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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

Leaving a legacy: Mike McGlinchey cements place as leader for Notre Dame

Lauren Weldon and Chris Collins | The Observer
Lauren Weldon and Chris Collins | The Observer

Football and family.

For Mike McGlinchey, the two go hand-in-hand. The two-time Notre Dame captain and graduate student was raised with football in his blood — he followed his cousin and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan through the ranks at Penn Charter in Philadelphia before joining the Irish ranks.

“Football is everything to me; it’s everything I love,” McGlinchey said. “I’ve put everything I have into it, and I was an Irish Catholic kid growing up, I’ve always had an attraction to Notre Dame, it was kind of like the Mecca of football and school and all that kind of stuff when I was growing up.

“ … When I got the offer, it was kind of a no-brainer when I visited. Notre Dame’s awesome. I fell in love with it the first time I was out here, and it’s lived up to every folklore it has ever had.”

And now as his storied Irish career comes to a close, McGlinchey has forged his place in the family of Notre Dame football greats.

But it wasn’t a straight path to stardom for the left tackle. While highly recruited out of high school as an offensive lineman, the 6-foot-8-inch McGlinchey was under 300 pounds when he came in his freshman year, and still had to develop his technique as a blocker after playing a number of positions in high school, including tight end.

The Philadelphia native didn’t see the field his freshman season and was redshirted, but that didn’t stop him from growing from the experience, something McGlinchey credits to the wisdom of some of his mentors on the line at the time.

“That’s kind of what football is, it’s always a game that presents a lot of challenges and a lot of struggle no matter how much experience you have,” he said. “Early on, I had to earn my place. I came in at like 265-270 pounds and was a thin, tall guy and wasn’t strong enough to play, so I had to work in the weight room a lot harder than most people did, and learned my way under [former Irish offensive linemen] Zack [Martin] and Ronnie [Stanley] and all those guys that came before me.”

His sophomore year, McGlinchey appeared in all 13 games, mostly with special teams, before earning his first start in the Music City Bowl against then-No. 22 LSU. McGlinchey and the Irish won that game and haven’t looked back, as the tackle has started all 35 games for Notre Dame since.

As he has become a staple for Notre Dame, McGlinchey credits his relationship with some of the older guys on the line, including current NFL standouts Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley, as one of the principal factors in his development both on and off the field over his career.

“Those guys kind of laid the groundwork for me when I got here,” McGlinchey said. “I had one year with Zach [Martin] and Chris [Watt] and then Ronnie and Nick [Martin] for three. Those guys just showed me the way, showed me how to work, showed me how to play, showed me how to go about my business the right way and how to try and make that easier for everybody on the rest of the team, because that’s what those guys did. Those guys were the best, and I hope I’ve kind of led that legacy on for the younger guys on our team and that’s all you can really hope for.”

After playing his junior season at right tackle, McGlinchey was named a captain for Notre Dame and moved to left tackle as a senior, where he was one of the bright spots for the Irish in an overwhelmingly disappointing season, and was named a second team All-American. While projected as a first-round pick in last April’s draft, McGlinchey had no reservations about his desire to return to Notre Dame for a fifth and final season.

“I think individually, I had a lot left to work on,” he said on the decision. “It’s about being honest with yourself with what’s on film and [offensive line] coach [Harry] Hiestand and I are definitely that about my game and with everybody else’s game, so individually I felt like I wasn’t ready to move on quite yet.

“I had a lot of things that I wanted to improve before I got to the league, and as a team we kind of stunk last year, and I wasn’t ready to leave Notre Dame in the place that it was in. I love this place and I hated to see where we were last year and needed to bring it back.”

But furthering his on-the-field development wasn’t the only reason McGlinchey decided to return — the preseason All-American also stressed his growth as a leader this season as one of the biggest areas of personal improvement.

“You learn what not to do, when you struggle so badly like that,” McGlinchey said on his experiences being a captain last season. “You test things out and see what works and how to deal with your teammates, and how to deal with different personalities, and I think that you have to grow and trust your teammates, and trust yourself, and not spread yourself too thin.

“I think that’s one of the areas I’ve really grown throughout the last year, in that I know what to focus on, who to help me out with it, and I know where I need to speak up as a leader. I think I was forcing the issue a little bit last year, and that’s where I think I grew up the most.”

And while being a leader to the whole team has certainly been an important facet of McGlinchey’s career, his relationship with his fellow offensive lineman is the thing he treasures the most.

“That’s the best part of playing at Notre Dame, is the camaraderie that I have with the guys in the locker room, especially with the O-line, we do everything together — eat, sleep, party, whatever you want, we always are with each other, no matter what,” he said. “That’s what coach Hiestand has kind of worked on since he’s been here and that’s been the way our culture is.

“No matter what age you are, whether you’re a fifth-year senior like me or a true freshman like Rob Hainsey and all those guys, it’s just about being a brother to each other and taking care of one another and helping out anywhere you can. I think that’s where the biggest blessing has been, playing at Notre Dame.”

As his storied career draws to a close, McGlinchey has a lot of gratitude for the opportunities he’s been giving at Notre Dame. But beyond football, the graduate student is ultimately most thankful for the friendships he’s forged during his time with the Irish, both on and off the field.

“Hands down, it has been the relationships that I’ve built,” McGlinchey said. “Notre Dame is a special place, in more ways than one, but I think the best part about it is the people you get to meet. I’ve certainly been fortunate here to work, play and meet some of the best people I’ll ever meet and have some of the best friends I’ll ever have for life, and that’s certainly the thing I’ll miss the most, and certainly the thing that I cherish here — more than anything I’ve ever had on the football field.”

When the Irish take the field to play Navy for the 91st consecutive time Saturday, the team will be sporting uniforms honoring legendary Irish coach Knute Rockne. For McGlinchey, he’s excited about the opportunity of ending his legacy with Notre Dame by honoring the legacy of arguably Her greatest son.

“I think it’s something that we talk about all the time,” McGlinchey said on Rockne’s legend. “Notre Dame, you talk about the tradition, you talk about all that legacy stuff, and I think that it kind of gives a little bit of tangibility to the people that just hear about the tradition. We really know about it, and it’s cool to finally bring that story out. I mean, with Knute Rockne, I don’t think Notre Dame is where it’s at today, and he cemented what has become one of the greatest programs in college football history."