Hainsey ready to lead Irish in return to hometown Pittsburgh
Charlotte Edmonds | Friday, December 18, 2020
It’s been nearly six years since Robert Hainsey played in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t mean Saturday’s return will be any less of a homecoming. Raised in Pittsburgh, the senior offensive lineman and team captain lives up to the reputation of the Steel City — gritty, disciplined and hard working. Those same qualities have guided the three-year starter and two-year captain through his time with the Irish.
After spending two years at Gateway High School just outside of Pittsburgh, Hainsey received a call from IMG Academy, inviting him to come to Bradenton, Florida, to improve his game with some of the top talent from around the country. Hainsey jumped at the chance and said he considers it the second-best decision he’s ever made behind his commitment to Notre Dame.
“As a 16-year-old, that’s a big decision to make,” he said. “But I just thought that if I wanted to do everything that I felt I wanted to do and be this player that I wanted to be it was the right decision to make. And I decided to move 18 hours away. And looking back, I wouldn’t change a single thing.”
From there, Hainsey’s career skyrocketed, leading IMG to an undefeated season, along with fellow Notre Dame teammate Houston Griffith III. Hainsey committed to the Irish in June before his senior year and was one of five early-enrollees who moved to South Bend in January. While the adjustment to college can be steep, Hainsey quickly found his way, enrolling in the Mendoza College of Business and proving to be a key anchor in Notre Dame’s offensive line. Even Hainsey’s major decision reflects the competitor he is on and off the field.
“Finance just caught my eye because I thought it was interesting, I figured it would be a pretty competitive field,” he said. “I’ve kind of gone from not knowing a whole lot about it to learn a good bit about it.”
Throughout his freshman year, Hainsey saw action in all 13 games, learning from Irish legends Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He moved into the starting lineup against LSU in the Citrus Bowl and was central to the offensive line being awarded the 2017 Joe Moore Award, given to the “toughest, most physical offensive line in the country.”
While that momentum propelled him through his sophomore year, during which he started all 13 games on the way to an undefeated regular-season campaign, Hainsey suffered a season ending injury against Virginia Tech last season, eventually requiring surgery. Hainsey said this experience and the uncertainty about his senior season due to COVID-19 gave him a new perspective about the opportunity to play.
“You don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Hainsey said. “This can stop whenever, so it gives you that reenergized boost of, ‘I’m excited to play football. I can’t wait to get out there with the guys.’ It’s a little difficult to stay locked in and not know exactly what’s gonna happen each day but I’m pretty, pretty happy with the feeling I have of getting excited and the team getting excited to play football together.”
The mentality of not taking any moments for granted was put to the test this season for athletes across the country, but Hainsey said at the end of the day, the team is focused on one thing — winning.
“With the fans we’ve had, the students have been great, and the band, our family,” Hainsey said. “So you really don’t notice a whole lot of the difference while on the field … just looks a little bit different. But you’re not really stopping [in] the middle of the game to look around.”
Now, four games into the season, it seems that the Irish offense is being defined by the explosive run game of underclassmen running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. That said, as Notre Dame prepares to hit the road for the first time this season, Hainsey said he and the rest of the offensive line recognize that the success of their season depends on being a dual-threat offense and that they have full trust in the strategy of the coaching staff.
“We trust that they’re going to put us in a position to win,” he said. “If that’s running the ball 40 times a game, that’s what is. If that’s passing about 50 times again, that’s what it is. We’re going to execute to the best of our ability no matter what play is called in.”
One of the guys Hainsey credits with playing a significant role in the development of the offensive line is graduate assistant Chris Watts, who he described as a “huge asset” to the team. Watts played under Kelly from 2011-2013 before being drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
“You think about the guys who came through this room, those are the guys that led the way for what we’re doing now,” Hainsey said. “Having him back in the room with us has been incredibly, it’s been awesome. It’s been really special to be able to learn from him and just, you know, pick his brain on all different kinds of things regarding offensive line playing techniques.”
With the NCAA’s recent announcement giving all fall athletes a fifth-year of eligibility regardless of previous playing experience, Hainsey’s got some questions ahead for his future. While he’s learned a lot through the finance department and feels confident that he’d have options when he reaches that point, he’s keeping his eye on football, at whatever level that may be.
“Yeah, I think it’s an interesting situation for everyone,” he said. “And I guess that’s a bridge I’ll cross when we get to it.”