Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2021

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

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16 DECEMBER 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE C arrying the same mindset as almost all of the other fine o f fe n s ive l i n e m a n to m ove through Notre Dame the last decade, junior Andrew Kristofic knew little to nothing beyond playing the tackle position. Regarded among the best programs in the nation for its development and pro- fessional preparation with its offensive linemen, Notre Dame puts most of its recruiting emphasis on elite high school tackles — the exterior positions consid- ered more demanding and important than the center and guard interior spots. The formula for Irish head coach Brian Kelly remains the same — iden- tify his five best linemen first, position them later. And Kristofic is a perfect example and the latest case study. Before spring ball in March, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Kristofic had nei- ther played nor considered any position other than tackle. Tackle is the position he became a four-star recruit at out of Pine-Rich- land High School near Pittsburgh in the 2019 recruiting class. It's also the position Kristofic concentrated exclu- sively on as a Notre Dame freshman and sophomore in 2019 and 2020. Positional plans and future course changed for Kristofic in the spring when a foot injury sidelined team captain and returning starting center Jarrett Patter- son for those workouts, a player absence that put the Irish coaches in a numbers crunch along its interior. "I was shuffling all over the place," Kristofic said. "Some days, I would go to center. Some days, I would go to left guard. I'd work a little at right guard, too, so it was just kind of wherever I was needed." Patterson returned healthy in the fall and has started at center every game this season. But the important lessons and extended cross-training Kristofic received in the spring during Patterson's absence became a blessing for both the player and the team. A gifted high school basketball player, Kristofic is nimble and athletic enough to handle the more wide-open tackle posi- tion, but there was something about be- ing packed tightly inside that felt right. "I was ecstatic about [the switch to guard]," Kristofic said. "I felt way more comfortable at guard than I ever did at tackle." The position transition for Kristofic started simmering late last November when he took practice reps at guard when senior starter Tommy Kraemer was sidelined for emergency appendec- tomy surgery. But it wasn't until Notre Dame was losing 10-0 and struggling against Vir- ginia Tech Oct. 9, that the Irish coaches made arguably their best call of the sea- son and sent Kristofic in to replace valu- able backup but struggling starter Zeke Correll at left guard. Notre Dame averaged only 80.8 rushing yards and scored four rush- ing touchdowns through its first five games this season. In its next six games after Kristofic claimed the top job at left guard (through Georgia Tech), the Irish averaged 209.0 rushing yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground. "I think you are just starting now to see all of the hard work we all put in re- ally starting to come together," Kristofic said. "It took a little bit longer than we maybe expected, but we are making good steps in the right direction." Patterson, an All-America candi- date, said he recognized in the spring and through fall camp that Kristofic's added versatility and maturity made him a valuable member of this unit. "Playing center and guard in the spring really helps him understand the offense," Patterson said. "And he's played tackle the last couple of years, so he really understands everything that's going on, and I think he has really em- braced his role at left guard." Kristofic agreed, and explained that the guard and tackle positions require different techniques, and frankly, dif- ferent skill sets. "With tackle, you have so much time and space, so you're really out there on an island by yourself a lot of times," Kristofic explained when asked about his greatest positional adjustment. "Whereas inside, those guys are right on top of you. "It works both ways. Sometimes it's nice to have those guys right on top of you when you don't really get much time and space, where other times, it's kind of hard, when you have a big strong guy, like our defensive linemen, right on top of you." And as the Irish offensive line has matured and developed week to week this season — seemingly, right before everyone's eyes — the obvious question remains, how did this unit keep mo- rale and confidence high during its early season struggles? " No o n e rea l ly go t f r u s t ra te d ," Kristofic explained. "If something's not working, or you're not doing something right, you just have to evaluate yourself and try to get better at it every single day. That's what we did." Looking forward to 2022, the posi- tional future for Kristofic remains un- clear. If Patterson heads to the NFL after this season, then might center be Kristof- ic's place? Or, will he return at one of the guard positions in 2022? Or, if a tackle spot comes open, might he land there? Whatever the future brings, know that Kristofic is willing and able to han- dle whatever is asked. "If they said tomorrow, 'Hey, we need you to go play tackle,' I'd be happy to play tackle," Kristofic said. "Wherever I can get on the field to help my team win." Versatility has its privileges, and its value. ✦ A WELCOME CHANGE Junior Andrew Kristofic's move from offensive tackle to guard is serving Notre Dame well Since the versatile Kristofic was inserted into the lineup at left guard Oct. 9 against Virginia Tech, the Irish rushing attack improved dramatically to an average of 209.0 yards per game and a total of 15 touchdowns during that six-game stretch. PHOTO BY KEITH LUCAS/SIDELINE MEDIA

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