Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 13: Kurt Hinish
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Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 13: Kurt Hinish

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help the Irish reach that goal.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football graduate student defensive lineman Kurt Hinish
Hinish, who is taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility offered by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has a chance to set the program record for games played. (Andris Visockis)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is graduate student defensive lineman Kurt Hinish, who collected 50 points in our poll.

Why Hinish Is Ranked No. 13

No regular starter from last season’s Notre Dame defense had a higher tackle for loss percentage than Hinish. Seven and a half of Hinish’s 19 total tackles (39.5%) went for a loss. Daelin Hayes had the next highest rate among regular Notre Dame defensive starters at 35.3%.

Obviously, 19 total tackles is not an overwhelming amount in 12 starts. Hinish does much more than make tackles, though. In fact, plays in which he does not have to make a tackle usually mean he’s freeing up other Irish defenders to make the stop.

Hinish’s 296-pound frame draws plenty of attention from opposing offensive linemen. When they’re busy blocking Hinish — often with the use of double teams — then other Notre Dame defenders have an edge.

“Every time I step out on the field, I tell myself to be the most violent and dangerous person on it,” Hinish said in April.

That mindset when used with controlled aggression lands a player firmly inside a top 25 most important players list. Notre Dame has a bevy of talented players on its roster, but it only has one Hinish. It goes without saying what that means.

Hinish’s Status Entering The Season

Hinish could set an all-time Notre Dame record that will be potentially impossible for any future Irish player to break. The graduate student, who is taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility offered by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has already played in 50 games during his collegiate career. Hayes set the Notre Dame record for appearances last season with 53. If Hinish stays healthy, he’ll blow by that mark and set what could very well be an unreachable one.

“When the season ends, if that's the case, I would be happy if that’s how I left my mark on this program,” Hinish said, “but that’s not something I’m worried about at this moment. As the season goes on and when the season ends, if that is the case, yeah, I’ll be happy that’s the way I left my mark on this program.”

Hinish is set to start at nose tackle and rotate snaps with a pair of juniors — Jacob Lacey and Howard Cross III. Together, that duo combined for less tackles (17) than Hinish last season. But again, the job of a nose tackle isn’t necessarily to make every stop. It’s to push the interior of the opposing offensive line back, and Hinish has proven to be quite capable of that. He'll get the bulk of the reps at nose tackle.

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Hinish already knows what it’s like to consistently be on the field. In four seasons, he has missed only one game. He has played every game in the last three seasons. A successful season for him involves more than just being a body between the white lines.

Notre Dame’s defensive line is loaded with experience. When people talk about Notre Dame’s defensive line being a strength of the 2021 team because of players like junior vyper end Isaiah Foskey, graduate student strong-side end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and senior tackle Jayson Ademilola, Hinish has to fit squarely in with those names and be a major part of the reason the Irish line is receiving such praise.

Hinish has increased his tackles for loss every season he’s been at Notre Dame. He didn’t return for the extra season of eligibility granted to every player who suited up last year by the NCAA because of the irregularities of the pandemic-impacted season to discontinue that trend.

If Hinish is plugging holes up front and putting his teammates in positions to make plays because of his disruptive style of attack, then the man who’s in line to play more games in a blue and gold uniform than anyone else in the 115-year history of Notre Dame football will go out the right way.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings

Patrick Engel: 17

Tyler Horka: 16

Mike Singer: 21

Todd Burlage: 6

Steve Downey: 20

Singer on his ranking: "Don’t get me wrong — I am a big fan of Kurt Hinish. With this being his fifth season, it’s safe to assume that his talent has hit its ceiling, and he has really quality players behind him. If Hinish didn’t come back this season, the interior defensive line would still be a strength for Notre Dame, in my opinion. But the Irish are definitely better having him on their team.”

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 19: Avery Davis

No. 18: Josh Lugg

No. 17: Houston Griffith

No. 16: Cam Hart

No. 15: Zeke Correll

No. 14: Blake Fisher

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