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Notre Dame Day: Which Irish Football Players Will Surprise Fans in 2019?

Three defensive players and an offensive guy that are poised for breakout seasons, according to their teammates

From left: Josh Lugg, Joe Theismann, Tommy Kraemer, Jarrett Patterson, Aaron Banks and Liam Eichenberg
Notre Dame Football / Twitter

Five Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive linemen joined a special broadcast Sunday to discuss, among other things, which player on their team was poised for a breakout season.

Their answers are below, along with additional insight about:

  • Colleges they would have attended if they didn’t pick Notre Dame
  • What they learned in the Cotton Bowl game against the Clemson Tigers
  • Strength coach Matt Balis
  • What Notre Dame means to them

Joe Theismann: “We’re joined now by some of the biggest human beings on the face of the Notre Dame campus as well as I believe on Earth to be honest with you. These are ‘the group of guys’ as they call themselves. I’ve always treated my linemen in a very, very gentle way because they’re always very, very wonderful. But what I want to do now is to give you a chance -- I’m looking at the monitor. I am not that small guys. I didn’t think I was anyways, but I feel comfortable. I feel like I’m back home. Any time you’re a quarterback and you’re behind an offensive line like this, there’s just a wonderful little warm feeling that goes through me, that sort of back in the cradle. Is that the way you guys feel about taking care of a quarterback?”

Josh Lugg: “Yeah, absolutely.”

Theismann: “Go ahead. Alright, good. Now, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. Let’s start with Josh here. Tell them who you are, where you went to school, what year you’re in school and then I’ll move out of the way and get on the side here, so go ahead.

Lugg: “My name is Joshua Lugg, I’m a redshirt freshman here at Notre Dame. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I went to North Allegheny Senior High School and move it on to Tommy here.

Tommy Kraemer: “I’m Tommy Kraemer, I’m a junior offensive guard, from Cincinnati -- Elder High School.”

Jarrett Patterson: “I’m Jarrett Patterson from Mission Viejo High School and I play center.”

Aaron Banks: “Aaron Banks, sophomore, from El Cerrito, California.”

Liam Eichenberg: “I’m Liam Eichenberg, I play left tackle. I went to Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland.”

Theismann: “You guys just finished your spring game, the Blue Gold game. From an offensive lineman’s standpoint, what do you get out of that game, as far as the work goes? What do you get?”

Lugg: “Spring games are always pretty competitive, mostly because we’re going against our own defense, but it’s also in front of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans. They get to first see what we’ve been working on for 14, 15 practices in spring ball. So, we always get to work on our technique, that’s the biggest part in the spring game, and just being very competitive against our own players.”

Theismann: “Do you guys hit much before the Blue Gold game? Do you have a chance to sort of bang into one another?”

Kraemer: “Yes, we were physical basically every practice this year. We went up against our one defense every day, banging heads, getting better that way. You know, ‘iron sharpens iron’ is what we say, and we do that all spring.”

Theismann: “Curious, why Notre Dame? I mean you’re wearing the leprechaun, you’re doing that. Why Notre Dame?”

Patterson: “I think it’s just the people here, and the culture. Especially the offensive line. Tom was my host, and hanging around with these guys; there’s just nothing like it. And we always look after each other, and for me that’s what sold it. Just the culture and community around the area.”

Theismann: “12 and 0 last year, you wind up going to the championship competition at the end of the season. It doesn’t work out, that’s the last time we’ll talk about those other guys. We don’t care about them at all do we, right? We don’t care. What’s the one lesson you learned playing against Clemson?”

Banks: “That’s a tough one. There’s a lot of lessons we learned in that game.”

Theismann: “Give me a couple.”

Banks: “I think the biggest thing I took from it was that you’ve gotta come and compete every day. You can’t take days off. I think that was the main thing for me.”

Theismann: “Where is this football team going to be next year?”

Eichenberg: “I think this football team next year. I think we’re having a great season, just like we did this last season. We’ve got a lot of guys on offense coming back. We’ve got a great defensive side of the ball. It should be great. I think we’re gonna do everything that we can and we’re obviously going to try to get back to where we were this past season.”

Theismann: “We had a number of guys, had four guys be drafted off the defensive Line alone, off the Notre Dame defense. And when you look at the football team, and the defensive side of the ball, I know when I played, when one side sort of lost some people, the other side didn’t want to put pressure on themselves…But you sort of take it on yourself and say, look, there’s going to be some times where they have to acclimate themselves, get themselves ready and used to playing again. Do you feel that way on offense, do you feel like you’re going to have to hold up your end maybe a little bit more until everybody gets comfortable on the other side of the ball?”

Kraemer: “Yes, so I don’t know if we’ll have to hold it up a little bit more. We gotta second year starter in Ian Book, we’ve got an explosive running back in Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones, more experience on the O line, great receivers. I don’t think we have to pick up our weight more, but I definitely think we’ll be more explosive, put more points on the board compared to last year.”

Joe Theismann: “I’m gonna ask each of you just a simple question. What does Notre Dame mean to you?”

Lugg: “Notre Dame means to me, community, full brotherhood and respect for each other, and where everyone’s competitive with each other, but it’s not a cutthroat society. We all want to see each other succeed.”

Theismann: “Go ahead, Tommy. What do you think?”

Kraemer: “I’m gonna say family. I think especially in this group, the O line, it’s a family mentality for sure.”

Patterson: “Yeah, I’ll say family as well. Just a culture and just the people. Have everyone look out for each other in the community, even non-student athletes, just regular people on a daily basis.”

Banks: “Yeah, I’d say family, too. We call it the Notre Dame family. It’s literally our slogan.”

Eichenberg: “I’d say family as well. It’s something special here. People talk about it all the time, especially in our room. It’s something different.”

Theismann: “I had the good fortune to play at Notre Dame with a bunch of great guys up front. Then I went to professional football, I had the Hogs. They had their own little moniker. They had their own little posters. Offensive lineman are unique. I don’t know how many people realize, it’s just a very unique group of guys. There probably isn’t a closer group of players on a team than the offensive line. Literally, they take care of each other, they watch out for each other’s backs, and if you were to happen to drive into a parking lot and look for cars, you’d probably see just about the same type of trucks, mostly that everybody’s driving, because that’s sort of what the offensive lineman do. There’s a bond that’s created between you guys that’s very unique on a football team. Do you sense it here at Notre Dame?”

Eichenberg: “I definitely do. Our position, like you said, is very different. It takes five guys to do our job, and everybody has to be on same page and everybody has to know what they’re doing. If we go one way, then the team goes with us. It’s an important position, and people don’t completely understand it, and it’s just great playing this position.”

Theismann: “Having studied football teams for so many years, and broadcast for so many years, and playing on them…when you walk by the offensive line room, it’s like there’s everybody else: the defensive backs, the wide receivers, everybody has meetings, everybody has a meeting room, but there’s something about the O line. There’s something about the camaraderie that exists, there’s the communication. People look at the quarterback position, and they say, “Wow, you have to do a lot of communicating.” On the offensive line, it’s equally as important as anything that comes out of our mouths, to make sure that you can get it done and make it happen. Is that the way you feel?”

Patterson: “Yeah, usually the O line, we’re the first ones out there every day for practice, and the last ones to leave. We’ve always been the most work in. You can’t just have one good offensive lineman. Everyone has to be on the same level, and we have this saying: ‘See things through one set of eyes,’ and that’s just our motto, what we live by.”

Theismann: “Alright, I’m going to throw some questions at you. Looking for one word answers. This is the big quiz. You’re going to be graded on this. This could go toward your graduation, so you’ve gotta be really careful about this, okay? One word to describe Coach Balis and his impact on your development?”

Lugg: “Vigorous.”

Kraemer: “Explosive.”

Patterson: “Maniac.”

Joe Theismann: “I was waiting for one of those. Go ahead.”

Banks: “Gritty.”

Joe Theismann: “Gritty?”

Eichenberg: “I’ll just say gritty.”

Theismann: “Yeah, scary would probably be another one probably, would come in there I’m sure. What school finished runner up to Notre Dame in your recruitment? Where else were you thinking about going? Glad you didn’t, by the way.”

Lugg: “I had committed shortly after…”

Theismann: “One word answer.”

Lugg: “Wisconsin.”

Kraemer: “Ohio State”

Patterson: “UCLA”

Banks: “UCLA”

Eichenberg: “Ohio State”

Theismann: “Me it was North Carolina State. I actually signed to North Carolina State before I came here to Notre Dame. We all had second thoughts, and it all worked out very, very well for all of us.”

Theismann: “What player, not here tonight, do you think is going to surprise Notre Dame fans next year? You guys have had a chance to look around. Is there a player that you look at on your football team and say, ‘You know what? That could be a really surprising individual?’”

Lugg: “Kurt Hinish.”

Kraemer: “Chase Claypool.”

Patterson: “Ade Ogundeji”

Banks: “Drew White

Eichenberg: “Kurt Hinish

Theismann: “See, I love the fact that it’s not the same person. That’s wonderful. These guys have been with the players. They observe them. They see them. And here’s an opportunity to really get an evaluation. That’s to me the truest of evaluation. Last one: What makes Notre Dame football special?”

Lugg: “The brotherhood.”

Kraemer: “Brotherhood.”

Patterson: “The tradition.”

Banks: “Competition.”

Eichenberg: “Tradition.”