College News & Analysis

Family Business: Joe Alt is following his father’s legacy at offensive tackle

Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt sits down for an exclusive interview with PFF.

The best returning offensive lineman in college football: Alt was the highest-graded offensive tackle in the country this past season and is our top returning tackle in college football.

Following in his father’s footsteps: Alt's father, John, was a former All-Pro tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs and was inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame.

Protecting quarterbacks runs in Joe Alt’s blood. 

His father, John, was a former All-Pro offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs and was inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame. He later became the offensive line coach at Totino-Grace High School in Minnesota when Joe started attending there. However, his son wasn’t always following in his footsteps.

“I had my dad’s frame from birth,” Alt said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “But he wanted me to stay athletic as long as possible. I really played tight end and quarterback all throughout high school. Once I saw my body start to change, I knew I should probably figure out how to play tackle.”

Despite starting just one game at offensive tackle in high school, Alt still felt the pressure of living up to his father’s legacy.

“Having his background has been very helpful for me and he’s taught me so much,” Alt said. “But there’s always a little pressure. Obviously, he was a great player and did a lot. Now I have the lineage, so I want to continue that.”

His dad’s alma mater, Iowa, offered him as a four-star recruit. However, he wanted to play for a different offensive line factory. 

“I wanted to go to Notre Dame for three reasons,” Alt said. “First one was academics. I’ve always loved math and science which got me on the mechanical engineering track. I knew Notre Dame would challenge me the most academically. Second is my faith. I went to Catholic elementary, middle and high schools, so I wanted to continue that at a Catholic university. Finally, it was the tradition, both with the football program and with the offensive line. I wanted to be a part of that brotherhood.”

The Fighting Irish’s history in the trenches is among the richest in college football. Since 2014, Notre Dame has had four offensive linemen taken in the first round of their respective drafts: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. But vefore Alt could even dream of joining them, he first needed to pack on the pounds.

Most incoming recruits, especially offensive linemen, spend a year on the bench to get both their bodies and minds accustomed to the college game. And once he had added more than 60 pounds, Alt was thrown into the fire almost immediately as Notre Dame’s starting left tackle in the sixth game of the season. 

“In the moment, I was just trying to do it,” Alt said. “I was bigger, but I wanted to stay true to who I was and allow my length and athleticism to show. My mindset was, ‘How do I maximize this opportunity and not let it slip?’”

Alt certainly maximized his first year, earning a 78.8 grade that led all true freshman offensive linemen in 2021. It was also the fourth-best mark by a true freshman offensive tackle since 2016, trailing two players who were top-10 picks and one who could go that high come April.

Highest-graded true freshman OTs in the FBS since 2016
Name School Season Grade NFL Draft Selection 
Penei Sewell Oregon 2018 84.0 7th
Peter Skoronski Northwestern 2020 81.4 12th*
Ikem Ekwonu NC State 2019 80.5 6th
Joe Alt Notre Dame 2021 78.8 ?

*Ranking on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board

After Alt's freshman season, Notre Dame brought back Harry Hiestand to coach its offensive line. He previously served as the Fighting Irish’s offensive line coach from 2012 to 2017 before leaving for the same position with the Chicago Bears. Immediately, Alt noticed a change.

“My freshman year, I just tried to get the job done,” Alt said. “Coach Hiestand taught me the techniques and fundamentals of playing offensive tackle, especially with my footwork. He came in with the same mindset every day, which was to make us the best that we can be.”

Alt took the leap from the best true freshman tackle to the best offensive tackle, period, as a sophomore. In 2022, he paced all FBS offensive tackles in overall grade (91.4) and run-blocking grade (91.0), plus he was the most valuable offensive tackle in the nation, according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

Arguably, Alt’s most impressive game was when unranked Notre Dame toppled No. 5 Clemson. On 20 pass-blocking snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure. Making that even more impressive is the fact that he spent 15 of those snaps blocking Myles Murphy, the No. 22 prospect on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board.

“I definitely circled that one on my calendar,” Alt said. “I knew I was going against a top guy and wanted to play my best. Obviously, he’s a great talent but you still have to play confident and trust in your ability to do it.” 

Alt looks like a potential first-rounder himself in 2024. He has a monstrous frame at 6-foot-7 5/8 and 317 pounds with a wingspan that he says is longer than seven feet. He was PFF's pick for the Outland Trophy winner last season, which is given to the best interior lineman in the country. That makes him easily our best returning offensive tackle in college football. Alt also went seventh in my mock draft if everyone in college was eligible. However, he isn’t letting any of that hype cloud what his ultimate goals are.

“Obviously, trophies and the publicity are great, but that’s never on my radar,” Alt said. “I’m focused on the here and the now. I don’t let the outside come in, I just want to work. I just want to help Notre Dame win, whatever that means.”

There is one trophy Alt is focused on, though, and it’s the one that recognizes the best offensive line in the country.

“We’re coming for the Joe Moore Award,” Alt said. “I think next year, we’re going to prove that we’re the best offensive line in college football.”

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