Notre Dame’s purported center of the future concluded Spring Ball 2016 where he began – just outside the Irish starting five on Harry Hiestand’s offensive front.
Tristen Hoge’s direct competition with junior (redshirt-sophomore) Sam Mustipher for starting center duties barely materialized in March and April, the lack of competition due in large part to injuries that hampered various other Irish linemen.
The result was Hoge working at guard as often as he did center, and Mustipher thus cementing his name as the starter in the middle of a reloading offensive line.
Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with Hoge, the program’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2015, now a highly touted redshirt-freshman with four seasons of remaining eligibility.
Hoge continues to push projected starter Sam Mustipher for the pivot position while showing well enough to earn “sixth-man” status, aka, first interior lineman off the bench at both center and guard.
Notre Dame is set at left guard in potential All-America Quenton Nelson but the right side is up for debate, with senior Hunter Bivin the leader in the spring ball clubhouse. Hoge could earn competitive minutes spelling Bivin while also offering Mustipher and Nelson respite when games are no longer in doubt.
Hoge fails to close the gap with Mustipher – and not because Mustipher has a dominant training camp. Sans injury, Hoge’s best chance to start in South Bend in 2016 is at left guard but time spent between center and guard continue to hamper his efforts to that end, paving too easy a path for Bivin (or fellow senior Colin McGovern) and a veteran, untested senior “defaults” into a starting job.
To be determined.
His size (6’4”, 300 pounds) belies his current frame. That is, Hoge is nowhere near the imposing presence Nick Martin was over the last two seasons, that despite a nearly identical height/weight listing.
Where Hoge makes up for this perceived lack of ballast is his athleticism. Future secure blocks in space await the Irish rushing attack courtesy Hoge, a player who at present projects to the lofty comparison of athletic former captain Mike Heldt, who peaked at 6’4” 270 pounds in a smaller era (1988-90).
DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
Hoge was the nation’s No. 2 ranked guard prospect in the 2015 class (he was recruited as a center by the staff) and the No. 48 ranked player overall on the Scout.com 300.
The majority of Notre Dame’s top handful of centers over the last 30 seasons took a redshirt season as freshmen. That short list includes Chuck Lanza (injury-related) Rick Kaczenski, Jeff Faine, John Sullivan, Braxston Cave and Nick Martin, while only Mike Heldt, Tim Ruddy, and John Merandi (each of the trio were 1990s competitors) worked their way into rookie season action.
Assuming he logs sixth-man minutes, Hoge will end 2016 at an apt developmental pace. It gets interesting thereafter considering he’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining while Mustipher will still enjoy two. (Bivin would likely be asked back as a graduate student for 2017 as well.)
HOGE AT HIS BEST
Building from the segment above, it’s important that Hoge flash his future potential this fall. Notre Dame is unlikely to make it through the 12-game slate without an injury to Nelson (perish the thought), Mustipher, or Bivin, and Hoge would likely be called upon in support of any member of the trio.
It would be ideal for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s unit if Hoge is clearly the best choice for reserve duties ahead of career backups such as McGovern and Mark Harrell, though Harrell is a valued asset as the graduate student is capable of playing every position in a short-term pinch.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“Sam and Tristen have competed really well. Tristen ended up playing a lot of guard when Colin (McGovern) was banged up so we lost a little time with him competing with Sam at center. But Sam is an older player, a more experienced player, and has established himself with some pretty good consistency. But Tristen is pushing him for sure. Tristen is a very good football player. He’ll continue to close that gap on Sam.” OL coach Harry Hiestand