Oct. 10, 2014
By Todd Burlage
University of Notre Dame offensive lineman Conor Hanratty grew up with the daily reminder of what it takes to achieve success at Notre Dame and also later in life -- from his father, Terry Hanratty. The example that Terry laid en route to becoming an All-American for the Irish and a member of two Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steeler teams has guided Conor well through his own time at Notre Dame.
Shuffling in and out of the starting lineup since the final month of the 2013 season, Conor has showed a combination of selflessness and determination. While being willing to step back as teammates start to move to other positions along the offensive line for the betterment of the entire team, Hanratty has never lost his determination to line up with the starters himself.
Never complacent and continually searching to improve for the benefit of a greater good beyond his own, Hanratty makes Notre Dame a better football team as he maintains his focus on the fact that, in football, you are never more than a single snap away from being back on the field.
"I will continue to work to improve as a player," Hanratty says. "That's the only way I know how to handle it," Hanratty says of his temporary setback. "You never know what is going to happen so you always have to be prepared and be ready for when your time comes."
Going all the way back to his playing days at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, similar stories about Hanratty being every bit the quality person as he is a terrific player turn up all over the Internet.
Feature writer Dave Ruden of CTNews.com shared a story of how a dejected Hanratty respectfully declined an interview as he left the field after a tough loss in the 2011 Connecticut high school state championship game. Feeling badly minutes later for saying no to the interview, Hanratty sent Ruden a text message from the team bus, apologizing for his unwillingness to talk so soon after the game when emotions were still high.
"I hope you understand," Hanratty wrote. "I'm sorry."
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly says the move from the starting lineup for Hanratty has been driven more out of a desire to try something different along his offensive line than it was based on anything Hanratty had done wrong. And to be sure, there will be plenty more opportunities to play and play well this season for a versatile player like Hanratty, who already has 15 career appearances, seven starts and another year of eligibly remaining in 2015.
When it comes to the term "student-athlete" at Notre Dame, Hanratty takes on both assignments with the consistent commitment that make him such an important leader on his team and a model student in the classroom.
With a love of learning and a difficult major in management consulting in Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, Hanratty becomes as excited talking about his future career plans as he does the early success of the Irish football team. When the time comes after football to find a real job, Hanratty already has his career path mapped out to someday become a trouble-shooter and a problem-solver for underachieving and struggling businesses.
"Notre Dame really brings out the best of you in all aspects of life," Hanratty says. "You're competing with some of the best recruits in the country during football practice every day, but you're also competing with some of the smartest students in the country in all of your classes. It can be overwhelming at times but working through it only makes you a better person."
The elder Hanratty, Terry, served as the Irish starting quarterback in 1966 when Ara Parseghian claimed the first of his two national championships during an 11-year career as Notre Dame head coach. As an Irish senior in 1968, He earned consensus All-America honors and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, the culmination of a Notre Dame career that means even more today while he and his son share many of the same college experiences.
As a proud Irish alumnus, Terry inevitably hoped Notre Dame would be the final college choice Conor made during an extensive recruitment. But rather than force or guide that decision, Terry instead provided all the tools and experiences necessary to settle on the perfect landing spot.
Father and son didn't solely rely on the structured recruiting routine that includes official and non-official campus visits. These two went out on their own and scoped out schools all over the country, from Stanford and California in the west, to Wisconsin in the north, to Boston College in the east, to Virginia in the south, and many others in between, always with an eye on academics before athletics.
"I told Conor several times that I went to Notre Dame 45 years ago, so the University has obviously changed," Terry says. "He needed to see how he felt about the coaching staff, and get a feel for the school, the players. I wanted to give him all the information I could to help him make this important choice. I would have been happy wherever he ended up, as long as he was happy."
And Conor had plenty of terrific options to choose from, even if the cards were somewhat stacked against him in building a recruiting profile.
Looking back, he acknowledges that trying to gain attention as a high school player in New England can be more difficult than what players face from talent-rich states such as Texas, Florida and California. Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan (Old Greenwich) is the most recent standout Irish player (2004-07) from the state of Connecticut.
"There were some good players in Connecticut, but I didn't face much Division I talent as far as going up against top recruits," says Hanratty, who even as an offensive lineman graded out as the No. 3 overall prep player in his state out of high school. "I guess maybe it didn't help me in trying to put a highlight tape together for recruiting."
But it certainly didn't keep many heavyweight college coaches from finding him.
Stanford, Boston College, Florida State, Clemson and Wisconsin were just a few football powers that extended Hanratty scholarship offers. But when the Notre Dame coaches extended their invitation to be part of the Irish program, the final choice became quick and easy.
"I always have loved Notre Dame," says Conor, who attended countless Notre Dame games with his father. "So when they offered, I really jumped at it because I realized there was no place I would rather play."
The bond between father and son is a special one with the Hanrattys. Terry has been an active father and coach in every one of his son's sports, be it baseball, basketball or, football, it didn't matter.
"Dad always had a year-round time investment in what I was doing," Conor says.
"We spent a lot of time together growing up. It is so nice to have that relationship. He has been a great father, a great coach, as well as a friend over the years. My father always wanted to do what was best for me and I try to repay him by making him proud during my time here at Notre Dame."
In an effort to stay close with his son -- and perhaps selfishly relive some of his own time at Notre Dame -- Terry bought a home in South Bend about a quarter mile from campus on Angela Boulevard. Terry gets the best of both worlds during every home football weekend, enjoying visits with his son and some current Irish players, while also sharing personal time with people like Parseghian, former University president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., and many of the older Irish guard from his playing days almost 50 years ago.
"We just sit around and talk about the old times," Terry says with a laugh.
Football is obviously the fabric that helps hold this relationship between father and son so tightly together. But Saturday afternoons are only one small source of the pride Terry feels when he's around Conor.
"He has done so well in school and worked so hard during his time here, that's the big thing," Terry says. "Notre Dame is a four-year experience and he's done so much work off the field with academics. That puts the biggest smile on my face with how well he is doing in school."
Ask Conor Hanratty how he wants to be thought of as a teammate and player, and his answer mirrors his approach.
"A selfless player, a hard-working player. I give everything to my team," he says. "I strive to be someone my teammates can count on. That's what is most important to me."