Team first: Versatility and mentality lead to Kristofic’s emergence
Colin Capece | Friday, October 29, 2021
Andrew Kristofic was recruited out of Pennsylvania as the No. 21 offensive tackle in the nation and the top player in his state. His talent at the tackle position has always been evident to the Irish coaching staff, but Kristofic also took snaps at center and left guard in spring practice following an injury to current starting center Jarrett Patterson. This versatility finally earned the sophomore a shot to start against USC. After starting left guard Zeke Correll went down ahead of Saturday’s game, Kristofic went from backing up Patterson to playing in place of Correll. The Notre Dame offensive line then turned in its best performance of the season with Kristofic in the lineup, consistently creating a clean pocket for graduate student quarterback Jack Coan, who was sacked just once. Junior running back Kyren Williams also had plenty of lanes to run through, racking up a season-high 180 all-purpose yards.
But even more so than the ability to hold down multiple positions, Kristofic’s team-first mentality has finally helped solidify a unit that had lacked chemistry. His willingness to play wherever and whenever the Irish need him seems to have injected some life into the offensive line, which by the eye test alone completely dominated the line of scrimmage for the first time all season against the Trojans.
“It’s been a lot of hard work since the spring switching positions to center and guard. I’ve been preparing for a long time now to get the opportunity to play no matter what capacity it’s in,” Kristofic said during player media availability Tuesday. “Whether it’s coming in for relief or being the starter, I’m just trying to help our team win in any way possible.”
Injuries on the offensive line that began in Notre Dame’s opener against Florida State have forced the Irish to take the “next man up” approach so far, but Kristofic has bought in from the start. The junior has kept his focus in practice and on the sidelines throughout the season’s first seven games. He credits his preparedness with helping him seize the opportunity that presented itself.
“Even before I got the opportunity to play a full game last week [against USC], as the next man in you’re always preparing to play all the time,” he said. “You always have the mentality that football is a physical game and you’re always one play away from something happening.”
Taking meaningful reps during the spring helped Kristofic learn the nuances of playing guard as opposed to tackle. When he found himself with the chance to start at the position, he knew exactly what to look for when facing rushers, and how to execute properly.
“I think the most difficult thing to adjust to was that at tackle you have a little bit more time and space to react to defensive player’s movements, but at guard, on the interior, those guys are on you right away,” he said. “You have to be really definitive with your movements to make sure you’re in a good position.”
The struggles in both run and pass protection for the Irish have been well documented this season, but with Kristofic looking like he’ll be a mainstay for the foreseeable future, the offensive line is trending in the right direction. While it may not be the nasty, dominant enforcer of years past, Kristofic believes this unit will consistently protect the quarterback and give running backs room to maneuver by the end of the season.
“I think we’re definitely starting to find our rhythm,” Kristofic said. “We’ve taken a lot of big steps in the right direction, but we’re going to keep improving from week to week… We have a group of guys that have been committed to getting things fixed and living up to the standard [for the offensive line] that we’ve set here. We always talk about raising the standard as well, so [USC] was a good step in the right direction, but we’re not where we want to be yet and will keep working.”