Timeless: Mike McGlinchey leads offensive line, Irish as captain
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, November 18, 2016
Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 16 edition of The Observer.
It’s Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame and Michigan State are battling it out in a top-20 showdown. The Irish offense takes the field, ready to square-off with the formidable Spartan defense.
The ball is snapped, and war is waged in the trenches of the line of scrimmage. Who wins that battle on that play will ultimately determine the success or failure of that play.
But once the play is over, the players line up again and ready for the next snap. They prepare to once again dig in, put their hands on the turf and assert their will.
They may have won the battle, but the war has just begun.
It’s a physical beating not many people can handle, let alone embrace and look forward to. But not many people are Mike McGlinchey.
“It’s going to be a pretty physical football game,” McGlinchey said Wednesday. “Obviously guys like me are chomping at the bit for that. … That’s why you play college football as an offensive lineman is for a game like this. It’s not every week you get to play against guys that they’re not trying to sugar coat what they’re doing. They’re going to lineup and play and see what you’ve got, and that’s what’s fun about it.
“… That’s what we play the game for.”
Yet, football isn’t just a game for the captain and senior offensive lineman. It’s a way of life. The Philadelphia native comes from one of those big football families, where many of his cousins have played or currently play at the collegiate level. One of them — former Boston College quarterback and current signal caller for the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan — has even gone on to play in the NFL, and McGlinchey might just go on to join him after the conclusion of his Notre Dame career. With that kind of pedigree, it’s no surprise McGlinchey considers football as formative for him as he finds it enjoyable.
“[Football] kind of made me and my family who we are,” he said. “It’s always kind of been the center point to what we did and who we were, and all of our focus was always on what we could do together as football players — how to get better and how to chase dreams that were in front of us.
“It’s been vital to who we were. … We love it, and it’s just everything about us.”
But the 6-foot-7.5, 310-pound lineman wasn’t always just a bruiser who set the tone at the line of scrimmage. He played all over the field growing up before settling in as a tight end in high school. But when his coaches asked him to make the switch to the trenches, he was more than willing to oblige.
“A lot of it was just need at my high school, and that was pretty much just it,” McGlinchey said. “I played whatever my high school needed me to play, and I guess it was kind of my destiny to eventually put my hand in the dirt. It worked out, so I can’t really complain.”
Work out it did, as the transition to offensive tackle and his success with it earned him several accolades in high school. He was ranked in the nation’s top-25 offensive tackles coming out of high school, per Rivals.com, and his play earned him an invitation to the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl as a senior. And after hearing what several college programs had to offer during his recruitment, he ultimately settled on Notre Dame.
But McGlinchey wasn’t a starter the minute he stepped on the field for the Irish. In fact, he didn’t see any time his freshman year. Then, the following season, he spent most of his time on special teams. While he wasn’t playing on the line for most of those first two seasons, he was still learning a lot from the players who were. In teammates like Zack and Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley, McGlinchey witnessed first-hand how to play the position with professionalism.
“I think [I learned] just how to be a pro, really,” McGlinchey said. “Just how to go about your business the right way, how to be a leader and how to be a good teammate, and I think that’s been the most important thing they’ve bestowed upon me. It’s just the hard work that they did — they just showed you the right path, and we took over.”
And after 25 games, his opportunity finally came at the end of his sophomore season, when he was named the starter at right tackle for the final game of the year: a date with a ranked LSU squad in the Music City Bowl. Yet when game day finally arrived, McGlinchey said he wasn’t even focused on the difficult task of keeping a physical, athletic Tiger defensive line at bay.
“To be honest with you, I was really focusing on trying to be healthy — I had a really bad stomach bug that day, so I was really just trying to get through it,” McGlinchey said. “I mean, I was nervous the whole month leading up to it, and it was my first [start]. I knew I was going to get the start, and I was pretty excited about it. But when the game day finally hit, I was more worried about the stomach bug than I was LSU’s defense.”
But his play showed no ill effects from the bug as he helped anchor the Irish offensive line in what ended up as a 31-28 victory for the Irish. And, as he flipped the page from his sophomore season to his junior season, he said that game gave him confidence and let him know he belonged.
“I finally figured out that I can do it when it’s the real time, and I got feel for how you had to operate within the game,” McGlinchey said. “And that’s all very important. It was a huge experience for me for sure.”
And it was that confidence that allowed McGlinchey to flourish his junior season, as he helped to anchor an offensive line that was a finalist for the inaugural Joe Moore Award, which is given to the nation’s best offensive line. It brought attention to him that carried over into this year, as he was named to the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists heading into the season. He was even being talked about as a potential first-round draft pick in this year’s NFL draft, following the footsteps of Stanley and Martin — that is, at least, until he announced he would return for his last season of eligibility on Oct. 5.
Yet, with all these lofty expectations being placed on him, McGlinchey knows he has to focus on being the best player he can be and not worrying about the footsteps of those who came before him.
“I can’t focus on the expectations that are put on me,” McGlinchey said. “ … Obviously there is an expectation when you’re the veteran and the captain, and you have to know your job at all times and perform at the highest level. That’s what I’m trying to do each and every week. It’s a matter of focusing on what’s important and not those lofty expectations that will help me exceed them.”
Now, as the Irish prepare to play host to the Spartans on Saturday night, those expectations are as high as ever. In a game many believe will be won at the line of scrimmage, Notre Dame will need McGlinchey and the rest of its offensive line to be at its best against a formidable Michigan State front seven. But that doesn’t change the way the unit will prepare, as they are treating the matchup just as they would any other.
“We don’t prepare differently,” McGlinchey said. “We prepare hard each and every week, and it’s about sticking to routine and being consistent. That makes players great. So we’re not really changing a whole lot — we obviously have certain intricacies in the game plan that we’re putting in for Michigan State, but other than that, not really a whole lot of change.”
But the history of the rivalry between the two programs isn’t lost on McGlinchey. He said he knows how hard-fought the games of the past have been between them.
And he said that will only make Saturday’s game more physical and more exciting.
“It’s a physical football game, and that’s the way football is supposed to be played,” McGlinchey said. “I’m really excited about it, and I know the rest of our guys up front are too. It’s gonna be a fun game, and it’s gonna be a great challenge.”