Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson bulldozes his way into history, named unanimous All-American

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

He was such an elite left tackle prospect coming out of Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High School, pitching an altered vision of the future seemed futile, if not foolish, during the recruiting process.

But Quenton Nelson’s five-star prospect ranking didn’t come along with a five-star ego. And when the first opportunity for Nelson to crack Notre Dame’s starting lineup came at left guard heading into his sophomore season, Nelson became determined to find greatness at a position considered much lower on the glamor scale.

And then made it glamorous, making everyday plays into highlight-reel must-sees and bulldozing his way into history.

On Wednesday morning, when the American Football Coaches Association dubbed the 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior a first team All-American, he became the 29th unanimous All-American in the history of the Notre Dame football program.

Sidekick and grad senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey just missed joining him, garnering second-team honors from The Sporting News on Tuesday to go along with four first-team selections by the other four requisite organizations (AFCA, AP, Football Writers and Walter Camp).

Thus McGlinchey and Nelson become the 84th and 85th players, and 100th and 101st selections (because of repeats) from Notre Dame to be dubbed consensus All-Americans — most of any school on both counts.

The thin line between consensus and unanimous is best illustrated by the fact that three of Notre Dame’s seven Heisman Trophy winners (Angelo Bertelli, Paul Hornung and John Huarte) didn’t attain unanimous All-America status.

Nor did 2015 stars and consensus All-Americans, linebacker Jaylon Smith and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.

In fact, Nelson becomes only the third Irish offensive lineman in the past 50 years to do so (joining center John Scully and tackle Aaron Taylor), the second ND offensive guard ever (joining two-way star Dick Arrington), and the fourth player in the post-Lou Holtz Era (1997-present) to become a unanimous All-American (joining CB Shane Walton, WR Golden Tate and LB Manti Te’o).

And just as Nelson showed unselfishness after redshirting as a freshman and stepping into the left guard spot, McGlinchey has been unwavering in his support of Nelson as “the nation’s best offensive lineman.”

Together they have similarly bright prospects ahead of them at the next level once they — along with center Sam Mustipher, right guard Alex Bars and the right tackle tag team of Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey — face one of the nation’s top defenses, in LSU, in the pair’s final collegiate game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 1.

Both players are projected as top 20 picks in April’s NFL Draft (Nelson technically as an underclassman since he will leave a fifth-year option to return to ND on the table). If that is indeed the case, they’ll become the third and fourth offensive lineman under O-Line coach Harry Hiestand in the past five years to come off the board in the first round.

That matches the number of Irish linemen who became first-rounders in the 25 drafts that preceded that five-year run — Jeff Faine, Luke Petitgout, Aaron Taylor and Andy Heck (1989-2013).

“If I knew I’d be in the same position next year regarding injury, I’d definitely come back,” Nelson said Friday night after becoming just the third offensive lineman in 97 years of ND postseason awards to be named team MVP.

“I think I’m ready for the next level. I’m just thankful to all of my teammates, especially the guys on the offensive line, and coach Hiestand for developing me into the player I am today.

“He’s helped me grow so much as a man, as a player. And I’m forever grateful for him. He’s the reason why I’ve received all the accolades I have.”

In his first mock draft, released Wednesday, ESPN’s Todd McShay projects McGlinchey going 11th to the Arizona Cardinals and Nelson going 14th to the Miami Dolphins, but there’s speculation Nelson could even push into the top 10 — a rarity for an offensive guard because of positional value.

In ND’s own history, only one guard has gone in the top 10 of the NFL Draft — Bill Fischer 10th to the Chicago Cardinals in 1949.

For now it’s all about finishing what Nelson started at ND and trying to push the Irish to a 10-win season in Orlando and maybe, just maybe, duplicating the locker room celebration Sept. 23 at Michigan State in which Nelson not only picked up head coach Brian Kelly and shook him like a rag doll but also messed up the coach’s hair.

“I think everyone was really hyped after that win,” Nelson said. “It was a huge road win for us. And I think this year coach Kelly has become more of a players’ coach. He’s made great decisions through the offseason.

“He’s been hanging out with us a lot more and showing a lot of his personality. Everyone wants to play for him, and I have much love for coach Kelly.”

https://www.afca.com/afca/Article/2017FBSAllAmerica

ND’s UNANIMOUS ALL-AMERICANS

1929-30 Frank Carideo, QB, (Vernon, N.Y.)

1932 Joe Kurth, T, (Madison, Wis.)

1938 Ed Beinor, T, (Harvey, Ill.)

1946-47 John Lujack, QB, (Connellsville, Pa.)

1949 Leon Hart, E, (Turtle Creek, PA)

1949 Emil Sitko, FB, (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

1952-53 John Lattner, HB, (Chicago, Ill.)

1954 Ralph Guglielmi, QB, (Columbus, Ohio)

1965 Dick Arrington, OG, (Erie, Pa.)

1966 Nick Eddy, HB, (Lafayette, Calif.)

1966 Jim Lynch, LB, (Lima, Ohio)

1969 Mike McCoy, DT, (Erie, Pa.)

1971 Walt Patulski, DE, (Liverpool, N.Y.)

1972 Greg Marx, DT, (Redford, Mich.)

1975 Steve Niehaus, DT, (Cincinnati, Ohio)

1976-77 Ross Browner, DE, (Warren, Ohio)

1977 Ken MacAfee, TE, (Brockton, Mass.)

1978 Bob Golic, LB, (Willowick, Ohio)

1980 John Scully, C, (Huntington, N.Y.)

1987 Tim Brown, FL, (Dallas, Texas)

1989-90 Todd Lyght, CB, (Flint, Mich.)

1990 Raghib Ismail, FL, (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

1990 Michael Stonebreaker, LB, (River Ridge, La.)

1990 Chris Zorich, DT, (Chicago, Ill.)

1993 Aaron Taylor, OT, (Concord, Calif.)

2002 Shane Walton, CB, (San Diego, Calif.)

2009 Golden Tate, WR, (Hendersonville, Tenn.)

2012 Manti Te’o, LB, (Laie, Hawaii)

2017 Quenton Nelson, OG, (Holmdel, N.J.)

Notre Dame offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey (68) and Quenton Nelson (56) were named to the AFCA All-America first team Wednesday. (AP Photo/NAM Y. HUH)