SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has liked what he has seen from his unit so far during spring practice, especially center Matt Hegarty.
Hegarty, a 6-foot-4, 291-pound junior backup, suffered a "mini-stroke" Nov. 8 and had heart surgery Dec. 14 to repair two previously undetected holes in his heart.
Hegarty worked with the offense's second team during Wednesday's practice.
"He's a miracle of modern medicine, coming back off of that," Hiestand said after the sixth practice of the spring. "He has such determination to be in there battling. He's really special. A lot of people would have hung up their gear, but he never really thought about it.
"The scary thing is, you understand an elbow, you understand a knee, you understand an ankle, you understand shoulders, but you don't have much experience with a guy's heart. But when you are around him and you see his attitude about it, a smile on his face and the determination on his face, you kind of shake it off and go to work. The way he's handled it and his approach to things is just outstanding."
Hiestand's praise didn't stop at Hegarty.
The offensive line coach has also been impressed by Nick Martin, a 6-4, 284-pound junior, and Conor Hanratty, a 6-4, 309-pound junior, as they try to replace last year's starters Braxston Cave, a center, and Mike Golic Jr., a right guard. Martin was at center and Hanratty at guard with the first team Wednesday.
"They are stronger. The work they did in the weight room you can see … and that translates into better play," Hiestand said. "The second thing is their fundamentals. They understand what we want from them now much better.
"I'm please with their progress. They are right on schedule with what I would expect them to be at this point."
Martin is adjusting to the center position after working at guard and tackle in his first two years with the Irish. Hiestand said playing the other positions on the line has helped Martin.
"It helps him understands more of the big picture with what the line is going to be doing," Hiestand said. "When he makes a call or he has a communication, he lets them know it's this look. He knows how important it is to get that call, because he's been there when he didn't get it."
Early-enrollee Steve Elmer has been adjusting well during his first spring, according to Hiestand. And more importantly, Hiestand said he likes the freshman's work ethic and ability to focus on specific aspects of his game to improve and not being caught up in the big picture.
"He comes every day to get a little bit better," Hiestand said. "He understands that if I can get this technique better today, tomorrow I will be working on something else.
Hiestand has also liked what he has seen from returning starters Zack Martin, a 6-4, 308-pound fifth-year senior left tackle, Chris Watt, a 6-3, 321-pound fifth-year senior left guard, and Christian Lombard, a 6-5, 322-pound senior right tackle.
Hiestand is especially thrilled to have Zack Martin and Watt back to hold down the left side of the line.
"Your best players are back, so that helps you," Hiestand said. "The tempo they set for the group is as good as I've been around."