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Ex-Aztec star Hegarty plans to leave Notre Dame

Kyle Brindza,Remington Peck,Craig Bills,Matt Hegarty,Troy Niklas

Let the courting begin.

Former Aztec High School football star Matt Hegarty, who overcame a stroke to become a starter in the offensive line at Notre Dame, has announced he intends to play his senior year elsewhere while attending graduate school.

Hegarty is on course to graduate in May but still has a year of football eligibility. Under the NCAA’s graduate transfer policy, he’s free to transfer to another school and play this fall.

Hegarty on Wednesday issued a statement to the effect that he planned to leave Notre Dame. He said the coaching staff had asked him to change positions – he started 10 games at center last year, one at right guard – and noted that the Irish have lots of depth on the offensive line.

“(Coaches) explained that with many younger players in the wings, they wanted to develop them more heavily in the rotation – a need that I understand and appreciate,” Hegarty wrote.

“Unfortunately, I have already had to miss a precious amount of football battling back from my stroke, and I value every rep and opportunity going into my final year of college ball that much more. My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL.”

Hegarty, a 2011 Aztec graduate and one of the most heavily recruited New Mexico high school players in recent years, chose Notre Dame over scholarship offers from Southern California, LSU, Texas and Michigan. After sitting out the 2011 season as a redshirt, he played sparingly in 2012 before suffering a mini-stroke that November. He underwent heart surgery the next month to repair two holes in his heart, an apparent congenital defect.

He returned to the team in 2013, playing in nine games and getting two starts late in the season.

His decision to leave Notre Dame, he said in his statement, was not made lightly.

“My focus has been to pour myself into everything that I have done at ND,” he wrote. “I have worked hard and have always done everything that was asked of me.

“… I wish everyone at ND the best this year and especially to my 15 brothers on the offensive line as they prepare for the 2015 season.”

A number of college athletes, notably quarterback Russell Wilson (North Carolina State to Wisconsin) have taken advantage of the immediate eligibility granted to graduate transfers. Former UNLV basketball player Bryce DeJean-Jones is a graduate transfer at Iowa State this season.

The NCAA has considered changing the rule, due to concerns that the practice amounts to collegiate free agency, but has not done so.