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Football

Christian Lombard builds upon consistency on OL

| Thursday, November 20, 2014

20141115, vs Northwestern, Lombard, Emmet FarnanEmmet Farnan | The Observer
As a leader of one of the most oft-overlooked offensive units, graduate student offensive lineman Christian Lombard fits the bill: quiet, unassuming and hardworking.

Lombard has built an impressive résumé in his five years at Notre Dame. Entering Saturday’s game, Lombard has played in 42 games for the Irish, including the first national championship game appearance for the Irish since 1989.

Lombard, the starting right tackle in his fifth year of eligibility, was one of former Irish head coach Charlie Weis’s earliest commitments for the 2010 recruiting class.

Weis was let go following the 2009 season, but despite the coaching change prior to Lombard’s arrival in South Bend, he said he never thought to de-commit from Notre Dame.

“I never reconsidered my choice because I told myself I committed to a school, not to one particular coach,” he said.

As a senior at Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, Lombard received a number of national honors, being named a USA Today first-team prep All-American, EA Sports first-team All-American and the Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois.

The 6-foot-5, 311-lb. lineman certainly had a number of offers, including several from Big 10 schools, but he said Notre Dame was different from the others.

“I saw a place here that holds you to high academic and moral standards,” Lombard said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”

But just as many freshmen are expected to work to earn the respect of their players and coaches, offensive linemen must work perhaps even harder to find a starting slot in the highly cohesive unit of the offensive line.

Lombard said he understood this going into his first year, in which did not see game action, but he also said he was committed to a positive mindset at the year’s beginning.

“Traditionally, offensive linemen don’t play as freshmen, so I understood that going in,” he said. “I knew that it was a process, so I just committed to taking all the steps necessary.”

The next step in that process would come the following 2011 season, when Lombard saw action in all 13 of the Irish contests, playing on the special teams unit.

Although not yet a starter on the offensive line, Lombard said this special teams role contributed to his preparation for earning a top spot on the depth chart.

“I played punt coverage and field goal protection, and those guys take a lot of beating,” Lombard said. “From the standpoint of physicality, it got me prepared for those next couple of years.”

And his first two years of hard work would come to fruition in Notre Dame’s undefeated 2012 season, highlighted by an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. Lombard, then a junior, started at right tackle in all 13 contests.

Perhaps the team’s most impressive stat from that season came from Lombard’s unit: the Irish started the same five linemen in each contest, a rarity for a position as physical as the lineman spot.

Lombard said this helped the offense find a rhythm and consistency, as the line developed a tight-knit relationship during the championship run.

“That type of relationship is necessary for a successful line, and the ability to protect and block for the guys behind us,” he said.

In a year with a number of close victories that came in the games’ final minutes, Lombard said his favorite memory was Notre Dame’s come-from-behind, triple-overtime 29-26 victory against Pittsburgh on Nov. 3, 2012, which kept the undefeated season intact at 9-0.

“We ran a crazy amount of plays, like 110 or something, and afterward, we were all so exhausted, but we just kept believing and blocking play after play,” Lombard said.

However, as most Irish fans remember, the magic of the season would come to a screeching halt in the BCS National Championship Game, when Alabama convincingly claimed its second straight championship in a 42-14 rout over the Irish.

Although a difficult loss, Lombard said it served as a motivator for the Irish before they kicked off the next season.

“We really had a great offseason, and I think we all felt like we really had so much more to prove to the world and to ourselves and to our fans,” Lombard said. “It was definitely a motivation.”

In the 2013 campaign, Lombard made the switch from right tackle to right guard, a difference that may seem insignificant but has noticeable nuances for any lineman.

Despite this transition, Lombard, and the offensive line as a whole, excelled in 2013, something Lombard attributes to the Irish coaching staff.

“The transition was difficult from the standpoint that I had never played the guard position before, but we don’t necessarily teach different fundamentals specific to each lineman position, so it was fairly easy to catch on,” Lombard said.

The 2013 offensive line was, statistically speaking, one of the best in the nation.  The Irish were second in the country in fewest sacks allowed, and no other team attempted more passes and allowed fewer sacks than Notre Dame, which gave up only eight sacks on 429 passes.

Lombard’s season was cut short, however, because of a back injury that had been aggravating him since the previous summer. In the seventh game of the season against USC, Lombard re-aggravated the injury, which required immediate surgery.

Just as the Alabama loss served to motivate Lombard, the back injury inspired the then-senior to rehab and return the following season.

“It was tough sitting out and having to watch the guys that you play with for two years from the sideline,” he said.

Following the long rehabilitation during this past offseason, Lombard experienced another setback when he unexpectedly injured his wrist during spring practice.

“It was definitely a kick in the stomach, and I kind of felt like I couldn’t catch a break,” Lombard said. “But you just have to try and stay positive.”

And again, the lineman exhibited the toughness that has been a defining characteristic of his career at Notre Dame, as he fought through the wrist injury to prepare for the 2014 opener against Rice.

Currently building on an already impressive career this season, Lombard could be a mid-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, according to DraftCountdown.com analyst Scott Wright.

However, when asked about hearing his name called in the draft, Lombard remained expressionless and remained razor-focused on his team’s upcoming opponents.

“That’s been the mindset going into the year, and all throughout it,” he said. “I’ll worry about that when it’s time to worry about that.”

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