It was the moment Mike McGlinchey had been waiting for, and he wasn’t going to allow the biggest opportunity of his young career pass him by.
Playing the majority of the game against USC after right tackle Christian Lombard finally succumbed to a back injury, the 6-foot-7 ½, 310-pound McGlinchey made his first career start against LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Some would have been overwhelmed by the moment; McGlinchey ran with it.
“Getting thrown into the first start...so be it,” said McGlinchey, now with a full spring as the starting right tackle under his belt. “That’s what was required of me.
“You come to Notre Dame for the big-time moments, the big-time games. LSU was certainly that, and we got the job done.”
Notre Dame rushed the football 51 times against LSU – a season high – for 263 yards (5.2-yard average) and three touchdowns. With McGlinchey, right guard Steve Elmer, center Matt Hegarty, left guard Nick Martin and left tackle Ronnie Stanley leading the way, the Irish controlled the football nearly 14 more minutes than the Tigers en route to a 31-28 victory.
It was a huge step for Notre Dame heading into the off-season, a giant leap in terms of emphasis on the rushing attack, and an equally massive stride for McGlinchey in his quicker-than-anticipated move up to the No. 1 offensive line.
“Those last two games were a huge experience for me,” McGlinchey said. “The players across from me were a wakeup call.”
Players such as USC’s Leonard Williams, the projected No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, and LSU’s defensive front of Danielle Hunter, Jermaria Rasco, Davon Godchaux and Christian Lacouture, clashed with Notre Dame’s offensive line with mixed results.
The Trojans hammered the Irish, 49-14. But a month later, Notre Dame reversed its fortunes against the Tigers, and McGlinchey was at the forefront. It was a sharp learning curve for McGlinchey, and an invaluable one, too.
“It gave me an idea where I was as a player and what competition is actually like,” McGlinchey said. “I got to play against some of the best defensive linemen in the country. That was a huge experience for me.
“You quickly learn that you need to be as technically sound as you can be and you need to keep working in the weight room because there are guys out there that if you let ‘em, they’re going to beat you up.”
Adding to the degree of difficulty was the fact that the flu bug had bitten McGlinchey during the week in Nashville. When the Irish offensive front wasn’t controlling the line of scrimmage and the time of possession, McGlinchey was behind the bench losing his lunch.
Because of those late-season experiences, an entire winter to add to his size and strength, and spring drills, McGlinchey talks about the last two games of 2014 as if he’s a different player than the one that lined up against USC and LSU.
“Back then, yes,” said McGlinchey acknowledging his lunging issues last fall. “That’s definitely something that I’ve really worked to fix this spring and off-season.
“In the over-thinking department, the game slows down. I’m seeing what’s happening in front of me. I’m able to adjust mid-block, and in the lunging department, especially in run blocking when they’re trying to throw you off and make the play, you’ve got to be able to adjust your body and be in balance.”
That’s no small feat for a man McGlinchey’s size, although his background as a high school tight end served him well. He arrived at Notre Dame in the fall of 2013 underdeveloped physically and as a pass blocker. But he was an athlete before he was an offensive tackle, and he was a fairly accomplished run blocker when he was still a prep tight end.
“I had always been a run blocker at tight end in high school,” McGlinchey said. “But I really had no experience in pass blocking. That’s been the biggest adjustment since I got here, and I’ve come a long way from where I was.
“I was never a huge weight lifter in high school because I played three or four sports. Once I got here, I got to spend a lot of time with Coach (Paul) Longo and his staff. It’s been a huge benefit to be able to grow in the weight room and mature into a physical football player.”
Helping complete the transformation, of course, has been offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
“Each player obviously has his own specific things to work on, but Coach Hiestand is very good at developing players as complete players,” McGlinchey said.
“All of us are efficient run blockers and efficient pass blockers, and that’s because of the way he coaches. He believes in a well-rounded, capable player. All the credit to him for what he’s done with us and will continue to do with us.
As McGlinchey looks to the future, he’s eager to add to his skill set.
“The fun thing about offensive line play is there’s always something to work on,” McGlinchey said. “One day you’ll go into a practice thinking, ‘I’ve got to work my punch and pass pro,’ and then the next day, your head’s going forward again.
“You’ve just got to keep tinkering with it and smoothing it out. That’s the cool part of the game. It’s definitely an ongoing process all the time.”
A process clearly headed in the right direction.