SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There is no secret handshake, no special designation among them.
Yet, for the five current Notre Dame football players whose fathers reached the NFL, there is a common bond and a clear understanding that being the progeny of former pros helped them parlay obvious physical gifts into big-time college opportunities.
“We definitely have communicated about it,” freshman left tackle Joe Alt said as the ninth-ranked Irish prepared to visit Virginia on Saturday night. “We don’t talk too much about it, but definitely [it’s] just that extra knowledge that some people don’t have.”
John Alt, Joe’s dad, is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame after playing left tackle for 13 seasons (1984-96). Among his contemporaries was New York Giants (1989-2001) tight end Howard Cross, whose namesake son is a rising force at defensive tackle for Notre Dame.
There’s also starting safety Houston Griffith, whose father Howard was an NFL fullback for eight seasons (1993-2000); freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr., whose dad played linebacker for the Falcons and Rams from 1995-2000; and freshman guard Rocco Spindler, whose father Marc spent nine seasons (1990-98) as a defensive lineman for the Lions and Jets.
The elder Cross, Griffith and Styles own Super Bowl championship rings.
“It’s been awesome to have a dad who’s been through all this,” the younger Alt said. “Especially freshman year, going to play college football, you have no idea what to expect. Just having someone go through that before and be able to give a roadmap to you and just kind of explain how it’s going to go, I think that’s been one of the biggest advantages.”
Alt stood just 6-feet tall after his sophomore season at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb. When he sprouted six inches before his junior year, Alt went to his father and asked him to ramp up the football-related instruction.
Everything from diet and weightlifting to film study, fitness and footwork drills was placed in his father’s massive hands. John Alt spent those next two seasons as an assistant offensive line coach at his son’s school, but he also worked his sprawling network of former teammates, foes, coaches and trainers to make sure nothing was left to chance.
A late-blooming tight end who still weighed just 240 pounds his junior year, Alt had seen boyhood pictures of his father and knew he’d likely wind up as a tackle as well. While the elder Alt didn’t stop running pass routes until halfway through his Iowa career, his son bulked up quickly and properly.
He committed to Notre Dame in July 2020 and was still in a hybrid role as his freshman season began. Swapping jerseys between his father’s old No. 76 and a tight end’s No. 45, Alt morphed from novelty status in Week 2 against Toledo to the starting left tackle by Game 6 at Virginia Tech.
“Enter Sandman” might have caused a lesser competitor to melt beneath the stadium lights, but John Alt’s words kept echoing in his young son’s racing mind.
Block out the noise. Feet come first. Do your job.
One month into his new life as a starter, Alt seems entrenched. At 6-8 and 305 pounds, he already has matched his father’s height and exceeded his playing weight by seven pounds.
“Everyone thought Joe was going to be a really good player,” left guard Andrew Kristofic said. “I mean, if you look at him, you’re like, ‘All right, that dude, he looks like a left tackle.’ He’s super athletic, and he’s a really strong, smart kid.”
Alt’s teammates and coaches rave about his maturity and the on-field communication skills rarely seen in such an inexperienced lineman.
“Joe doesn’t keep any secrets on the field,” Kristofic said. “If he sees some guy and it looks like he’s creeping, he’s screaming in your ear what he’s seeing.”
A mechanical engineering major, Alt learned the importance of football details from his father. Pre-snap clues such as hand placement and weight shift can betray a pass rusher’s plan if you know what to look for.
Like his fellow NFL offspring on the Notre Dame roster, Alt knows.