Hinish credits Pittsburgh roots for spirit of success
Mannion McGinley | Friday, December 18, 2020
Defensive lineman Kurt Hinish, defensive coordinator Clark Lea and the rest of the Notre Dame defense have one goal: to make this a championship season for the Irish. Lea instilled the challenge of finding a new level every week in order to achieve that goal.
“We talked about bringing the juice and playing fun,” Hinish said, “and, you know, being relaxed when you play and not being worried about making mistakes and just playing hard from start to finish … and we raise our level. We accepted the challenge, and we wanted to raise our level every week.”
Hinish played at a high level ever since he arrived on campus. As a three-star recruit and the 10th-ranked player out of Pennsylvania — ranked No. 42 in the country at defensive tackle, per 247Sports.com — Hinish says he left Central Catholic High School wired to play football a certain way. This didn’t just come from his high school, as one of two Notre Dame recruits from Central Catholic in his class along with former Irish linebacker David Adams; Hinish said it came predominantly from his Pittsburgh roots.
“A lot of the people from [Pittsburgh] are blue-collar, hard-working people,” Hinish said. “It’s the kind of mindset that me and some of my teammates that are from Pitt, we bring to this facility every day. It’s like a bring your lunch, go to work type mentality every day. So, we kind of carry that blue-collar attitude on our sleeves and that’s just the way we go about our day.”
Now a senior, that work ethic shows on the field as Hinish appeared in 48 games in his Irish career with 51 tackles to his name, 26 unassisted and 25 assisted. Fourteen were tackles for a loss for an accumulative loss of 47 yards over his four years, plus 5.5 sacks for 27 yards. He started in every game the last two seasons, amassing 30 of his 51 tackles in that time. Hinish even opened both seasons with one sack in this year’s Duke home opener and the 2019 opener at Louisville.
Hinish used that Pittsburgh drive to find his success as the Irish defense is on the path towards its championship goal. This season, he returned to Pittsburgh to play in Heinz Stadium for the fourth time in his football career, this time to help the Irish to a 45-3 win over the Panthers. Hinish said it was nice to have a chance to play in front of family and friends, especially given the context of this year.
“I played free,” he said. “I didn’t worry about making mistakes. … I just played loose. I played looser than I have in the past.”
He does it all for one reason; the same reason, Hinish says, his teammates all play as hard as they do: the brotherhood. FTB — or, for the brotherhood — is a not uncommon post shared among Irish football players and coaches on social media.
— Mike Elston (@CoachMikeElston) December 5, 2020
It’s this mentality that pushes the defense forward. Hinish feels it on two levels; between him and the Pittsburgh guys, and within the defense overall.
“We talk about it all the time. Everything we do is for the brotherhood,” Hinish said. “There are times I don’t want to come out, and it’s just selfish of me, but I have to understand that I’m not … fresh as the other guys coming into the game right now. So obviously we have to get those guys in to make some plays, and I’ve got to build my motor a little bit so I can stay in longer.”
The sentiment of brotherhood bleeds into the players’ emotions for each other as well, he said. They want to succeed together, for each other.
“How hard we play and the effort we put up on tape, it shows how much you love the guy in the room next to you,” Hinish said, “In our room, in the defensive unit room, we talk about all the time, you know, how much love we have for one another. And we do it for each other. We kind of just hold each other accountable, and what goes through our minds [each] play is just making a big play and then [turning] around and celebrating with our teammates.”
Hinish acknowledges a special bond between the Pittsburgh guys with whom he came up through recruitment, on top of how the defense is bonded as a whole.
“We just had a special group of guys, those years in … a lot of us came up on recruiting leads together, so it would have sucked if we lost some of our guys,” he said. “The guys we have from Pittsburgh, I love those guys. I played with, I played against some of those guys in high school, and it’s great. We can be teammates now.”
Hinish has yet to decide if he will be back for the 2021 season thanks to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but his performances for the Irish have not gone unnoticed as he continues to be a force on the defensive line.