“Ronnie Stanley is kind of a freak. He’s very athletic. He’s a good football player. I feel like you could plug him in anywhere.” -- 5th-year left tackle and four-year starter, Zack Martin
Praise from Zack Martin should be valued by any member of the Irish football team. Martin's the team's most experienced player and the only remaining member of the Brian Kelly era to be a no-doubt Top 10 Irish player in each of the head coach's first three seasons.
For his sophomore understudy Ronnie Stanley those words of praise from Martin, or anything offered by veteran teammates Christian Lombard and Chris Watt, are taken to heart, digested, and displayed on the practice field thereafter.
"I just listen, ask questions, and am as humble as possible," said Stanley of the daily guidance offered from the veteran trio. "If they tell me something to do, i take it all in to make myself better. I don't throw anything off. They've been there before, I haven't."
Stanley has however been on the field for college football Saturdays, thrust into early action last September when Notre Dame began the season with just three healthy offensive tackles. He stopped playing after a Week Four win over Michigan and elbow surgery thereafter will likely allow for a fifth season of eligibility in 2016.
But that's a concern for another time. Stanley has plenty on his plate for 2013 and Labor Day Saturday.
"I wouldn't hang my hat on anything yet," said Stanley when asked to pinpoint a strength heading into the Temple contest. "You can't have that mindset. You have to be on point and determined. I'm just a determined guy, I don't want to let my teammates down, those veteran (offensive linemen) down, especially."
Part of Stanley's daily preparation for the Owls, the Wolverines, and beyond, is going against the best of the best. Chances are the 6'6" 318-pounder won't encounter the likes of Stephon Tuitt often on Saturdays.
"Those guys, every day, make us better linemen," he said. "They're the best D-Linemen in the country. It might be hard now, but it makes us better."
A Starter's Mentality
Young players often enter the collegiate fray with one of two mindsets, neither of which has proven more effective -- or accurate -- over time:
- I'm the best player out here. No one can stop me. I don't care if I'm a freshmen, I want to start. Or…
- Just let me know how I can help.
Stanley's a charter member of the latter grouping.
"No," he said when asked if he felt like a starter. "I'm running with the (first unit) right now but I know that can change tomorrow. I go out with the mindset that you never know what can happen. It's still a big deal to me. I'm still happy being with the '1s' every single day. It puts a smile on my face when I walk out there."
He's at his best at this early stage largely because of light feet that augment his massive frame.
"I think it helped a lot with my footwork and overall athleticism," said Stanley of high school days spent on the hardwood. "(Basketball) made me a more versatile football player. At one point I thought it was my best sport; it was a long time ago. I could have played college basketball but I have a better future in football."
For now, it appears that future is as the starting right tackle for the 2013 Fighting Irish. Just don't tell that to Stanley.
"I don't even know if I'm one of the best five," said Stanley. "That's (Kelly's) decision. I try every day to be my best."