In December of 2014, Mike McGlinchey was hoping he was ready for his first game as a starter in a Notre Dame uniform against LSU in the Music City Bowl.
In December of 2015, McGlinchey prepared for his 13th start of the season against Joey Bosa and the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl.
By this spring, McGlinchey will have ascended to a leadership role along the offensive line.
It happens in demarcated stages, but it also happens quickly and abruptly.
With Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin out the door, and fellow returning guards Steve Elmer and Quenton Nelson more of the bodies that represent the Notre Dame offensive line as opposed to the voices, it’s been a rapid ascent to the mantle of leader for the 6-foot-7 ½, 310-pounder out of Philadelphia.
And yet it’s been a natural evolution to the top of the offensive line food chain for McGlinchey, who preserved a year of eligibility in 2013 before emerging late in the ’14 campaign when veteran tackle/guard Christian Lombard finally succumbed to a chronic back injury.
McGlinchey, with his incredible length and the athleticism of a converted prep tight end, will be one of the guys NFL draft analysts will drool over a year from now when he’s likely securing his undergraduate with a year of college eligibility remaining.
He believes he’s learned the ropes from two of the best…in addition to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
“Those guys are really, really special and two of my closest friends,” said McGlinchey, referring to departing seniors Ronnie Stanley, a certain first-round draft choice at left tackle, and center Nick Martin, a projected mid-round selection. “They’ve done so much for our program and so much for me personally.
“Nick has been a guy that’s kind of taken care of me ever since I got here. He’s been that guy who I’ve leaned on. In terms of playing right tackle, Ronnie has been there for me -- how to move, how to think, how to see something.”
Neither will be around for McGlinchey in ‘16, and quite frankly, he doesn’t need that anymore. The time has come for McGlinchey to be the sounding board for players seeking counsel such as Alex Bars, Tristen Hoge, Sam Mustipher and Trevor Ruhland.
“It’s just about being available for your guys,” said McGlinchey of a leadership role. “The greatest thing about playing at Notre Dame is the closeness of our unit. Every single one of us cares so much about the guy sitting next to us. That’s been really special here.”
The guy who had his doubts before his first career start against LSU has put his trepidation behind him. You don’t have much choice when you’re anchoring the right side of the offensive line for a team contending for a playoff spot right up to the final play of the regular-season game.
“I think I’ve put myself in a position to have guys start trusting me a little bit and seeing that how I do things is just as good as anybody else who has done it before me,” McGlinchey said.
“That’s obviously a goal to have people count on you and be able to look up to you. That’s something I have to work on and continue to work on because of the great leaders we’ve (lost).”
As the Fiesta Bowl with Ohio State approached, the only things on McGlinchey’s mind were Joey Bosa, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard – Ohio State’s defensive ends. Soon, the possibility of a position switch could be on McGlinchey’s plate with Stanley opening up a spot at left tackle that he anchored the last 26 games.
“I’d feel the same about playing right tackle,” shrugged McGlinchey. “I don’t think there’s much of a difference other than the kind of accolades that go along with (playing left tackle).
“It’s just playing football. Whether I’m on the left or right, I’ve just got to focus which side of my body I’m using to push back in a set. That’s all it is.”
Some pretty heady stuff awaits McGlinchey as he pursues the completion of his undergraduate degree in 2016-17. What happens from there is the next chapter in what appears to be a promising future at the tackle position, both at Notre Dame and beyond.
McGlinchey will take a short-term approach to what lies ahead.
“It’s certainly going to be hard to replace Nick and Ronnie, but I think we have the right guys in our room and the right coaches leading us. That’s what keeps drawing guys to our school.”
It’s also what keeps the NFL’s trained eye on Notre Dame’s offensive line, which will be sending its third and fourth offensive linemen to the professional ranks in the last three seasons with Stanley and Martin joining Nick’s brother Zack, a 2014 first-rounder, and Chris Watt, who was tabbed in the third round.
“It’s so important that our unit be as close as it is,” said McGlinchey, hinting at the role he intends to play in ’16. “It’s a lot easier going to war with your buddies and people you care about.”