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December 23, 2013

ND pride tied to Hanratty name

Conor Hanratty, Notre Dame’s junior offensive guard and son of record-setting Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty, has the old-time approach of the grainy film upon which his father’s Notre Dame record-setting career in the mid-to-late 1960s is captured.

“I feel like a guy who has to get better every day,” said Hanratty, who stepped into the lineup against Air Force when Chris Watt went down with a knee injury, and then started three of the last four games while sharing time with freshman offensive guard Steve Elmer.

“It’s not about if you’re a back-up or a starter; it’s about playing to your potential. That’s why we come out here and give our best effort every day. You try to improve your fundamentals, and if you do that, you can help the team improve.”

Hanratty carries with him a responsibility passed down to him by his father, who graduated from Notre Dame after the 1968 season as the school’s all-time leader in completions (304), yards (4,152) and touchdown passes (27) during an era when the ground game still reigned supreme. (He also rushed for 586 yards and 16 touchdowns.) Hanratty and the Irish won all eight games he started in 1966 en route to a 9-0-1 season and the national championship.

For the Hanratty family, it’s about more than records. It’s about representing Notre Dame.

“He loves it,” said Conor of his father’s reveling in his contributions to the Notre Dame program. “Plus, it gives him a reason to come back to Notre Dame.

“He loves Notre Dame, and he’s really proud of what I’ve done and what I’m doing. One of the things that I take pride in is just giving him the joy to watch me.”

During Conor’s first two years in the program, Terry saw little of his son on the field. After preserving a year of eligibility in 2011 and spot duty - six games, mainly on special teams -- in 2012, Conor could see light at the end of the tunnel.

Hanratty emerged as the frontrunner for the starting right guard slot in the spring of 2013 after Mike Golic’s graduation. But when sophomore Ronnie Stanley returned to the field following off-season elbow surgery, Christian Lombard moved from right tackle to right guard and Stanley stepped into the starting lineup at right tackle.

Hanratty refused to allow the adversity to alter his approach.

“You can’t let frustration become a factor,” said Hanratty, who hails from New Canaan, Conn. “I’m far from where I need to be right now. I know that. I just need to come out and improve every day.

“Being in the starting lineup is obviously very different. It’s a lot of responsibility and that’s the great thing about it. If five guys aren’t functioning the way they need to, the play is not going to stand a chance.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has seen Hanratty’s improvement as his reps have increased. Known more for his power than his agility in space, Hanratty has tried to narrow the gap between his strengths and his deficiencies.

“It’s helped him just understanding a lot more of the movements up front,” said Kelly of Hanratty. “He can block the guys in front of him. Some of the things he’s struggled with are movement up front and some games (twists/stunts by the defensive linemen). He’s definitely doing a better job of clicking off some of the inside games and some of the movements that he struggled with a little bit.”

At 6-foot-4 1/2, 309 pounds, Hanratty is an interior offensive lineman in approach and skill set.

“Part of offensive line play is having versatility,” Hanratty said. “If you’re a great run blocker and you can’t pass block, then you’re not going to be a huge help to the team. I think what Coach Kelly is getting at is that I need to develop into a versatile player.

“A lot if it has to do with the pass-blocking aspect of it, and basic fundamentals that go along with that. The basic things, like keeping my head back on the block. When you’re leaning, you’re not going to be a great pass blocker. It’s the basic things that really count the most. I need to improve my footwork, too.”

Hanratty’s steady play has come at the right time. All three starting interior offensive linemen - Lombard (back), Watt (knee) and center Nick Martin (knee) - are out for the Pinstripe Bowl with season-ending injuries. Hanratty, Elmer and junior center Matt Hegarty have been forced into the lineup and have held their own, particularly in the challenging assignment against Stanford in the regular-season finale.

Stamina has not been an issue for Hanratty after remaining idle for the better part of three football seasons. He says his confidence is high from the process to which Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand adhere.

“It’s all about the preparation,” Hanratty said. “Coach Kelly and Coach Hiestand put a great emphasis on that. Through great preparation, it gives you the confidence that you need going into a big game.”

While many would dispute that Notre Dame versus Rutgers in the Dec. 28 Pinstripe Bowl is a “big game,” it’s all a matter of perspective. Hanratty will be making his fourth career start and first in post-season play. It’s a big game for Hanratty, particularly when he matches up against Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, one of several top-rated defensive linemen on Notre Dame’s 2013 slate.

“We’ve played against a lot of great players and he’s definitely in the ranks of those guys,” said Hanratty of Hamilton, who paces the Scarlet Knights in tackles for loss with 10. “That’s one of the great opportunities at Notre Dame. You face quality players week-in and week-out, and this one is going to be a fun game.”

Rutgers will force Hanratty to prove his athleticism in space.

“They’re going to get a lot of movement from Rutgers,” said Kelly of his offensive line. “That front is going to move a lot. (The offensive line will) have to be able to pick up games and things up front, so that’s where we’re spending more time with those guys.”

Hanratty is soaking up the opportunity to represent the family name and Notre Dame with great pride.

“My dad played back in the day,” laughed Hanratty when reminded of a bygone era. “I’ve heard great things from a lot of people about what kind of player he was. He doesn’t boast too much. He’s very modest in what he’s done. He doesn’t try to give me too much advice. He likes to let me figure it out.”

Conor Hanratty is figuring it out at Notre Dame. For the Hanratty family, that’s just the way it was meant to be.

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