Aug 30, 2013
By Josh Dempsey ('16)
Working two jobs is never easy, especially as a college student. It becomes even worse when your schedule is day-to-day and you are unsure of which you will have to show up for on a particular day.
Uncertainty can be a person's worst enemy, but it does not seem to affect Notre Dame offensive lineman Christian Lombard.
Lombard may not be working double shifts at the steel mill, but he does have two jobs, so to speak. Has has been tasked with knowing the jobs and performing the assignments of both a guard and a tackle on the Notre Dame offensive line.
So what? Big deal, he's a lineman; they all do the same thing.
Well, yes, if you are speaking from the standpoint of not getting your quarterback sacked or having your running back stuffed at the line like grandma's turkey on Thanksgiving. But there is absolutely more to the story.
To be proficient at one position is impressive, but to be adroit at multiple positions, especially at the college level is an extraordinary feat. One thing that most linemen will express when asked about their position is the importance of discipline and technique and how it is essential to their survival on the gridiron. It is not enough to be large and have an impressive bench-press. It all comes down to whether or not you have the strength, speed, and mental fortitude to line up against the same opponent, down after down, and outsmart and out-power them.
Not to downplay any other position in football, but if a kid has prodigious speed, put the ball in his hands and let the kid run--whether it's at running back or wide receiver. Of course, technique is a critical quality transcending just the job of the lineman, but it is on the line where it matters most. A single wrong step, a crossing over of one's feet, a misplaced hand, or a cleat not positioned in precisely the right spot could all lead to severe consequences. Such mistakes may be considered petty elsewhere at other positions, but such mishaps are the difference between yardage, ball possession, and, ultimately, a team's ability to score and win games.
Essentially, being a lineman means doing a majority of the dirty work while receiving very little recognition and fame. In fact, it is often said that the less people who know your name as an offensive lineman, the better.
The reason? If no one knows your name, it means you're doing your job. Linemen rarely have the opportunity to make "The Big Play." Rather, they are the supporting actors giving the star the ability to shine. The big mistakes are usually what put offensive linemen in the game highlights on SportsCenter on Saturday night. So in remaining under the radar, linemen can appreciate the fact that their job is appreciated by coaches, teammates, and the avid football enthusiast.
Seeing that recognition is one thing offensive linemen lack, a specific appreciation should be given to those who can play more than one spot on the line, and effectively execute at both positions.
Christian Lombard is one of those guys.
In high school, he did not bounce around the line like he may be this season. His specialty was at right tackle, and he did it well. During his senior season, Lombard, along with the rest of the Fremd High School Vikings offensive line, helped lead the way to a 2,500-yard rushing season, and an undefeated 2008 season.
Mike Donatucci, former coach of Lombard and Fremd, put the team behind Lombard--quite literally at times.
"As an offensive line, there were no secret -- we were going to run, and we were going to run behind him," Donatucci says. "It took 12 games before someone was able to stop us. He was much more aggressive, more confident. I think he was able to put it all together."
Not only was Lombard a standout on the field, but he was also unique off the field.
Lombard did not take the regular path of recruitment, waiting until the last minute, or tantalizing schools with verbal commitments; when Lombard made a decision, he was going to stick with it.
He knew that he wanted a university that had outstanding academics and a respectable football program to match; looking just southeast from Chicago; Lombard found what he was looking for at Notre Dame.
At the end of his senior season in high school, Lombard pulled the trigger and verbally committed in January 2009 to the Irish and never turned back on his decision--though he may have had every reason to do so following the dismissal of Charlie Weis and the hiring of Brian Kelly.
Such a move may have been enough for some recruits to lose faith in their decisions, but it failed to deter Lombard.
"The biggest thing for me was the university is the permanent part," Lombard says. "You have to look at it as the coach may get fired in the next year even if you've signed the letter of intent. That's a big thing. I've learned over time the school is always going to be there."
And though Weis was out, Notre Dame was still the same when Lombard arrived the following fall.
Unable to break into the top five during his freshman year, Lombard had to practice one of the most notable characteristics of a lineman, and any person for that matter: patience. Sporting the redshirt as a freshman, Lombard was able to gain valuable experience during practices and time spent with coaches and veteran players.
During his sophomore campaign, Lombard made the leap to backup offensive tackle. Although a backup at his natural position, he was given the opportunity to step up to the plate on special teams. In his sophomore season, he saw action in all 13 games on special teams.
Lombard's role on special teams may have surprised some though; rather than being on the line during punts, he held the position of personal protector. Generally a fullback or safety is given such a role. The point being that it is necessary to have a mobile blocker who can react quickly to any mishaps on the line.
To put Lombard in such a position speaks volumes of his smarts as a blocker and of his competence to quickly pick up swift-footed rushers.
His apparent size, coupled with his quickness on the line made Lombard a force to be reckoned with during the 2012 season, where he was able to step into the starting void left by graduated right tackle Taylor Dever.
Just like his record season at Fremd, the 2012 Fighting Irish put up some very impressive numbers with the help of Lombard and the rest of the offensive line. Lead by a strong offensive line, the Fighting Irish were able to tally nine 200-yard rushing games.
An important aspect of the '12 Irish line was that the same five players started every game, and three of those student-athletes are coming back for the 2013 campaign.
The only difference is that Lombard may be moving to right guard, a switch he is more than capable of making.
"I played tackle all throughout high school, but if the coaches think I am best suited at guard, then that's where I want to be."
The difference between tackle and guard, Lombard shares, "At guard, it's more close quarters and the guys are on top of you a bit quicker, but the fundamentals all remain the same."
Although Lombard has the size, speed, and skills to excel at both positions, he refuses to settle for contentedness.
"You can never just be satisfied with where you're at. I am always doing something, whether it's working on foot speed, working hard in the weight room, or eating right; they all contribute to your development as a player."
Moving into the season, Lombard expresses one single sentiment.
"Wherever I end up doesn't matter to me. We play hard for our team and our coach, and we do it to win."
Call him a tackle, call him a guard, call him whatever you want. The fact of the matter is that he's a member of the Fighting Irish, and he is here to win.