Brasher Alex Bars ready to get physical for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

It was hardly the most brazen act that Notre Dame offensive guard Alex Bars pulled off this football offseason.

But it perhaps shows the extent the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Irish captain will go to in order to reinforce his new persona.

As ND’s new resident ruffian.

Perhaps not coincidentally the grad senior had the outgoing Irish butt-kicker, then recently drafted All-America lineman Quenton Nelson, in tow when he barreled through a side door entrance at a South Bend grocery store last May with a dog — Bars’ dog — riding in the same part of the shopping cart where you put the food.

“We needed barbecue supplies, and didn’t want to leave the puppy in the car,” Bars explained with a wry smile of his golden retriever/poodle mix named “Nash.”

Bars met the odd stares coming his way with a wave and a smile. Nelson, now a rookie training camp freak show with the Indianapolis Colts, responded with grunts.

“Nobody said we couldn’t do it,” Bars offered. “And at the checkout, all they did was ask us what kind of dog he was.”

The next level of Bars’ play on the football field in his fifth and final season at Notre Dame is designed to have that kind of brash assertiveness to it, along with a larger dose of physicality. He got to show off a little more of that Tuesday at Culver, Ind., ND’s fifth practice of the spring but first in full pads.

“I want to be a dominant force,” he said.

And dominant to the point, he added, of inspiring the kind of social media gifs Nelson’s play populated Twitter with last season, turning offensive guard into a glamor position.

Bars moves from right guard to Nelson’s vacated left guard spot in the 2018 ND offensive line realignment, a position in which they actually were not much more than a coin flip apart back in the spring of 2015 and most of training camp of 2015.

In the end, Nelson, the mauler, won out over Bars, the advanced technician at the time. Bars did make two emergency starts that season in Nelson’s place when Nelson suffered a high ankle sprain against Clemson. But Bars’ season ended later that October when he suffered a broken left ankle against USC.

“I think that battle in 2015 made Alex a lot better,” offered Blake Bars, Alex’s brother and now roommate as he attends ND Law School. “They never stopped challenging each other, and it made them both better.

“From Alex’s perspective, it made him an even more determined player every year after that to constantly win whatever spot he was put in. and now he’s ready to play at an extremely high level.”

Blake ought to know what that looks like. He, himself, was an FBS-level offensive lineman with Michigan (2012-15), which just happens to be the season-opening Irish opponent Sept. 1 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Yes, I’ll be cheering for my brother, because blood is thicker than water,” added Blake, who happened to be dog-sitting Nash while Alex was in Culver for five days.

Practice No. 6 overall and the first of training camp staged at the ND campus takes place Thursday morning, after Irish head coach Brian Kelly gave his team a surprise day off Wednesday.

“I really expect Alex to take off to that next level,” Blake said. “I think you’ll see a drastic difference between is play last year and this year, because that’s his goal and he’s living it.

“He’s a badass, for lack of a better term, in everything he does, whether he’s working hard in a drill or conditioning. He’s always had it in him.”

Maybe he needed to just to survive. He was the third of three brothers, with Brad, the oldest, eventually ending up as a defensive end at Penn State and later played briefly with the NFL’s New York Giants. Blake was next, and then Alex, who was the most highly recruited of the three and the No. 98 player overall nationally in the 2014 class.

“He was the little brother who always wanted to be a part of everything,” Blake said. “And he was big enough, good enough and tough enough where he was never out of place.”

The fourth child of Joe and Sally Bars, Lauren, is also a Div. I athlete, a sophomore volleyball player at Ole Miss. She also happens to be Quenton Nelson’s girlfriend.

Joe and Sally were also Division I athletes. Joe was a linebacker at Notre Dame during the Gerry Faust Era. Sally swam at Michigan State, and her father (Doug Eggleston) and uncle (Don Kolcheff) both played football at the University of Michigan.

“We still have a lot of family in Michigan, and a lot of them are Michigan fans,” Blake said. “All of us kids were born in Michigan before we moved to Nashville (Tenn.).

“But all those Michigan fans are going to be Notre Dame fans on Sept. 1. That’s how our family is. They’re expecting to see Alex at his best, at his most physically dominant. and after watching everything he’s been doing this offseason to make that goal come true, I wouldn’t bet against him.”

Notre Dame’s Alex Bars (71) works against N.C. State’s Darian Roseboro (45) during an Irish victory, Oct. 28 at Notre Dame Stadium.