Last Friday, representatives from the Army All-American Bowl visited North Allegheny Senior High School for Joshua Lugg’s official selection ceremony. Playing in the Army All-American game is one of the most prestigious accolades a high school football player can achieve. Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with the WPIAL’s top-rated offensive line recruit to get his view on this recent honor, his senior season at North Allegheny, and his future at Notre Dame.
“It’s a huge honor to be able to represent North Allegheny at the US Army, and compete, and wear the Army colors in January at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas,” Lugg told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “I’ll be able to play against some of the best players in the nation. It’s going to be very humbling, and it’s a huge honor.”
While the 4-star offensive tackle certainly recognizes the magnitude of this opportunity, he wasted little time in mentioning his current priority in football.
“I’m very excited for that, but right now I’m just focusing on North Allegheny football,” said Lugg. “And once the season is over, I can look forward to that.”
North Allegheny currently holds a 6-2 record and ranks second in the WPIAL’s 6A classification. After a 1-2 start, the Tigers have won 5 straight after, as Lugg describes, growing as a team.
“As we started off in the beginning of the season, we had a lot of new guys playing different positions, so we were a little raw when it came to how efficient we were on the ball. We made a couple mistakes here and there, but as the season went on, I feel like we’ve all fit our roles better. We’re working as a team now.”
Overall team improvement is a collective effort, requiring growth from every player on a roster. Lugg, a senior captain for North Allegheny, recognized that even a 6’7” 290-pound 4-star recruit must continue to develop for the betterment of his team.
“I feel like I’m more consistent this year than last year. I’m not really going for the big knock out shots this year. I’m focusing on being consistent every play, and not destroying one kid on one play and whiffing on the next. I feel like I’ve brought that to my team this year—that I’m giving a consistent effort on every play.”
Josh Lugg’s development as a football player will not end anytime in the immediate future. He committed to play football for Notre Dame back in August of 2015; a very early date for a 2017 recruit. In many cases, a commitment this early is provided to unite a player with his “dream” school. This must have been the case for Josh, right?
“I grew up hating Notre Dame, actually,” Lugg admitted through a bit of laughter. “It wasn’t until I visited I was actually like, ‘I love this place and don’t know why I’ve hated it so long.’”
The visit to Notre Dame took Lugg by surprise. After years of despising the Fighting Irish, his aversion turned to admiration the first time he experienced South Bend. It became unequivocally clear that Notre Dame was the perfect school for him.
“Everything about Notre Dame I liked when I visited. There weren’t any negatives about the college that I wanted to look into more. I visited several colleges all around the area: Ohio State, Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Wisconsin. And there were a couple schools like those that I was a bit shaky on. Like, ‘I don’t know if this is the best fit for me.’ But when I visited Notre Dame, I didn’t have any uncertainties, and neither did my family.”
Josh is not the only WPIAL recruit committed to Notre Dame in the 2017 and 2018 classes: Central Catholic’s David Adams and Kurt Hinish, and Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec, have pledged their collegiate careers to the Fighting Irish. Even current commit Robert Hainsey of Florida’s IMG Academy played for Gateway before transferring to the southern football powerhouse. As the first of this group to offer a commitment, Lugg played an active role in recruiting the others to join him in South Bend.
“I started off recruiting Phil (Jurkovec), and then it just kept building. As guys got on board, we kept recruiting more kids from the WPIAL,” said Lugg.
Through the recruiting process, Lugg has formed a relationship with all of Notre Dame’s current pledges. However, his relationship with the local commitments holds a slightly different dynamic than his relationship with those from outside of western Pennsylvania.
“We’re friends unless it’s game week against them. That’s our rule. We have a group message where all of us commits in the whole class—both classes—talk, and I mean we’re pretty good friends. But when we play Central, I’m not friends with Kurt and David. When we play Pine, I’m not friends with Phil. That’s just how it is … we do not talk that week. After the game we’re clean. We’re going to the same school. But during the game, you couldn’t tell if we were committed to the same school or not.”
The Fighting Irish have featured quite a few talented offensive linemen in recent years, including names like Ronnie Stanley, Zach Martin, and Nick Martin. Much of this success can be attributed to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, a man who Lugg made sure to mention when discussing his future at Notre Dame.
“Coach Hiestand, the offensive line coach there, is known as one of the best in all of football, whether it’s college or pros. Being able to be coached by him so that he can better me as an offensive lineman, and a person outside of football—I’m very fortunate to have that in the future. I wouldn’t want that any other way.”
Josh will look to coach Hiestand’s tutelage when battling for playing time against the other talented lineman Notre Dame features on their roster. In the past three years, the Irish have signed ten offensive line recruits, eight of which were rated as 4-stars or higher by Rivals.com. The forthcoming competition awaiting Josh in South Bend does not deter him, though.
“I love competition and I’m not going to back down from it,” Lugg answered with a patent confidence in his voice. “I’m recruiting a five-star right now to come play with us in our class. I don’t fear competition at all.”
Josh acknowledges that he does not know what position he will play along Notre Dame’s offensive line. Be it tackle, guard, or center, he will welcome any position that enables him to contribute to the team’s success.
As it stands, Lugg remains firm in his commitment to Notre Dame, and does not foresee that changing. Although the Irish are in the midst of a disappointing 2016 season, the young man maintains perspective when analyzing their current status.
“I mean, everyone is saying ‘these coaches need to be fired’ or ‘these players are playing bad.’ Everybody has bad seasons. Companies have bad seasons. You can’t get down about it.”
While football was the focus of our conversation, it is far from Josh’s sole purpose for attending Notre Dame. Academics remain a high priority, although he remains unsure of what he will study in the upcoming years.
“I think I want to go for business. I’m not really sure. I was thinking pre-med last year, now I’m thinking business, so I mean it might change in the next couple weeks.”
No matter his future position, and no matter his major, Notre Dame is getting a true All-American in Joshua Lugg—a player who is sure to make the WPIAL proud both on and off the field for years to come.
// Featured image: Photo courtesy of Josh Lugg