Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55 OCT. 26, 2019 19 BY TODD D. BURLAGE I f there is one lasting snapshot that stands out as to why Notre Dame junior Kurt Hinish has become the most rugged rough- neck along the Irish defensive line, it's a pile of rocks — a very large pile of rocks, a seven-ton pile of rocks. During his time at Central Catho- lic High School in Pittsburgh, Hin- ish would make a few extra bucks during the summer working for the construction company owned by his father, Kurt Hinish Sr. The responsibilities were typical for a seasonal teenaged employee — cleanup and grunt work. But on this particular day, junior was told to haul an estimated 14,000 pounds of rock uphill, from the front to the back of the work site, load by load, in a wheelbarrow. " I t w a s t h e worst day of my life," Hinish Jr. joked in recollection. And his father didn't hesitate to pile on (pun intended) to remind his son that hard work can do much more than move rock. "You don't want to do this the rest of your life, do you?" was the mes- sage senior continuously delivered that day. "And obviously you want to go to school and work hard, and do better than I did." That the younger Hinish was a first- team All-Pennsylvania honoree, a top- 50 prep defensive tackle and already a Notre Dame commit provided little consolation — and no assistance — to relocating that mountain of stone. "I just figured the faster you get it done, the faster you can rest," said Hin- ish, who said the job took him all day un- der the baking summer sun. "There really wasn't any way around that pile of rocks other than to just face it and get done with it." This stone story may seem irrel- evant in a broader look at a young man who three years later has become a menacing figure and a productive player on the interior of the Irish defensive line, and a solid student studying sociology in the classroom. But it perfectly illustrates the kind of player and person he has grown into. TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH In a private story that Hinish is un- derstandably reluctant to openly talk about, his father was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2013 with a softball-sized tumor that needed 17 hours of surgery to remove. He was given six months to live. Countless hours of chemotherapy followed, but through it all Hinish Sr. didn't complain, continued to fight, never missed one of his son's football games and hardly took any time off work, often heading to a job site imme- diately after a sickening chemo drip. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly — whose wife, Paqui, is a two- time breast cancer survivor — un- derstands all too well that fighting this disease requires much more than patient perseverance. "I think that blue-collar Pittsburgh profile that we all kind of have in our mind really is the Hinish family," Kelly said last November. "So for them, and Kurt, he's playing with the house's money in a sense where he gets a chance to play football at Notre Dame, and that's why he has such a great attitude." Hinish explained that being far away from home was the hardest part when his father — who bucked the long odds and is now living can- cer free — was facing the fiercest battle of his life post surgery. But through the help of his Irish teammates and a university that most student-athletes describe as be- ing a family more than a school, Hin- ish thrives and reflects. "I love this place," he said. "Notre Dame has given me a great oppor- tunity to perform on the field, and perform in the classroom, and it is going to give me great success down the road." JEKYLL AND HINISH Always high energy but easy to talk to and get along with off the field, Hinish describes himself as a "monster" on it. The game-day rou- tine starts with Hinish and senior de- fensive end Khalid Kareem smearing eye black all over their faces. "It changes me into something," Hinish said. From there, the intensity rises. It's impossible to miss the passion Hin- ish carries, even during warm-ups. And when the game starts? "He's got great energy that is seen all the time, both as he comes off the field, on the side- line," said Kelly, who praises Hin- ish's flawless tech- nique to his craft as much as his animated approach. "He is one of those guys that is al- ways keeping his team energized." With the loss after last season of standout Irish tackle Jerry Tillery — who became a first-round NFL Draft pick after tying for the team lead with eight sacks in 2018 — fortifying the interior of the defensive line was one of the greatest concerns heading into the season. Hinish and junior linemate Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa have responded admirably, unselfishly clogging up the middle so that an inexperienced group of linebackers and a star-stud- ded cast of defensive ends can finish more plays. But playing at a reshaped 6-2 and 295 pounds since his pudgy freshman and sophomore sea- sons, Hinish has become more than just an immobile space-eater. Two years of voluntary early morning workouts with Irish strength coach Matt Balis will do that. "Just my lean body mass compared to now," Hinish said of the extra work. "It's incredible what [Balis] did." And there is no debate that anchor- ing an improving defensive line sure beats hauling rock. "I couldn't be more thankful," Hin- ish said. ✦ ROCK SOLID Hard work and tough times are driving junior defensive tackle Kurt Hinish Hinish — who compiled seven tackles, three stops for loss and 1.5 sacks in Notre Dame's first five con- tests this season — unselfishly clogs up the middle so that his teammates can finish more plays. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS "I love this place. Notre Dame has given me a great opportunity to perform on the field, and perform in the classroom, and it is going to give me great success down the road." HINISH

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