Like most offensive linemen that have come through Notre Dame’s program, Ronnie Stanley enters his senior year with a fifth season eligibility available (2016), the result of a freshman-year redshirt.
Unlike most, Stanley’s redshirt was medically related, not reflective of a coach’s decision that he needed to augment his quickness and strength.
He’s always had both in ample supply.
“I think Ronnie could play every position on the line, honestly. He’s that athletic,” said former teammate and current San Diego Chargers guard Chris Watt of his gifted, then-freshman teammate. “Probably power forward, too.”
Stanley, who admitted he once aspired to hone his hardwood talents and give “Division I” basketball a shot, clearly chose the better athletic path. It’s one that will provide the opportunity for NFL riches at the conclusion of 2015, and it’s one made likely because of a difficult decision he made last winter to come back to Notre Dame for his undergraduate degree and final shot at the national title.
“My dream isn't just to play in the National Football League. I want to win a national championship,” wrote Stanley in a statement following last year’s championship contest between Ohio State and Oregon won by the Buckeyes. “I've waited to this point so I could watch the actual game and see if I felt any emotion, and I felt a great deal. I am a competitor. I want to play on the top stage so I've decided that I'm returning to Notre Dame for my senior year.“
Stanley plays at a level commensurate with his NFL Draft stock – that of first-round pick and among the best offensive linemen in the nation.
Inspired by the end result of his fiery efforts against LSU in the Music City Bowl (detailed below), Stanley continues his ascent as a leader, not only for the Irish offensive front, but the program as a whole, earning co-captaincy along with returning captains Sheldon Day (Stanley’s roommate) and Nick Martin.
If he reaches his potential, Stanley could be Notre Dame’s best overall football player in 2015 and the nation’s top offensive linemen. It’s a leap from the level at which he performed during the 2014 regular season, though one not far-fetched after witnessing a fully engaged Stanley last December.
Or better put: Ronnie Stanley is on par with former teammate and 2014 NFL Pro Bowler, Zack Martin.
Solid but decidedly unspectacular.
At times last season it wasn’t clear who Notre Dame’s top performing lineman was. Stanley was obviously the most gifted and blessed with ample pro potential, but those traits didn’t always present on game days.
In short, a lack of consistency would be unacceptable for Stanley, a senior with two full years of starting experience under his belt and a player that has honed his craft against the likes of Florida State, USC, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan, Arizona State, Stanford, and LSU along the way.
With the exception of his truncated freshman season due to injury, Stanley’s career to date is reminiscent of former Irish standout Ryan Harris. Harris began his career – albeit as a true freshman – as Notre Dame’s starting right tackle, earning eight starts as rookie, the third freshman offensive linemen to do so (at the time) in program history. Harris flipped sides to start 24 consecutive contests at left tackle entering his senior season, one replete with pre-season All-America recognition.
Harris started the final 45 games of his collegiate career – Stanley would start the final 39 of his – potentially the final 40 should the Irish advance past standard bowl qualifications and into the 2015 playoffs.
A four-star prospect and the No. 11 offensive tackle in 2012 according to Scout.com, Stanley enters his senior season with 26 consecutive starts under his belt.
After appearing in two September games as a 2012 rookie, Stanley was shelved for the remainder of the season due to elbow surgery, a lingering condition from his high school days that caused instability in his right elbow.
Since, he’s started every game the Irish have played, 13 at right tackle; 13 on the left side. Barring an injury this fall and thus a necessary fifth season in South Bend, Stanley is headed to the NFL and potential first round riches at season’s end. His development at the position is ideal for any offensive line prospect, regardless of star rating.
To the delight of Irish fans and coaches, Stanley didn’t save his best for last, but the most recent outing of his two-year starting career was doubtless his best.
With Notre Dame’s program reeling in the wake of a four-game losing skid to conclude its regular season, Stanley used the platform of a Music City Bowl matchup against perennial power LSU to rally his troops – for the first time, they were his troops.
“I know I had to do whatever I had to do to get my team on the same page I was,” said Stanley of the rare emotion he displayed before, during, and after Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory. “And I wanted to make sure that they were thinking the same way I was and weren’t thinking anything less of themselves, just because of the past.
“I want them to know when I get hyped, it’s real. I’m not that guy that goes around every day just trying to yell. When I get hyped, it’s serious.”
The Irish offense piled up 449 total yards including a decisive 263 on the ground behind a fired up Stanley and his offensive line cohorts.
“Coach (Harry Hiestand) and Ronnie have a pretty interesting relationship. Ronnie knows when it's time to step up and when it's time to listen. There's a fine line at that and Ronnie is the best at knowing that.” Irish right tackle Mike McGlinchey after Stanley interceded on his behalf after Hiestand chewed out the first time starter during the Music City Bowl.