Josh Lugg is determined to continue Notre Dame's offensive line legacy
Josh Lugg’s comfort levels at tackle and guard might not determine where the grad senior starts his 2021 season.
As Notre Dame’s utility offensive lineman the last two years, Lugg made eight combined starts at tackle, guard and center. While he’s virtually a lock to make the starting five on Sept. 5 at Florida State, Lugg’s position will likely be determined by the confidence offensive line coach Jeff Quinn has in the other options at tackle and guard.
“This was always going to be how the other pieces were going to fall in line to see what the ultimate position was going to end up being for Josh,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “We were going to use a veteran player where he fit the best for us, because we knew that we were going to go with a couple of guys that weren’t playing as much or hadn’t been playing as much.”
Lugg began the spring playing right tackle, where he started the final five games of the 2019 season in place of an injured Robert Hainsey, but Kelly suggested early on that Lugg would eventually move inside to guard, where he started one game last season. But lately Kelly started to settle on tackle as his most likely position.
Lugg’s experience at both positions matters, but his ultimate success may be determined by a lack of physical discomfort, not which position he feels more comfortable playing.
The 6-foot-7 Lugg dealt with back issues last season while playing at 321 pounds. He reshaped his body in the offseason and cut down to 291 pounds before the end of February.
“I had to look at myself in the mirror and be like maybe if I’m a little bit lighter, I’m going to be able to move better and it’s not going to be such a strain on my back,” Lugg said. “I think that really helped. I haven’t had any issues come up at all now since the end of the season last year.
“I feel strong. It’s all in the core really at this point. If I can have a tight core, I feel that it’s really improved my back and being able to play and feel comfortable.”
This spring, Lugg has been practicing at around 300 pounds. He wants to see if he can keep his back healthy by adding five or 10 pounds by the start of the season. Regardless of which position he plays, Lugg will need to be at his athletic peak.
“I feel like I’m moving a lot better,” Lugg said.
The offseason agenda for Lugg also included added leadership responsibilities. He was named as one of the captains for offseason workouts, but offensive coordinator Tommy Rees wanted to make sure Lugg was devoting time to himself too.
“It’s a gray line to be able to work,” Lugg said, “and be like, ‘Hey, I need to work with these younger guys, but I also need to understand that I need to get more reps for myself.’”
Extra work for Notre Dame’s offensive line has been a tradition since the days of Harry Hiestand. Before Lugg spoke to reporters after practice earlier this spring, he spent post-practice time running drills with his fellow offensive linemen. That’s all Lugg has known since his freshman year under Hiestand.
“That’s never going to fall off from that ever,” Lugg said. “That’s why we see so much success on the O-Line.”
Lugg was in the last full recruiting class that Hiestand recruited as Notre Dame’s offensive line coach. That 2017 class included Lugg, Hainsey, Aaron Banks and Dillan Gibbons.
Hainsey and Banks will be selected in this week’s NFL Draft while Lugg and Gibbons are fighting to start a season opener for the first time in their careers. The old saying of tradition doesn’t graduate will be tested with Notre Dame’s offensive line losing four starters — Hainsey, Banks, Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer — to the NFL this offseason. But Lugg strongly believes that the legacy will last.
“We’re always going to have the same pictures up on the wall and understand who the greats are that played here, and you have to play so hard for them,” Lugg said. “Coach Quinn has done an excellent job at relaying that information to the young guys coming in. Working with the young guys, also working with the older guys and saying like, ‘Hey, this is the standard. It doesn’t drop no matter what.’”
247Sports ranked Lugg (No. 86 overall) higher than Hainsey (No. 135) and Banks (No. 185) in the 2017 class, but his Notre Dame career took a more winding path. He still has a chance to make his mark this season.
“This is his opportunity now,” Eichenberg said of Lugg. “He will start on the offensive line this year, there’s no doubt about that. And I think he’s going to do very well. He’ll be very successful.
“He’s a guy who understands his technique and fundamentals, and I’m very excited for him. I’m excited for all the guys in our room, but a guy who stuck it out, who would do anything and sacrifice anything for the offensive line, that’s the type of guy you’re getting.”