Notre Dame's Best Offensive Linemen From Indiana
In Notre Dame’s all-time football recruiting efforts, perhaps no state is more overshadowed than Indiana, the school's "home base."
Easily and often dismissed as a “basketball state” and not a fertile hotbed in football, in reality it has always been a crucial area for the Fighting Irish. Back in 2014 when we did a survey on the most productive states ever for the Notre Dame football program, Indiana came in at No. 4.
Nearly 230 players from the Hoosier State have seen action for Notre Dame, and it joins Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio as the only ones with more than 150.
Thus, opening the 2022 recruiting cycle with a verbal this weekend from Zionsville, Ind., four-star offensive lineman Joey Tanona is an uplifiting start. The 2021 class already includes four-star offensive tackle Blake Fisher, who could develop into a five-star figure, from Avon, Ind.
Especially when it comes to skill positions on offense, Indiana does not take a back seat to anyone in Fighting Irish football annals when it comes to an all-time Notre Dame team from any state.
It would be difficult to match a pass-catching corps of Derrick Mayes (Indianapolis), Jeff Samardzija (Valparaiso) and tight end Tyler Eifert (Fort Wayne), plus a running attack that included College Football Hall of Fame inductee Emil Sitko (Fort Wayne), Vagas Ferguson (Richmond) and Anthony Johnson (South Bend).
Quarterbacks included future pros Rick Mirer (Goshen), the No. 2 overall pick in 1993, and Blair Kiel (Columbus).
In the five years from 2016-20, the lone Hoosier natives signed by Notre Dame have been rovers Paul Moala (Mishawaka) and Jack Kiser (Royal Center).
Here’s out Top 10 among Fighitng Irish offensive linemen from Indiana, a standard that Fisher and Tanona will strive to attain.
10t. Emmett Keefe (Raub, 1913-15) & Chuck Puntillo (East Chicago, 1957-58)
Keefe was a three-year starter when Notre Dame was beginning to build its famous brand under head coach Jesse Harper.
A two-year starter on teams that finished No. 10 and No. 17, Puntillo was a co-captain as a senior.
9. Joe Kuharich (South Bend, 1935-37)
Started two years for the Irish and played several years in the NFL before going into coaching. This included an unbeaten season at the University of San Francisco and NFL Coach of the Year honors at Washington prior to a disappointing four-year stint (1959-62) at his alma mater.
8. Noble Kizer (Plymouth, 1922-24)
One of the Seven Mules as a guard for the 1924 national champions, and he became a highly successful head coach at Purdue from 1930-36, recording a 42-13-3 mark before suddenly dying at age 40.
7. Pat Filley (South Bend, 1941-43)
Listed at 5-8, 175 pounds, the guard started only one year at Notre Dame, but made the most of it. He was the captain of the 1943 national champs and a first-team All-American on UP and Sporting News, and second team on Associated Press.
6. Braxston Cave (Mishawaka, 2009-12)
Local product from Penn High became a three-year starter at center and received third- team All-America notice from the AP and Sporting News following a 12-0 regular season in 2012.
5. Wally Ziemba (Hammond, 1940-42)
The starting center on Frank Leahy’s first two Notre Dame teams was the No. 50 overall pick in the 1943 draft. He receives extra credit because he helped coach the line for Leahy on four national title teams.
4. Nick Martin (Indianapolis, 2012-15)
Although overshadowed by older brother Zack, he too was a two-time captain for the Fighting Irish. After working at both tackle and guard, he settled in at center and became a second-round selection of the Houston Texans, where he has started the past three years.
3. Mike Rosenthal (Mishawaka, 1995-98)
Also a Penn High product like Cave, Rosenthal became the first freshman offensive lineman to start for the Irish, before getting injured. In his senior year the future 10-year NFL veteran received second-team AP All-America notice.
2. Bob Kuechenberg (Hammond, 1966-68)
Started as a sophomore offensive tackle on the 1966 national champs after classmate George Kunz was lost for the season in the second game. As a junior and senior, Kuechenberg was needed more on defense, and his 18 tackles for loss those two seasons paced the team.
Then in the NFL, Kuechenberg was a six-time Pro Bowl pick at guard while helping Miami to two Super Bowl titles.
1. Zack Martin (Indianapolis, 2010-13)
The two-time captain remains the epitome of unconscious competence and consistency. The first-round pick Martin owns the Notre Dame record for consecutive starts (52) — 13 in all four years — highlighted by the 12-1 campaign in 2012.
In his first six seasons in the NFL, Martin already has matched Kuechenberg’s six Pro Bowls, and has been first-team All-Pro four times. He conceivably some day could hold the Pro Bowl record for most appearances by a Notre Dame alumnus, shared currently by Alan Page and Tim Brown with nine apiece.