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Matt Hegarty soldiers on after stroke, will start for ND vs. Stanford

SATURDAY

NO. 25 NOTRE DAME
at NO. 8 STANFORD

The facts: 6 p.m., Fox-32, 890-AM.

The records: Notre Dame 8-3, Stanford 9-2.

The line: Stanford by 14.

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Updated: January 1, 2014 6:14AM



SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The thought immediately hit Matt Hegarty.

“I’ve got to get my hand warm,” the center said.

Nick Martin had just gone down with a knee injury in the first quarter of last week’s game against BYU. Hegarty entered as his replacement.

“The biggest thing I could bring to the team at that point would be just executing,” Hegarty said. “Making sure we were 100 percent on snaps and try to make it as seamless a transition as ­possible.”

Coach Brian Kelly praised Hegarty’s performance in the 23-13 victory. Martin is out with an MCL tear. Hegarty will make the first start of his career in the regular-season finale Saturday night at No. 8 Stanford.

“Obviously I feel bad for Nick. He’s one of my good friends,” Hegarty said. “I just want to be able to get in there and try to help out these guys as well as possible.”

The opportunity comes a little more than a year after Hegarty suffered a mini stroke.

“This time last year, I had a lot of different things on my mind,” Hegarty said. “It’s been a long year, but it’s amazing how it’s come around. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”

Notre Dame had a walk-through on Nov. 8, 2012 when Hegarty began having difficulties speaking. In mid-December, he underwent surgery to repair two holes in his heart. Hegarty got cleared to practice in the spring.

“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,” Kelly said. “Number two, [offensive line coach Harry Hiestand] believed in him. 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.”

Through it all, Hegarty said he’s learned the value of persistence.

“Even at this time last year [I was] trying to figure out my prospects of playing again — to this season, battling around trying to find a place to get some playing time,” Hegarty said. “Having the opportunity to start against a top-10 team in Stanford with a great defense really just goes to show that you can do a lot of things when you persist.”

NOTE: Safeties Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate did not travel to Stanford because of a violation of team rules, coach Brian Kelly said in a statement.

Email: lpope@post-trib.com

Twitter: @lamondpope



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