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Notre Dame Football

Leadership, selfless approach spur Notre Dame star Eichenberg

October 16, 2020
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Chuck Kyle doesn't bother to stifle his laugh.

The legendary, multi-state hall of fame football coach of St. Ignatius High School remembers well Liam Eichenberg's grit as one of Kyle's star pupils at the prestigious Cleveland private school.

So Eichenberg's return to action last week against Florida State, despite a left eye swelling like a watery sandbag, merely brings back memories for Kyle; nary a hint of surprise.

“Nah. Not surprised,” says Kyle, a 38-year head coaching veteran of the Wildcats powerhouse program. “Nothing crossed my mind that he wouldn't play. The doctors would have to insist for him not to play. He's a warrior in that way.”

Kyle doesn't remember Eichenberg, now 6 feet, 6 inches and 302 pounds, as anything less than a stable horse being restrained from his own tendencies.

Early practices.

Extra treatments.

Never wanting a day off, even from practice.

“He'll come to play hurt,” Kyle says. “It's just offensive linemen, guys roll into, you've got rolled ankles and banged knees. He would do his treatment before practice and after practice.

“We almost had to force him to take a day off early in the week, but I can't remember him ever taking more than a couple of days.”

In a Zoom video conference with media, bruising around the eye still visibly discolored, Eichenberg, left tackle on a Notre Dame offensive line eliciting widespread praise as perhaps best in the nation, doesn't recall even thinking for a moment he might not return last week against Louisville.

“When I got injured there was no thought in my mind that was like I want to stay out for the whole game,” Eichenberg says. “My first thought was, 'I need to go back in the game because you've got to take care of business no matter what.'

“I can tell you a lot of guys have dealt with a lot of things in past seasons and they were able to be out there. So felt like it was no exception for me.”

Returning to play with a clear visor-shield adorning his helmet and now preparing for Saturday's game against visiting Louisville, Eichenberg also embraces both the grind of the Irish offensive line and the ever-expanding spotlight on both Eichenberg and the elite unit.

Pro Football Focus gives four of the Irish's five starting offensive linemen grades of 80 or better, and Eichenberg's scintillating 91 is not only best on the team but among the highest marks for any offensive player in the nation.

“Dr. (Amber) Selking says pressure is a privilege, so that's kind of the way we take it,” Eichenberg says of the Notre Dame's highly regarded team psychologist. “Obviously, we need to improve on a lot of things. I think pass protection has been solid. I think our run game is getting a lot better, as you guys can see.

“I think we need to improve a lot in both areas.”

The Irish are averaging roughly 271 rushing yards per game and an astounding six-plus yards per rush.

Striving for improvement, even as things seem to be operating with clinical efficiency, is an oft-cited character trait for championship-capable football teams.

So, too, is Eichenberg's leadership by example.

"I think all of our guys had a lot of respect for him,” coach Brian Kelly says, “but it just solidified the kind of respect they had for him as a leader on our football team. He had it from the guys he goes against. When you see cornerbacks and guys he doesn't see a lot - and (defensive backs) go up and talk to him, you can tell that had an effect on other players in our program about him being gritty and fighting through it to get back on the football field."

 
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