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Associated Press
Brigham Young and Notre Dame players watch Kyle Brindza's 51-yard field goal in the second half Saturday. Matt Hegarty is No. 77.

Hegarty set to start at center for Notre Dame

Notre Dame will turn to Matt Hegarty again to step up at center.

Hegarty took over in the middle of the offensive line when Nick Martin went down late in the first quarter in last Saturday's win over BYU, and the junior will start at center when the No. 25 Irish (8-3) play at Stanford (9-2) on Saturday with Martin out with an MCL injury.

Hegarty, who has never started, handled himself well stepping in for Martin last weekend, and coach Brain Kelly credited part of that easy transition to Hegarty's battles with nose guard Louis Nix III over the years.

"I mean, look, Lou is on the ones, right, and Matt is on the twos. And he's getting his brains beat in in his freshman year," Kelly said. "That takes a toll on your confidence a little bit. The ball is going sideways, snapping it backwards, and the guy is in the backfield making tackles. I mean, that's not an easy existence early on, and there's some crazy guy back there screaming at him, and all that's going on. And he's got to develop through all of that.

"I think he's been able to take all that and he's been able to develop through that and when the wind was 30 miles an hour and there was snow blowing around and we were on the 4-yard line and he was on the shotgun snapping, all of that worked for him (Saturday against BYU)."

Hegarty's insertion into the starting lineup is even more impressive after the medical scare he went through last season.

Hegarty suffered a "mini-stroke" last November and underwent surgery in December to repair two previously undetected holes in his heart that had existed since birth.

"It was clearly one of those operations that we were not certain," Kelly said. "It was a matter of, we had to see, there was a period of time there was a window there to see how he was going to respond, and I think you could get some specific information from our training staff, Rob Hunt, on that medical procedure. But there was a window there where we were not certain whether he was going to be able to play again."

Kelly said Hegarty has been productive for a number of reasons.

"One, his own confidence in himself," Kelly said. "He's a very confident young man and he believed that he's a BCS football player, because with the kind of physical setback that he had, if he didn't believe in himself, I don't think that he would have been able to come back, but he really believed in himself.

"No. 2, (offensive line coach Harry) Hiestand believed in him. I think with those two things in play, it allowed him to get back to work and continue to do the things that he was asked to do. And then I think really all the work, all the preparation that they had as a group in the summer, that unit of the offensive line did some unique things this summer. They worked together; and I think that the benefits are paying off now where we've now had to call on three guys that we didn't think were going to play much this year, have had to play substantial roles.

"So I think the individual and Matt believed in himself. Coach Hiestand showed a lot of belief in him. And I think the unit himself, I think really all those three things together, have put him in a position where he can succeed now."