Throughout his career, Josh Lugg has capitalized on opportunities while waiting his turn
Greg McKenna | Friday, December 18, 2020
At top college football programs, even highly-touted recruits are often forced to wait their turn to contribute on the field, never mind start.
Senior offensive lineman Josh Lugg, ESPN’s 15th-ranked offensive tackle and 156th overall recruit in 2017, had to come to terms with this reality early in his college career. In a press conference before last year’s regular season finale at Stanford, the 6-foot-7, 310-pound native of Wexford, Pa. admitted ignoring his lack of playing time and focusing solely on practice was not always easy.
“[The waiting] was difficult, but it’s on God’s time,” Lugg said. “It took me a while to figure that out. Once I did, I was in a better place. Every practice, I had to focus on one thing.”
Lugg made a name for himself in high school as a ferocious run-blocker and two-way player at North Allegheny Senior. After laying the groundwork for a running attack that rushed for over 3,300 yards and 50 touchdowns in his senior year, Lugg was named Mr. Pennsylvania Football Lineman of the Year for classes 4-6A and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl with future Notre Dame star and current Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet.
However, Lugg was one of ten scholarship freshmen who did not see the field at all during the 2017 season. In the press conference before Stanford, Lugg said he turned to a fellow 2017 recruit, offensive lineman and Pittsburgh-area native to sharpen his mentality during practice and compete for playing time.
“[Senior offensive lineman] Robert Hainsey, who is a big mentor for me, taught me [that] every practice, in your notebook, write something down to improve on in run and pass [blocking] and just go from there,” he said.
In his sophomore year, Lugg played in all 13 games on special teams as the Irish went undefeated during the regular season and made Notre Dame’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
In spring practice before his junior year, Lugg took snaps at every single position on the line. The versatility Lugg acquired in the offseason paid off. He played in all 13 games for the Irish, first as a key rotational piece off the bench and then as a starter in the final five games of the season at right guard after Hainsey’s season was cut short by a broken ankle. Lugg did not allow a sack on 263 pass blocks, and his pass-block grade of 83.0 from Pro Football Focus was in the top-25 for all qualifying offensive linemen in the FBS.
Lugg said he hopes his willingness to prepare for multiple positions on the line can help define the culture of the Irish offensive front.
“I think it helps showing others that I can go in whenever and help with the ‘next-man-in-thing,’” Lugg said. “If anybody went down, I was ready to step in there.”
Lugg continued to explain why the extra work has been valuable.
“As long as I was preparing to go to left tackle, then I had to be ready for left guard, center, right guard, right tackle,” he said. “And it’s a lot, but at the end of the day it helped me understand the offense.”
Lugg has reprised a similar role in 2020 for the Irish, whose 235.0 yards per game on the ground is fourth among all Power-5 teams. Lugg again began the season coming off the bench, featuring in every game apart from the win over Pittsburgh. Injuries on the offensive line, however, again meant Lugg would start games late in the year.
After Junior center Jarrett Patterson suffered a season-ending foot injury in the win over Boston College and graduate student right guard Tommy Kraemer underwent an emergency appendectomy the week of Thanksgiving, Lugg replaced Kraemer vs. No. 15 North Carolina. However, sophomore backup center Zeke Correll also suffered a high ankle sprain against the Tar Heels, so Lugg was moved to center for the regular season finale vs. Syracuse.
With both Kraemer and Correll back, Lugg is now battling with the latter for the starting center spot for Saturday’s rematch vs. No. 3 Clemson in the ACC Championship. Lugg is shaking off an injury to his right hand he picked up in the win over the Orange, and Kelly said in a press conference Sunday that the choice to start either Lugg or Correll will likely “be a game-time decision.”
Though Lugg will graduate with a finance degree from the Mendoza College of Business in the spring, he is poised to return for a fifth year and be one of the primary leaders for the offensive line in 2021.
Whether he starts Saturday in Charlotte or must wait until 2021 to be a consistent lock atop the depth chart, experience will not be a concern for Lugg. In his four seasons in South Bend, Josh Lugg has done much more than simply wait his turn.