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Notre Dame Football

Sticking to the Plan Pays Off for Notre Dame's Rocco Spindler

August 22, 2023

Notre Dame offensive lineman Rocco Spindler arrived on campus in January of 2021 and seemed to have ended spring on a high note as he was running with the first team at points during his first 15 practices. 

Fast forward to 2023 and the Michigan native will bring 19 career snaps into Saturday’s season-opener for Notre Dame as Spindler is set to make the first start of his collegiate career when the Fighting Irish take on Navy in Dublin, Ireland. 

It might have taken a little longer than Spindler expected to crack the starting lineup, but he’s embraced each hurdle and didn’t waver in his belief in the process. Spindler is set to surprise some who may have written him off as the junior is hungry to show why he made quick work of the right guard competition in fall camp.

“Like Coach (Marcus) Freeman says, it’s the bumpy road,” stated Spinder. “There’s going to be challenges along the way, not only in football but in life. At Notre Dame, we have to choose hard.

“There could have been one play I messed up on, it’s next play. It’s really one play, one life. Choosing hard and finding a way to get better and helping the guys next to me get better.” 

When Spindler chose Notre Dame, it was to play for Jeff Quinn, who left after the 6-foot-4, 314-pounder’s freshman year. Harry Hiestand coached the offensive line in 2022 and now, Spindler will be on his third position coach entering the 2023 season. 

Notre Dame offensive line coach Joe Rudolph might have been the fresh air Spindler needed as they met in the winter and developed a plan of action. It wasn’t a plan focused on the big picture, but rather small steps to achieve the ultimate goal of making his first start. 

“It was just having a plan with Coach Rudolph and finding what I needed to improve on day in and day out,” explained Spindler. “Not really focusing on the big picture as one might see and what I did when no one was looking, getting with Blake (Fisher), doing pass sets with Joe (Alt) and then getting with Coach Rudolph right after practice. It really kind of adds all up.” 

Spindler is quick to point out he learned a great deal from Hiestand and Quinn, but from the outside, it certainly seems Rudolph made the time to bring his right guard along. 

“I wouldn’t say it helped me more, but each coach you can pick their brains about specific things,” Spindler stated. “One coach might have this that you like and the next coach might have that. With Coach Rudolph, it really got down to the basics and had confidence in him and he had trust in me. I had trust in the guys next to me for helping me along the way.”

Rudolph’s trust might have been the turning point for Spindler as a little belief can go a long way, but the former Clarkston (Mich.) star had to have confidence in himself first. Yet, a fresh set of techniques and ideas can also help a player. 

“He brought different things that I didn’t think of when other previous coaches (were here),” stated Spindler. “He showed new techniques, new ways of blocking. I’m sure it really helped a lot. I’m thankful for that. Honestly, it’s just competition. Here at Notre Dame, it’s the highest competition you can get, either in games or in the classrooms. I’m just blessed to be a part of it.” 

Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker saw the competitive nature come out in Spindler in recent months and it led to a fairly quick decision on the right guard competition in camp. Spindler took the No. 1 right guard spot after the first week of camp and never gave it up. 

”There’s plenty of things that go into it but the biggest thing is it’s performance-based,” Parker said of how Spindler won the job. “He’s owned that position with physicality and certainly knowledge and knowing what to do. When you’ve done that, you’ve earned the right to be on the field and that’s what Rocco has done all fall. Just the same standard and he’s owned that.” 

Spindler won’t be the only one making his first start on Saturday as his classmate Pat Coogan will start at left guard. It creates a unique situation as Notre Dame will start four signees from the touted 2021 recruiting class. 

The focus over the last week has been on communication as the Irish aren’t only breaking in new starters at guard, but the line has had to work through center Zeke Correll suffering an ankle injury. 

“Right now I’m trying to do my part at right guard as well as making Blake and Zeke better as well as relaying communication with Joe and Pat,” explained Spindler. “Doing my part, not trying to play more than what I need to do. It’s back down to the basics and just playing how I know to play and what I’ve been taught from our coaches.” 

What’s the best part of earning a starting spot? Well, it’s two goals accomplished for Spindler as he’ll not only make his first start, but he’ll be playing next to Fisher. 

The two have talked about playing next to each other dating back to before either player committed to Notre Dame. 

“Playing next to Blake Fisher is surreal,” said Spindler. “We’ve dreamed about this for over three years now. Now it’s going to happen. I get to play next to one of the best tackles in college football. I just get to have fun playing next to my best friend.” 

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