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Notre Dame Football

Ashton Craig and Billy Schrauth Embracing Notre Dame's Next Man In Mentality

November 23, 2023
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The injury bug hit Notre Dame hard at a less than ideal time as the Irish offensive line lost three experienced players in a matter of minutes earlier this month at Clemson. 

Starting center Zeke Correll suffered a concussion and has been in protocol for two weeks, while his replacement Andrew Kristofic had to leave the game six plays later as he suffered an ankle injury. To make matters worse, Rocco Spindler went down on the second to last drive of the game and suffered a torn MCL, which he tried to play through for a play. 

Enter sophomores Ashton Craig and Billy Schrauth. 

Both players filled in at Clemson, but then started last Saturday’s game against Wake Forest and for the most part, offensive coordinator Gerard Parker was pleased with their performance, but also offensive line coach Joe Rudolph for preparing two inexperienced players in a short amount of time.

“For what Ashton and Billy did in essentially their first start together and to go do that against a defense we had a lot of respect for,” stated Parker. “They did front changes, played a couple different fronts and brought different looks. For Ashton as the center and the control center of it all to not have any snap infractions and no presnap penalties -  for he and Billy to go out there and play at the level they did is certainly a testament to those young guys and their future. 

“And to Joe Rudolph for having those guys prepped and ready to go, so I couldn't have been more pleased with that.” 

Craig’s debut to meaningful action was less than ideal as Clemson was a hostile environment and to make matters worse, the Irish were backed up against their own goal line for most of the second half. 

Yet, the 6-foot-4, 307-pounder didn’t flinch despite the atmosphere around him. 

“I think it gave me some confidence going into the (Wake Forest) game because going against Clemson, they’ve got good guys up front,” Craig said. “So knowing that, I did relatively well. It helped my confidence, boosted me up and just let me play my game.” 

The experience at Clemson also gave Craig a taste of what it’s like to communicate in real time, which he believed helped him against Wake Forest. 

“With communication, confidence is big,” stated Craig. “So me being confident in my points and everything up front, I think that really helped the whole offensive line be on the same page throughout the game.” 

Schrauth did get some spot time against Louisville earlier this year and that experience along with a drive against Clemson proved to be valuable leading into his first start. 

“I have a plan,” explained Schrauth. “That’s the main thing I have to carry with me. I have to carry my plan with me and I have to use it and it’s going to work. I know it will work. It works, and it does work. You know what I mean? You put that together with my teammates, my coaches. I love to work with these guys next to me.” 

While Notre Dame might have had two new starters inside, the offensive line didn’t give up a sack to Wake Forest, which is a direct reflection of the coaching job Rudolph did over the last 10 months, but also during the bye week. 

In Craig’s case, the Indiana native knew exactly where he needed to focus in pass protection heading into the game and made sure to his Rudolph’s points of emphasis. 

“Just keeping my feet in the ground in pass pro and staying low,” Craig stated. Then also my hands. Sometimes my hands will get high or outside. He really wants my hands inside. I feel like when I get my hands inside, I play relatively strong.”

The move from third string to starting isn’t often seen, but Craig’s teammates weren’t necessarily surprised as he had put in the work to master the center position. 

“Ashton’s a guy who comes in ready to work every day,” said defensive lineman Rylie Mills. “It’s been fun to see him grow. He was on the scout team last year and now he’s stepped into this role. It shows he’s a guy who always took his time to be ready and it’s that next man up mentality.

“For him to come in and play the game against Wake Forest at a high level, it shows how we develop guys and how well we want to perform at the highest level.” 

Correll was still in concussion protocol as of Monday, but head coach Marcus Freeman expected him to be back by the Stanford game this weekend.

But if he’s not, Craig will be ready in part to Correll coaching him up.

“He’s been a tremendous role model to me,” said Craig. “I’m one of his roommates, we live together, so I’m always asking him questions to get better as a center. He’s got knowledge and let me in on little keys that have helped me merge into a center.” 

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