A father's promise kept and a cancer-free scan drive Notre Dame DL Kurt Hinish's ascent

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Before Kurt Hinish Sr. underwent 17 hours of abdominal surgery and a risky hot chemotherapy wash to try to tame a softball-sized tumor — and the bleak prognosis that came with it — he made a promise to his family.

“He told all of us he wasn’t going to die,” said Kurt Jr., a sophomore nose guard on the Notre Dame football team. “And he stuck to his word.”

The ebbs and surges of Kurt Sr.’s battle with Stage 4 colon cancer are mostly a blur for the key Irish defensive line backup, including the original sixth-month survival window, probably because the husband of Tawnie and the father of Kurt, Kadin and Donovan so thoroughly and consistently thwarted the doomsday limits that kept being put on him.

Including his expected presence Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium for the 89th-annual Blue-Gold Game (12:30 p.m. EDT; NBC Sports Network), the first football game or scrimmage Kurt Jr. has played in since the 2013 surgery in which the elder Hinish had a clear cancer scan.

“He never missed one, actually,” Kurt Jr. said of his football events. “Not even my first high school start (for Pennsylvania prep powerhouse Pittsburgh Central Catholic) my sophomore year, which was less than a week after that surgery.

“He was supposed to be in a coma for a couple of weeks, and he woke up five minutes after the surgery and was ready to go to my game the next week.

“He used to go to chemotherapy in the morning and go to work right after, just because he just said he won’t give up. He said that’s not in his blood. Can’t do it. He’s one of the toughest guys in the entire world. He motivates me every day.”

And that inspiration helped Kurt Jr. become one of the biggest surprises among ND’s 21-member freshman class last season, along with fellow three-star defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa.

The 6-foot-2, 292-pound Hinish played in plenty of high-stakes snaps in the 12 of the 13 games for the Irish (10-3) in 2017. He had eight tackles and a quarterback hurry as the No. 2 nose guard. Tagovailoa-Amosa played in all 13 as the No. 2 defensive tackle, and collected 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

“He and Myron just were able to make a quick jump over the incumbent players that were here,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said, “because they played with great leverage, they played with their hands.

“I never met a defensive lineman who can get off blocks strictly on strength and technique. They just have to have that ‘it,’ that ability to shed and get off blocks. He does. That’s just something he had when he got here.”

Fortifying interior line depth behind starters Jerry Tillery and Jonathon Bonner was one of the top spring priorities for Kelly and the defensive staff.

Hinish has a concise and colorful way to describe his own evolution in that regard.

“Last year, I was just a bull in a china shop,” Hinish said. “This year, I’ll be a bull in a china shop with technique.”

Senior Micah Dew-Treadway is among the ascending defensive line options now in the mix. Jayson Ademilola, among the June-arriving freshman d-linemen, is the one deemed most likely to impact the depth chart early.

But those projections sometimes get twisted when the freshmen arrive. Hinish was expected to redshirt and, in fact, had been overlooked all the way back to the recruiting process.

The Irish had long honed in on Pittsburgh Central Catholic teammate David Adams, who ended up signing with the Irish and is now a sophomore backup linebacker on the Irish roster. But it wasn’t until Hinish asked Adams to send the lineman’s highlight film to then-recruiting coordinator Mike Elston that the Irish showed any interest.

“A week later I got a scholarship,” Hinish said. “A couple of weeks later, I came up to a junior day, and I committed.”

And Elston, ND’s defensive line coach, and Hinish have been close ever since.

Hinish even took all three of Elston’s daughters to a daddy-daughter dance a few months ago, because Elston couldn’t make it himself.

“It was a really fun night,” Hinish said. “I was really sweaty at the end of the night. I was wearing a full suit, dancing with a bunch of 8-year-old girls, and they had a lot more energy than I did,

“People always say that I’m coach Elston’s son, because we’re so tight. and his daughters love me. They’re great girls. I’d do it again if they asked me too.”

And sometimes Hinish’s shows how big his heart is even when he’s not asked.

When he went home for Christmas for four days just ahead of ND’s trip to Orlando, Fla., for the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl, Hinish noticed the family’s dishwasher was broken, and all his family members were washing dishes by hand.

One of the perks of the bowl trip was that each Irish player received a $500 gift card to spend at Best Buy. Hinish wanted to spend his on a dishwasher for his family.

“We’re not the richest family in the world,” he said. “But when I called my dad to get the measurements for the dishwasher, I think he knew what I was up to and he wouldn’t give them to me. So I wasn’t able to get them one.

“I ended up buying him a drone instead. So he has a lot of fun with that.”

Not half as much fun as his cancer-free February 12 scan and knowing he kept a promise to his family.

“We have a tough dad, so I knew he was going to be fine,” Kurt Jr. said. “But being away from home for the first time when all this was going on was hard for me. The guys (ND teammates) I came in with, we’re really close.

“So if I ever had problems or anything, there were guys I could talk to. The guys would come around every single day. Our freshmen class, it’s an anomaly how close we are.

“And my dad, he cares about me a lot. He someone that I’m really thankful for.”

Coordinator position endowed

University of Notre Dame alumnus John J. Arlotta and his wife, Bobbie have made a $5 million gift to his alma mater to endow the Irish football team’s offensive coordinator position.

The Arlottas’ gift will help to underwrite the salary of that coaching position, provide stability and resources for the long term and create funds for use within the department. Chip Long is in his second season at Notre Dame and is the first John and Bobbie Arlotta Family Offensive Coordinator.

“This gift reflects the confidence of both Notre Dame and the Arlottas in the direction of our football program under head coach Brian Kelly,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “It also allows us to make additional strategic decisions in terms of devoting financial resources in ways that will benefit football here at the University in years to come.”

John Arlotta is a 1971 graduate of Notre Dame who majored in marketing with a minor in transportation management. He was in the Army ROTC at Notre Dame and is a retired captain in the U.S. Army Reserves. Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame nose guard Kurt Hinish (41) celebrates with Khalid Kareem (53) after he tackled USC QB Matt Fink (19) during ND’s 49-14 rout, Oct. 21, 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium.

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