Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 23, 2015 Issue

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

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learning the speed and overall physi- cality of the college game," he said of his redshirt year. "Practicing against Isaac Rochell, Romeo Okwara and those guys and having to block them as a scout player my freshman year really helped me out a ton. Even with the scout team, I got better each week. "I was adjusting to studying the film of different teams and seeing how dif- ferent defensive ends and linebackers play. "In high school, I didn't really have to deal with that much, being split out most of the time. I study film with those guys and learn the techniques of what defensive ends from each team are doing. That's the most important adjustment for me. I feel like I'm get- ting better at that each week." For Luatua, the learning curve fell on the opposite end of the spectrum. At 6-2½ and 255 pounds, he boasts a much more physical presence than Jones and Weishar. His blocking abil- ity allowed him to contribute as a freshman in 2014. "I enjoy blocking, getting an edge and being more physical at the line," he said. "That's mainly what I focused on as a freshman, too. But I feel like I've improved as a pass-catching tight end, too. "In high school, I did the same thing with being physical and blocking, and I brought that here." Then there's Hounshell, the fifth- year senior whom few expected to be invited back for a fifth season after he appeared in only 10 games in four years as a defensive lineman. After the 2014 season, he approached Kelly and said he would do anything for a spot on the 85-man roster this year. "Chase knocked down my door, wouldn't leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, 'Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer,'" Kelly said in the spring. "That hasn't been the case over the past couple years. I've had fifth- year seniors that didn't want to be part of the team. They chose to be one-year starters somewhere else. … We said, 'We don't really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role?' "He said, 'Coach, I'll do whatever you ask me to do.'" Like Luatua, Hounshell does not represent much of a threat in the re- ceiving game, but his blocking has aided the Irish rushing attack. Because injuries limited him to a combined one game in 2012 and 2013 — he under- went three shoulder surgeries during that time — he is eligible for a sixth year in 2016. "There was a point the doctors told me that, physically, it's really hard to play in the trenches versus our sched- ule with three shoulder surgeries set- ting you back," he said. "I had it stuck in my head a little bit after the three shoulder surgeries and what the doc- tors were saying, but I never really listened. I can do whatever I put my mind to." At this point, none of the four tight ends is a complete player like Notre Dame's past standouts at the position under Kelly such as Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. But for now the collaboration is working just fine for the Irish. ✦

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