Central Catholic’s Donovan Hinish stays committed to Notre Dame as coach Brian Kelly exits

Thursday, December 2, 2021 | 10:33 PM

Central Catholic senior Donovan Hinish had just eaten dinner with a Notre Dame assistant shortly before he heard Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly was leaving for LSU.

Hinish was stunned, to say the least, but remains committed to the Irish.

“I was lost for a second,” said Hinish, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive lineman. “I had no idea what was going on. I’d just had dinner with coach (Mike) Elston and right after he left, the news broke. I was flabbergasted.”

Hinish’s biggest question was answered Wednesday with reports that defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was expected to become Notre Dame’s next head coach. Hinish said he received a call that night from another assistant confirming that was true, but the university hasn’t yet announced Freeman’s promotion.

“Everything is all settled,” Hinish said. “Coach Elston is staying, Coach Freeman is the head coach, and I’m excited.”

Playing for Kelly wasn’t the primary reason Hinish chose Notre Dame. Hinish’s brother, Kurt, is a senior starter on the Irish defensive line this fall, and the younger Hinish developed a fondness for the school. He also held offers from Pitt, Virginia Tech and others when he committed in June.

“The university is world renowned,” he said. “That school is like nowhere else. Wherever you go, when you tell people you go to Notre Dame, their eyes will light up. It’s just somewhere special.”

Hinish is part of a group chat with other Notre Dame commits from the 2022 class. He said they received a heads-up Wednesday from one of the other Irish assistants telling them Freeman was the pick.

“I came home from school and was still confused about what was going on with the whole situation,” Hinish said. “I was real tired, so I took a nap. When I woke up, my phone was blowing up with (messages saying) Coach Freeman was the new head coach. I just went crazy. I was so excited.”

Freeman, 35, is in his first season with Notre Dame after stops at Ohio State (2010), Kent State (2011-12), Purdue (2013-16) and Cincinnati (2017-20). He served this fall as the Irish’s defensive coordinator and coached the linebackers, a position he played at Ohio State.

“What I like about him is his blue-collar mentality,” Hinish said. “He’s kind of gung-ho. He’s a go get ‘em kind of guy. He’ll bring his lunch pail to work.”

Hinish said Kelly’s departure never came up during his dinner with Elston, the team’s defensive line coach, but Hinish assumes the assistants might have been surprised by Kelly’s decision.

“I don’t think any of the coaches knew,” Hinish said. “I think it took them all a little bit by surprise.”

But despite any uncertainty, Hinish said his commitment never wavered.

“It never crossed my mind,” he said, “the thought of leaving Notre Dame.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.


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