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Junior captain Robert Hainsey leads weakened offensive line

| Friday, November 1, 2019

Robert Hainsey isn’t one to look in the rearview mirror.

The right tackle, who was the only junior to be named among this year’s seven captains, is focused on practice and progress. And he’s taking it one day at a time.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish captain junior offensive lineman Robert Hainsey steps up to make a block during Notre Dame’s 14-45 loss to Michigan on Oct. 26 at Michigan Stadium.

“The goal is always graduating with a championship,” Hainsey said. “Right now, the next step for us is to win our next game. We’ll watch the film from today, get better in practice tomorrow and take it one day at a time, one play at a time until Saturday and we go out there and play Virginia Tech.”

The offensive lineman is taking the same forward-looking approach when reflecting upon his team’s 45-14 loss to Michigan; it was a lesson, but he and his teammates have to have a short-term memory.

“I don’t think you can use [that loss] as motivation, because then if you do that, you think about everything you did wrong and you go play not to lose,” he said. “You can’t play this game not to lose. This is a competitive game where you have to go out with the mindset, ‘I’m going to win. I want to dominate my man across from me every play for the whole game.’ And if you think about what happened last week, it’s not going to help you in that regard.”

What will help?

“Practice,” Hainsey said. “You’ve got to practice how you play. You’ve got to have great practices, hard practices, physical practices, with effort until the finish and attention to detail. You’ve got to make sure you go out there every day trying to get better.”

Hainsey went on to emphasize keeping that mentality in spite of last week’s loss, noting the importance of having confidence in the growth process.

“We learned a lot of things [last week], but like I said, right now we have to we have to focus on us. We can’t play any differently than we have in previous games where we dominated. We have to focus on us, get back to the basics and dominate our opponents like we know how to do — like we’ve done in the past,” he said.

One obstacle to repeating the team’s early season success, however, will be the absence of fellow offensive lineman and starting right guard Tommy Kraemer, who sustained an MCL sprain in his left knee in Ann Arbor last weekend. Head coach Brian Kelly anticipates the injury will sideline Kraemer for anywhere from four to six weeks.

“It hurts,” Hainsey admitted. “Tommy’s one of my best friends, so he knows I have his back no matter what, [but] he knows he’s got good support behind him, and he’s in good spirits.”

Filling the spot on the line will likely be graduate student Trevor Ruhland, who found himself in a similar position last year with the injury of lineman Alex Bars. Hainsey expressed his confidence in Ruhland’s ability to step up to the plate in a similar fashion this year.

“We have a next-man-in mentality, so the next guy just steps in. Whoever needs to take reps is taking reps, and we’re just playing ball from there,” Hainsey said. “I’ve played next to Trevor before, and we’re cohesive together, so there’s not a concern with him stepping in next to me.”

Looking ahead to the game in which Ruhland will step up, Hainsey noted the importance of being cognizant of the Virginia Tech strategy coming into South Bend, particularly behind the crafty mind of defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

“He’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. We played them last year, and he has his own tricks that he does that we need to be ready for,” Hainsey said. “Really, it’s just about doing our job, sticking to our technique and being able to communicate what we see up front. [We need to see] everything through one set of eyes so we know what to expect.”

That message of cohesion goes beyond just the offensive line, though — it’s reinforced by the captain unit, and from there spreads out to the rest of the team.

“I think the captain position is always one that needs to be outspoken,” Hainsey said. “We all are great leaders, and I trust all those guys, and I know the guys in the steam room trust us. It’s up to us to continue to lead and motivate and bring other guys along. They’ll look to us first, and we need to be there ready to go.”

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