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Notre Dame Football

Correll's competitive edge sets tone for center competition

April 10, 2021

Brian Kelly hammered home his point: Zeke Correll might end up being Notre Dame's starting center, but Kelly isn't yet ready to dub the third-year, redshirt-sophomore the man entrenched with the seminal trench position.

Kelly insisted it wasn't merely coach-speak designed to further a narrative in media.

“At this time, I don't think Zeke has given us anything other than what we saw last year where he started, did a nice job. But we're not closing our minds towards any combinations on that offensive line,” Kelly said. “I say that because I want to keep it competitive. I don't want to give Zeke the starting job at center because I want to keep competition. So, Zeke's not given that offensive position. He's not the starting center yet.”

One of nine siblings, Correll never has been afforded the chance to take anything for granted.

So the Fighting Irish's 6-foot-3, 295-pounder is eager to put in the work.

“Growing up the youngest of nine kids, definitely you're battling everything you do,” Correll told reporters Saturday via Zoom. “You always wanted to win, whether I was playing checkers with my brothers or shooting hoops in the front yard; I'd really be upset when I lost.

“Having all four of my brothers playing college sports, three playing football and one playing baseball, that really helps set my competitive edge. I had guys to look up to growing up and just be able to understand what it's like to be a college athlete. And understand that you have to have a competitive edge if you want to succeed, no matter what level it is.”

Kelly might be maintaining an open competition in spring camp at multiple spots, both on the offensive line and elsewhere, but Correll says he isn't working anywhere but center – at least to this point.

Correll also is working through this camp after emerging as a crucial contributor during the Irish's 2020 run to the College Football Playoffs, filling in for the injured Jarrett Patterson in starts against North Carolina and in the Rose Bowl semifinals contest against Alabama.

“I learned I could be a guy for this offensive line to help out the unit and take up that spot with Jarrett being out,” Correll said. “He's probably the smartest football player I've ever played with, offensive line-wise, and I just was able to take that role and can't let the guy next to you down. Hopefully help the unit succeed and our team succeed.”

Specifically, Correll is working along a fluid offensive line seeking to replace anchors Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey, among other contributors and now doing so with the confidence befitting his contributions in those key games last fall.

“I would just say being able to handle pressure situations,” Correll said of what last season's biggest carryover was into this spring. “We have high-tempo periods during practice. We have high-pressure situations during practice. Just being able to handle that, being able to manage the pressure and that experience again going from last season into this season helps a lot.

“You know because going against the best competition and going against our defense is the same thing, because we have one of the best defenses in the country. Being able to go against that every day is really going to help prepare us for the next season as well.”

Kelly, however, is keeping Correll in the present.

“I mean Jarrett Patterson can go play that center position and we're a good football team,” Kelly said. “And I'm not just saying that to get it out in the media and you guys can [say], 'Oh, Coach Kelly's keeping (competition alive)...' It's true. I've got to keep him growing and getting better. He's got a lot to work on and I'm not ready to tell Coach (Jeff) Quinn that we're penciling him in in the fall. Patterson can go play that position in a heartbeat and we know what we're going to get.

“That's why we're seeing a lot of Rocco Spindler at guard. That's why we're seeing a lot of (Andrew) Kristofic and (Dillan) Gibbons and guys of that nature. So we're keeping our options open. I know that's a long answer to the question, but I want to be clear. I want to keep competition in the spring. Nobody's getting granted that job.”

Correll wouldn't have it any other way.

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