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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

A ‘Notre Dame man’: Josh Lugg develops as player and leader

There were two things that went into Josh Lugg’s decision to return to Notre Dame for a sixth year in 2022. First, there was the practical side of it. Lugg felt he needed more development before pursuing his NFL dream. The return of universally regarded offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who recruited and coached Lugg during his first season with the Irish, made the decision even easier.

But there was a second part. The Irish have long held a reputation for churning out quality offensive linemen. Two of the team’s starters Lugg’s freshman year, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, became top-10 NFL draft picks. However, they weren’t just great players, they were great mentors for Lugg, the No. 15 offensive tackle of his recruiting class. Over the last two seasons, the Irish have welcomed some more highly touted offensive line recruits, such as sophomore Blake Fisher, sophomore Joe Alt, freshman Billy Schrauth and more. The chance to return to Notre Dame Stadium and better his NFL chances was obviously important to Lugg. But, so was the chance to provide the same type of guidance that Lugg received from McGlinchey, Nelson, Hunter Bivin and others that helped him get to where he is.

“I wanted to be a mentor for the young guys,” said the Wexford, Pa, native. “Help them understand what it means to be a Notre Dame man.” 

Lugg in his sixth year at Notre Dame has followed a fairly traditional development curve. He redshirted in 2017, then saw the field in all but one of Notre Dame’s games in their College Football Playoff run of 2018, albeit primarily for kicking duties. His first “big break” came the next season, with a Robert Hainsey injury opening the door to start five games. Injuries cracked the door open again for Lugg in 2020. In particular, he showed off his versatility by making one start at right guard and two more at center due to injuries to Tommy Kraemer and current graduate student Jarrett Patterson, respectively.

Lugg didn't need injuries to crack the door open to become a first-time full-time starter a season ago. In fact, he started 12 of Notre Dame’s 13 games last season. He and the rest of the offensive line helped weather some early-season storms, helping the Irish develop a ground-first identity. Notre Dame’s run game has progressed from a liability to a lifesaver, especially in Notre Dame’s most memorable game of the season, its 35-14 upset of then No. 4 Clemson on Nov. 5. The Irish rushed for 263 yards and held the football for 33 minutes flat. After watching most of Notre Dame’s 2020 upset of Clemson from the bench, Lugg was front and center this time.

Part of the reason why Lugg has such a strong influence is the wide variety of experiences he's had. He called Heistand’s departure for the Chicago Bears after his freshman year “devastating” and went through the turmoil of last offseason when Brian Kelly unexpectedly left to go to LSU.

“It’s important to be happy for the coaches, and understand that you committed to Notre Dame, not necessarily a coach,” Lugg said. “Coaches are gonna come and go, but the players you have at 5:30 when you’re sitting in the locker room in the morning before winter workout — those are the guys that are gonna be with you.”

While Lugg downplayed Alt and Fisher’s need for help in particular, calling them “mature and ahead of their age, very much aware of what the standard is here as a Notre Dame offensive lineman,” everyone can always use a helping hand. That help goes beyond football, too. The former Duncan Hall Highlander will do anything to help his younger peers fit in. Maybe that means going out to dinner. Maybe that meets talking about real-world things like “faith and family.” Whatever it means, Lugg is up to the task.

The challenge of Notre Dame, particularly on the academic side, was a huge attractor to bring Lugg to South Bend. After graduating last year with his finance degree, Lugg is currently getting his masters in analytics. He knows how difficult Notre Dame can be.

But it’s that difficulty that helps create the brotherhood that Lugg also said drew him to Notre Dame.

“[It was] something I didn’t really see at other schools,” Lugg said. Lugg knows his football life won’t last forever. Though he hopes to go pro, he also cited the common quip of the NFL standing for “Not For Long.” In particular, he is passionate about real estate, which he minored in at Notre Dame. In fact, he worked for former Notre Dame basketball star ‘15 Pat Connaughton’s real estate development company Three Leaf Partners a few years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, though, Lugg is focused on two things. First is not “wast[ing] any of God’s talent.” Second, teaching the next crop of Irish o-line stars everything they need to know to ensure they don’t either.

Contact Andrew McGuinness at