Mark Harrell typifies ‘right kind of guy’ for Irish
Maureen Schweninger | Thursday, November 12, 2015
Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s early recruiting mantra was finding the RKGs — the “right kind of guys” — for Notre Dame’s program.When senior offensive lineman Mark Harrell walked onto campus in 2012, Kelly said he fit that bill.
“[RKGs] have to have the right character traits,” Kelly said Feb. 1, 2012. “They have to understand Notre Dame and the value of an education, and Mark Harrell comes from that environment.”
Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina, the three-star prospect was an early commit. He didn’t have a childhood affinity for the Irish, but he said he saw something special in South Bend after his first visit.
“When the process started, I didn’t have any biases toward one particular school,” Harrell said. “But I always saw ND as a place that was prestigious. As far as I was concerned, Notre Dame was the only one that could offer both an unbelievable athletic experience as well as that academic experience.”
Though Harrell redshirted his freshman year, he said he was still able to travel and dress with the team in the 2013 BCS Championship Game.
“Despite being in the reserve, I was able to go with the team and experience that,” Harrell said. “That was awesome and obviously something I’ll never forget.”
He played right guard and center as a sophomore but saw no playing time until his third year, making appearances against Rice and Michigan. This season, he’s participated in three games at right tackle. The depth behind the Irish offensive line was a hurdle for Harrell, but he said he has taken it all in stride with his positive attitude.
“Hopefully I’m an RKG in the light that I show up every day and try to be better, make the people around me better,” he said. “You have to hold yourself accountable, both academically and on the field. You have to learn to sacrifice the things you want to do to make the team the best it can be.”
A sociable person, Harrell said he has especially appreciated the brotherhood of the offensive line that he has found and fostered as a senior leader.
“You do so much with your position group, with the O-line,” he said. “We’re just so close with everyone there. The experiences I’ve had with the guys in my position group over the years — new kids, guys who have graduated — are really memorable.”
The larger Irish community has also been a highlight of Harrell’s Notre Dame experience. He said he’s felt a togetherness with the student body that many other colleges can’t offer.
“The greatest thing about ND as a whole is the immersion between student-athletes and regular students who don’t play varsity sports,” Harrell said. “It’s so different than other schools, where they try to isolate the athletes in certain areas and certain classes. The cultural immersion has been amazing.”
Harrell took advantage of an opportunity not usually available for student-athletes this summer, studying abroad through the South Africa for Student-Athletes program.
“You see a lot of kids that don’t play sports who are able to go abroad, and you want to be able to do that, but that’s typically something that we aren’t able to experience,” Harrell said. “Being able to go to a place like Africa with fellow student-athletes was really awesome and eye-opening. That was a trip where I saw things that a lot of people in this world can’t say they’ve been able to experience.”
Looking to the future, Harrell could return for a fifth season with his final year of eligibility. It’s a chance he said he’d be willing to take.
“I would love to have another year here, if I’m fortunate to be able to do that,” he said. “Other than that, I’ll just use my Notre Dame degree to the utmost benefit.”
Harrell said he looks forward to the upcoming festivities of Senior Day, sharing in a home finale that has, as usual, come all too fast for this senior class.
“You come here as a freshman, and you think [Senior Day is] ages away. You don’t even think about it,” Harrell said. “All of a sudden, just like that that, it’s right here. So being able to do something that I’ve seen every single year here — obviously that’s a very special thing. I’m looking forward to being able to experience that with my family in this last game.”