had to stop the meet, because people were taking so many pictures,” the future Notre Dame offensive lineman said with a laugh. “The guy running it said, ‘No more flash photography, or we’re going to cancel this race.’

“And the other guys in the race? They were looking at me like, ‘Who the heck is this kid?’ I don’t think they’ve ever seen someone over 300 pounds with their shirt off. It was funny seeing all their reactions.”

Kraemer’s intent in going out for the Cincinnati Elder High swim team this past winter wasn’t to make a splash, or become a distraction, in that sport.

Rather it was to elevate an already impressive level of cardiovascular fitness and help the top high school football prospect in Ohio from the 2016 recruiting cycle have a better chance at cannonballing into a meaningful role on the Irish football team once he arrives on campus next month.

And Irish coach Brian Kelly acknowledged right after the Blue-Gold Game, roughly three weeks ago, that it wasn’t just wishful thinking, stating that he expected Kraemer and fellow freshman Parker Boudreaux to challenge the still-congealing right side of the Irish offensive line.

“The earlier I see the field is better for me,” Kraemer said from Cincinnati in a phone interview. “I want to play right away, have a great, four-year career. It doesn’t matter what position it is, but I would want to see the field immediately.”

The nation’s No. 41 player, according to Rivals, in the 2016 cycle regardless of position has been — and still projects long term — as an offensive tackle, but right offensive guard remains the position with the least-settled status quo.

Longtime backup tackle Hunter Bivin, a senior, ended the spring at the top of the depth chart at right guard after a parade of auditions from senior Colin McGovern, sophomore Tristen Hoge and junior Alex Bars, the latter of whom ended spring as the No. 1 option at right tackle.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Kraemer said about the prospect of his first opportunity to climb the depth chart coming at guard. “And I would absolutely welcome it.”

He got his first chance to dive into the Irish offensive playbook a couple of weeks ago, and Kraemer has been studying the plays from both a tackle and guard’s vantage point.

He also got to absorb almost half of ND’s 15 spring practices in person during three separate trips he made to South Bend and pick the brain of revered Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“Every time I’m with him, I’m gaining some sport of football knowledge,” Kraemer said. “I really love that aspect of it. He’s a great teacher.

“During the NFL Draft, I saw (Baltimore Ravens) coach John Harbaugh quoted that he trusts coach Hiestand probably more than any other offensive line coach in the country. It doesn’t surprise me.

“I think what makes him who he is, is that his expectations are so high for his guys. He doesn’t let anything fly, whether it’s hand placement, head placement — just little, small stuff. It has to be perfect. He’s a perfectionist. I think if the guys set the standards for themselves and each other, they’re going to reach that perfection.”

Back in Cincinnati, there are plenty of signs that culture has already started to wear off on Kraemer. Predictably, lifting, running, even doing drill work with other Elder linemen is part of his after-school regimen this spring.

So too — not so conventionally or expectedly — is sticking with swimming as part of his ND football prep. Kraemer, who originally went out for the sport, not for the meets but for the demanding practices, mixes in pool workouts three days a week.

He also intermittently consults with former Elder and Notre Dame standout Kyle Rudolph, now a standout tight end entering his sixth season with the Minnesota Vikings, and more regularly with his line coach at Elder — who just happens to be Kraemer’s father, Mike.

Mike Kraemer, a former offensive lineman at Vanderbilt, retired from coaching a couple of weeks ago, in part so he could watch his son play on Saturdays.

“It was fantastic,” the younger Kraemer said of the father-son coaching experience. “Every day we’d come home and talk about practice and then it was great having him in the games. We’d kind of have different hand signals for stuff. I really don’t think I’d be in the position I am today without all his help.”

When he’s not busy buttressing his own future, Kraemer puts time into building Notre Dame’s as a recruiter of sorts, just as he did in the 16 months between when he originally verbally committed to the Irish and when he was able to finally sign a binding letter-of-intent, in February.

His latest project is Tennessee prep offensive lineman Trey Smith, the No. 1 player regardless of position in the 2017 class in ESPN’s recruiting rankings. The two were roommates at the prestigious Nike national camp/showcase, The Opening, last summer in Beaverton, Ore.

“Parker Boudreaux was out there with us, too,” Kraemer said. “We’re all close. We have a big group chat with all the linemen from the Opening. We all stay in touch. Trey’s a guy I’d like to get next year.

“But it’s not just about the linemen. For me, Notre Dame was kind of love at first sight. I just want to let other players know what it’s all about.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Incoming freshman Tommy Kraemer could push for playing time at right guard this fall. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)