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Mark Harrell finds family on Notre Dame offensive line

| Friday, November 18, 2016

Graduate student Mark Harrell found victory often as a high school tight end in Charlotte, North Carolina, making it to the state semifinal game twice to close his career. He found some success in his years at Notre Dame, too, but this time as an offensive lineman.

Switching to the line wasn’t much of a transition because of his high school’s style of play and his own, Harrell said.

“There was an average of passing the ball just three times a game,” Harrell said. “I was always blocking as it was. I had the height and the frame, so when I started getting recruited it was always for offensive line. Tight end wasn’t really in the picture because I wasn’t catching passes.”

Harrell, who was an early commit to the University, didn’t grow up with his sights set on Notre Dame, but he said it was a top institution where he could balance school and football.

“Notre Dame was the best athletic and academic combination I could find,” Harrell said. “Of all the places I visited, this was the place that had both those that both me and my family were looking for. I just felt like this was the best decision for me.”

Irish graduate student offensive lineman Mark Harrell looks for someone to block during his first career start against Army.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish graduate student offensive lineman Mark Harrell looks for someone to block during his first career start against Army.

Harrell did not see the field until his third year, when he played center and guard in two games against Rice and Michigan. He played in five games on special teams and as a reserve offensive lineman last season as well as participating in each game this season, including getting his first collegiate start last week against Army at the Shamrock Series in San Antonio.

As is common among offensive linemen, Harrell redshirted his freshman year. He said this gave him the opportunity to learn the ND offense and develop as a player.

“Offensive line is a position in which you have to build your strength,” Harrell said. “Not a lot of people can walk in their freshman year and play offensive line deep in the trenches that early on. I think it was beneficial to build my strength and get to know the playbook. You get used to the speed of the game, and that, especially for an offensive lineman, is a really beneficial thing.”

Although he did not experience any game action in his first two seasons, Harrell did travel with the team to the BCS Championship game in 2013. He said the opportunity to observe upperclassmen who played an undefeated regular season helped to shape his skills as a player.

“Being a part of the 12-0 team my freshman year was a really cool experience,” Harrell said. “We had a lot of guys that were All-Americans and really strong players that I got to learn from, watch and be a part of the team with. It obviously wasn’t the result we wanted, but it was still a cool experience for me to go to a national championship that early on.”

In addition to watching his fellow players, Harrell said he was also inspired by his coach.

“Our offensive line coach, Coach [Harry] Hiestand, has been my offensive line coach since I got here,” Harrell said. “He’s really pushed us to our limit. Both on and off the field he sets a high standard that he always pushes you to meet, and he develops his players to be great.”

Part of the Notre Dame football experience is a big stage, and Harrell said he appreciates Notre Dame fans and their commitment to supporting the team.

“I’ve built a lot of great relationships over my five years here,” Harrell said. “I met a lot of interesting people from different backgrounds and different areas. It’s great playing for a fan base that comes in every game with consecutive sellouts. Such a wide and prolific fan base is really fun to play for.”

Harrell said one of his favorite parts of his time at Notre Dame has been the community cultivated among the players on the offensive line.

“We’re probably the closest-knit group on the team,” Harrell said. “We all love each other. I think the leaders, people like Zack Martin and Nick Martin, really established a culture for the O-line. It is a really tight knit group that does a lot of things together, and we’re all close because of it.”

Harrell lined up at right guard last week against Army, but he said that the moments he will treasure most after graduating happened not on the field, but in the quality time spent with his teammates.

“It’s not all of the big moments like the big games,” Harrell said. “It’s the Wednesday nights spending time with the guys you made friends with in the locker room or post-practice. If you had a tough day, you joke around and you talk about it. Things like that are often overlooked, but I know one day I’ll look back on it and miss those days. I’ll never have those back, and those are probably my favorite memories here.”

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