Notre Dame OL Alex Bars determined to be captain

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Alex Bars wants to dominate like Quenton Nelson. He also wants to lead like him.

Bars, entering his fifth season as a Notre Dame offensive lineman, isn’t shy about wanting to be named a captain for the football team in 2018.

“Seriously, there’s nothing more that I want in the world right now than to get that fourth spot,” Bars said Tuesday following Notre Dame’s third spring practice.

Earlier in March, head coach Brian Kelly named center Sam Mustipher, linebacker Drue Tranquill and punter Tyler Newsome as three of the team’s captains for the upcoming season. A fourth, Kelly said, will be named at the conclusion of the spring. All will have received their spots as the result of a player vote.

“I need to work harder, be a better leader for the guys to get that fourth spot,” Bars said.

Last season, two of Notre Dame’s seven captains came from the offensive line: Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and Nelson at left guard. A repeat with Mustipher and Bars in 2018 wouldn’t be a surprise.

Regardless of their titles, Bars said, he and Mustipher have already started to assert themselves as leaders on the offensive line. In the week following the Citrus Bowl, they decided to embrace that role.

“This group needs someone to lead them,” Bars said. “It fell on Sam and I. So immediately when we got back, we were a lot more vocal and leading the guys right away.”

Mustipher and Bars arrived at Notre Dame in the same 2014 recruiting class as Nelson and Jimmy Byrne. All four offensive linemen were rated at least four-star recruits by Rivals, with Nelson receiving five-star status. Now only Mustipher and Bars remain. Even offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has left the program.

The two fifth-year players have tried to ease the transition to new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn.

“Very weird,” Bars said of practicing without Hiestand in charge. “It’s taken a lot of changing on our part to now get used to it. Coach Quinn’s done a great job taking the group over.

“I know Sam and I understand the standard that’s been set here by Harry and everything he instilled in all of us making us men and players. We do a good job of communicating with coach Quinn.”

The basics have stayed the same under Quinn. Bars said the offensive line is still using the same technique and the same terminology as it did previously. And the philosophy hasn’t changed.

“Come to work each day ready to attack,” Bars said. “Get after your opponent no matter what, no matter how you’re feeling. At all times, no matter what.”

The linemen on both sides of Bars at right guard have stayed the same as well. Mustipher will enter his third season as the starting center, and Tommy Kraemer has the opportunity to retain the starting right tackle spot after he split time at the position with Robert Hainsey last year.

Bars, who has played at left guard, right tackle and right guard in his 27 starts at Notre Dame, appreciates the continuity.

“Playing next to Tommy as a second-year player, that’s huge. Obviously playing next to Sam last year was unbelievable,” Bars said. “Their knowledge of the game and understanding of each other and the trust we have between each other has been developed from last year. Leaving that the same — Sam, me and Tommy — has been great.”

In order to take his game to the next level, Bars wants to model his game after Nelson’s. The 6-foot-6, 318-pound product of Montgomery Bell Academy has continued to evolve in the weight room.

“I feel like I’m the strongest I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Bars said. “The physical conditioning that he’s instilled in us and the mentality to push it makes us huge.”

Strength isn’t the only requirement to play like Nelson. The small details of technique matter too. But above all else, there’s a determination to dominate.

“It’s just the mentality that you’re going to finish no matter what,” Bars said, sounding quite a bit like Nelson. “The play could be going away, but you’re going to finish them no matter what. You’re going to drive them into the ground when you feel them stumbling.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Alex Bars (71) works against N.C. State’s Darian Roseboro (45) in the 35-14 Irish victory Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)