It was August 7, 2015 on the practice field at the Culver Academies that offensive line coach Harry Hiestand had something to say.
His target was right tackle Mike McGlinchey, whose reaction to the result of a rep didn’t sit well. Hiestand heard it, observed it, and for the next 60 seconds or so – probably longer – freely, loudly and profanely spoke his mind to the 6-foot-7½, 310-pound Philadelphia product.
“I’m worlds ahead of where I was as a player,” said McGlinchey, who takes over as the senior voice of the Irish offensive line in 2016.
“You’ve just got to keep your head down and keep working. Listen to the message rather than the tone. Everybody takes his lumps every now and again. But it’s about how you learn from those lumps that really makes you a great person and player.”
With 14 consecutive starts to his name, McGlinchey, a senior with two years of eligibility remaining, has ascended to the top of the seniority heap now that center Nick Martin and left tackle Ronnie Stanley have taken their games to the NFL.
“It’s a little weird without them, but I talk to Nick every other day or so,” McGlinchey said. “Nick was the leader not only of our offensive line; he was the leader of our football team.
“Guys leave and other guys have to step up and take their place. It’s just the way of the world. I’d like to think that I’m in a position where the guys on the team trust me and the coaches trust me to be considered a leader. That’s what I’m going to act like every single day.”
McGlinchey clearly fits the part. He’s rapidly gone from first-time starter in the Music City Bowl against LSU in December of 2014 to every-game starter in 2015 to highest man on the offensive line totem pole heading into 2016.
While others contributed to the rise of the Notre Dame offensive line in ’15 – Stanley, Nick Martin and outstanding left guard Quenton Nelson particularly – McGlinchey can boast of helping spearhead a rushing attack that has averaged 5.58 yards per carry and 211.5 yards per game on the ground over his 14 career starts.
Following in the footsteps of Zack Martin and Stanley at left tackle, McGlinchey has the earmarks of becoming Notre Dame’s next standout, perhaps even joining his former teammates as a first-round NFL draft choice.
“He’s a really good football player,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “He’s got the size, he’s got the length, he’s got the demeanor, he’s got the toughness. He’s got all of the intangibles that you want.
“What Mike brings is that every day, he’s going to be working on his craft. It’s not that he has the athletic ability of Nick Martin, Zack Martin, or Ronnie Stanley. But he’s got that toughness, that mental and physical toughness. That doesn’t come along all the time and he brings that every single day.”
The maturation process along the offensive line takes time, and McGlinchey has never been shy about admitting to some personal growing pains. A negative play in the past could prompt a negative outburst of emotion and frustration. A Hiestand tirade could prompt a shift in McGlinchey’s confidence level.
But with adversity comes development and maturity, and McGlinchey has taken the necessary steps to put himself in position to be considered one of the nation’s top offensive tackles.
“There’s no special recipe,” McGlinchey said. “It’s just about being the same guy every day, improving, and making sure everybody on the team is doing the same thing. It’s just being the same guy and figuring out how to lead and how guys need to be led.
“Consistency is what makes players great. It’s being able to bring the same attitude and level of play every day. That’s something I really worked on. It’s something that’s been preached to me. That’s how you should be every single day.”
A bit of patience also was required this winter when McGlinchey began making the transition from right to left tackle. As a first-time full-time starter at right tackle in ’15, he could focus mainly on anchoring the strong side of the offensive line with veteran Steve Elmer.
As the heir apparent to the left tackle throne at Notre Dame, the pre-snap alignment – from a right-handed stance to a left – can take time before reaching a comfort zone. All things considered, it didn’t take long for McGlinchey to make the mechanical adjustments.
“It’s a lot easier to learn something after you’ve already done it on the opposite side,” McGlinchey explained. “Last year, I was still trying to figure out how to play football and be a good offensive lineman. I’m not saying I’ve fully figured that out, but I’m a long way from where I was last year. Moving to the left side is all the same stuff. It’s just body mechanics.
“It took me a couple of days of training last winter to figure that one out. I definitely had to focus on it the first two weeks of winter training. After that, I felt pretty comfortable with it and was ready to go by the time spring ball came.”
Helping make the transition a little easier is the presence of Nelson just off McGlinchey’s right shoulder.
“I’m excited to play (next to) him,” said McGlinchey of Nelson. “He’s a pretty damn good football player. He’s the best guard in the country in my opinion, and I’m excited to be next to him. He pushes me every day just like I push him. We’re going to have a special year.
“He’s just so strong. I’m not a weak guy by any means, but he’s so big and strong that it makes it fun blocking with him. It’s like getting in the way of a freight train. We’re different football players, but it’s nice we can balance each other out.”
People say many of the same things about McGlinchey. The former high school tight end has unique abilities for a player of his stature. His length, coupled with his experience and tenacity, put him in a special group of offensive tackles.
He brushes off talk of elite college offensive tackles and NFL prospects. For McGlinchey, that’s getting way ahead of the pace. Even talk of an upcoming vote for captains goes beyond his one rep, one day at a time approach to offensive line play.
But when Kelly and his staff consider candidates for captains of the 2016 team, there’s little doubt that outside linebacker James Onwualu and McGlinchey are frontrunners.
“That would be a huge honor if I could be the captain of the Notre Dame football team,” McGlinchey said. “That would be pretty special. I’m not focused on that now. If that’s the way it is when the time comes, I’ll happily take that role. That would be a special thing for me.”
A confident, well-conditioned McGlinchey is prepared to direct all of his assets toward one goal.
“(Leadership) is being able to say things that need to be said,” McGlinchey said. “I’ve never been a guy that holds any kind of emotion or words back. I say what’s on my mind and that’s how it’s going to be.
“I’m an older guy on the team. Guys are looking to me, which is a little different coming into camp with a little more responsibility. But I’m excited about the opportunity. I’ve had some pretty good guys along the way that let me know how to do it.”
That responsibility now belongs to McGlinchey.