'Steez' is the word for Notre Dame football in the Sam Hartman Era

SOUTH BEND — When the entire Notre Dame football roster received custom noise-cancelling headphones two days before making the long flight to Dublin, Ireland, the surprise gift included a gold-embossed note from a generous benefactor.

“Appreciate you and all your hard work,” the message read on dark blue cardstock. “Proud to be your teammate. Go Irish.”

The note was signed, “Steez.”

As Sam Hartman prepares to lead ninth-ranked Notre Dame (4-0) into Saturday night’s top-10 showdown with No. 6 Ohio State (3-0), the 24-year-old graduate transfer quarterback is consolidating his hold on the Irish locker room a little more each week.

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Part of that process is hearing his new teammates, nearly all of them complete strangers until Hartman’s arrival eight months ago, increasingly address him by the nickname he’s embraced since his early days at Wake Forest.

“It’s something I got when I was young at Wake, just kind of like a ‘style with ease’-type deal, a flow, whatever you want to call it,” Hartman said Monday. “I think everybody is different in their own way. It’s not something I completely have sold out to, but it’s something that was an easy tagline for me.”

“Steez,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “the quality of being effortlessly stylish or fashionable.” This can refer to “a person’s distinctive and attractive or impressive style of dress or way of doing things.” adds that “Steez” is also a term “used for someone’s overall cool and hip demeanor – their swagger.”

Hartman, fresh off a turn in the “QB1: Beyond the Lights” documentary series as a high school senior in the Carolinas, showed up in Winston-Salem, N.C., with a breezy confidence that was apparent from the start of his college career in 2018.

“There was a ‘10’ before me at Wake, so nobody called me ’10,’ “ Hartman said. “And there was already a ‘Sam’ on the team, so they had to create something else. So that’s probably the root of it.”

Marcus Freeman had 'no clue' about the meaning of Sam Hartman's nickname

Voted a team captain for the fourth straight year, but the first time at Notre Dame, Hartman has managed to build his national profile along with his name, image and likeness portfolio without alienating his teammates.

“I’ve heard a couple people say ‘Steez,’ maybe in a team meeting or something,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “I have no clue what that means. Listen, sometimes when you’re the coach, you don’t get to be involved with some of the young people’s slang.”

Freeman, of course, claimed about this time last season not to know the meaning of “drip,” even though his fashion game remains strong at age 37. As unwittingly “Steezy” as his quarterback, the father of six children with wife Joanna Freeman sounded as if his curiosity would soon get the best of him.

“I think at some point I’ll probably need to ask him what that means,” Freeman said. “Sam is obviously just a great leader, a great player. To me that speaks of his personality, ability to fit in with the guys. I call him an old man sometimes: ‘You‘re 24 years old.’ But he fits in with the guys.”

Which is remarkable on its own.

“Maybe I should find out more about this nickname,” Freeman said.

Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, 42, can’t help but smile as the sounds of “Steez” are heard increasingly around the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.

“Oh, yeah, it’s picking up a little steam,” Parker said.

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Does Parker ever drop a “Steez” when addressing his QB?

“I don’t,” Parker said with a laugh. “I let the guys” say it.

What’s unmistakable, he said, is the teamwide rapport Hartman has been able to build in a matter of months.

“It does everything to our team because, like it or not, there is a big focal point,” Parker said. “There’s star power to that position. There always has been, always will be. Especially when it’s a guy that has that. He has whatever ‘it’ is.”

And yet no one seems to hold it against him.

“He’s humbled by it and doesn’t do it too much and the guys gravitate towards that because of his energy and his feel and because of how he leads,” Parker said. “Having that certainly permeates everywhere.”

Defensive coordinator Al Golden, a former NFL assistant who worked alongside star quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford (Lions) and Joe Burrow (Bengals), raves about Hartman’s leadership style.

“Amazing young man,” Golden said. “I mean, just an amazing, amazing young man and a blessing to our locker room. It's always inclusive, always outward thinking. It's never ‘me.’ He leads by example.”

It’s become commonplace for Hartman, a non-degree seeking graduate student, to be watching game film at the Gug at all hours of the day and night. Golden will pop out of his office for a coffee refill at 7 a.m., and he’ll pass by the door of quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli.

Hartman will be in there.

Same drill in the evening hours after practice.

“Just a great work ethic,” Golden said. “I just want to tell you about the young man that he is. Like, amazing young man, and just trying to make everybody around him better — and he does that. He does that with class and just a leader in every aspect of it. Glad that he’s here.”

Heisman Trophy hype, national profile increase for Sam Hartman

Hours after news broke that Hartman was entering the transfer portal on Dec. 27, the Instagram account for “Steez: Athlete” was at 70,300 followers with just 79 all-time posts. Nine months, four wins and 15 touchdowns later, Hartman’s Instagram following has soared to 111,000 on just 13 additional posts.

That’s an increase of 58 percent, and the Heisman Trophy hype has started to build. Now tied for seventh in career Football Bowl Subdivision touchdown passes (123) and 11th in career passing yards (14,028), Hartman was a featured guest on this week’s official Heisman Trophy Podcast.

Yet, Hartman has managed to make his teammates feel included, whether it’s teasing freshman quarterback Kenny Minchey about his devotion to country musician Zach Bryan or making “Jersey Shore” references when cracking on backup quarterback Steve Angeli.

Hartman’s trickle-down NIL deal with “Beats” headphones was just one example of that inclusiveness, even with Notre Dame’s omnipresent in-house video crew on site to convert the heartfelt moment into viral content.

“It was awesome,” linebacker and two-time captain JD Bertrand said. “It was a cool thing for him. It wasn’t even just about the headphones, but it was cool to see him do so well and bring us (along) even in these little ways.”

While Bertrand doesn’t call the quarterback “Steez,” he hears “some of the guys” using that term of endearment.

“He’s a great locker-room dude and he really creates a connection with not just the offensive but the defensive guys,” Bertrand said. “It’s just great to have a quarterback who is very cool and collected.”

How could having a cool dude at the controls be anything but helpful in a massively hyped matchup like the one on Saturday night?

“No matter the adversity that we’re going through, if they’re going three-and-out, he comes over and he might talk to us: ‘Hey, come on. Get our back. We’ll get you back,’ “ Bertrand said. “Just having a quarterback that has that confidence to continue. No matter how that last series went, they’re going to go out and score the next series. If we get that ball back, they’re going to go score.”

All-America left tackle Joe Alt repeats the same word in rapid-fire fashion to describe what Hartman brings to the mix. Some form of the word “confidence” popped up seven times in a span of three answers after Tuesday’s practice.

“There’s definitely a confidence back there, and that’s been huge for us,” Alt said. “He obviously knows the game due to all the film he’s watched. He puts a lot of time into it, a lot of effort. There’s a confidence in when he makes the call, you trust it and you’re ready to go. It starts with him being confident.”

The net effect of all that low-key swagger? That part is obvious for the future first-rounder whose dad once blocked for Joe Montana, aka “Joe Cool,” as the former Notre Dame national champion closed out his Hall of Fame career in Kansas City.

“It brings a cool, collected feel to us,” Alt said. “He knows what he’s doing, and it comes across the whole group. It brings confidence, and it brings a calm feeling. It’s a football game. You don’t ever want to get too stressed out. Obviously, you have a job at hand, but it brings a little bit of relaxation to it.”

As for “Steez,” Alt hasn’t gone there yet.

“I always call him Sam,” Alt said. “I know that’s his nickname, but for me, Sam’s always going to be Sam. We built that friendship early on when he first got here.”

Would it be an automatic fine for an offensive lineman to call the QB “Steez”?

“No, that’s not a fine,” Alt said with a smile. “I think some guys do. It’s more of a skill (position) thing, I’m pretty sure. But for us, it’s mostly just Sam.”

When to call Sam Hartman by his nickname? 'Depends on the situation'

Notre Dame placekicker Spencer Shrader, a South Florida graduate transfer who has lived abroad in Brazil and Canada and counts “Proceeding Boldly” as his personal motto, was a little hazy at first on the whole “Steez” thing.

“I don’t know the definition of it,” Shrader, a June enrollee, said this week after practice.

Upon hearing the phrase “effortlessly stylish or fashionable,” the kicker-entrepreneur nodded and laughed out loud. Suddenly, it all made sense.

“I think it’s a fun nickname,” Shrader said. “We usually refer to him as Sam. We’ll drop in ‘Steez’ every once in a while, but it just depends on the situation.”

Post-practice moments like the “Beats” headphones giveaway are foremost among those.

“What an incredible example of him being an amazing leader for the team,” Shrader said. “It’s really cool to see a guy who is so composed in front of the media but doesn’t have to show a different face to the media. That’s authentically who he is. Very selfless individual. Couldn’t have a better leader for this program.”

And when it comes to alignment at the all-important head coach/quarterback collaboration, few programs can match the Combined Steez Impact (CSI) of Freeman and Hartman.

“Absolutely fair to say,” Shrader said. “We’re blessed to be in a program where we have some pretty self-aware individuals who are passionate about how they present themselves, but they don’t let it be a distraction to the team.

“We’re led by Coach Freeman, who’s a great leader and a fashionable guy, and obviously our quarterback. It’s fun to follow guys like that who have a passion for the way they represent themselves to the media, to the team and to the players.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on social media @MikeBerardino.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Notre Dame football has a galvanizing personality in QB Sam Hartman