Mike McGlinchey admitted several times Wednesday night that his emotions got the best of him when he received the news Sunday night from Brian Kelly that he would be one of the captains of the 2016 Notre Dame football team.
“It was a pretty special moment,” said the senior offensive tackle, who joined defensive lineman Isaac Rochell, linebacker James Onwualu and receiver Torii Hunter, Jr. as captains of the Fighting Irish.
“I was fighting back tears with Coach Kelly. I called my mom and dad and I was crying to them. It was something that was a personal goal of mine, to become a leader of this program and football team. It’s pretty surreal once you realize the company I’ve been in.”
For Onwualu, the former wide receiver-turned-safety-turned outside linebacker, the privilege is one that he never dared dream about when he arrived from St. Paul, Minn., in 2013.
“Absolutely not,” said Onwualu of his expectations of being named a captain in his early years with the Irish. “In high school, who would have ever known I would be at a place like this, playing the high level of ball that I am.
“It’s a complete honor, something I didn’t dream of and had no idea would happen.”
The two more soft-spoken selectees – Rochell and Hunter – earned the respect of their teammates through hard work and, in the case of Hunter, overcoming a catastrophic leg injury suffered in an all-star game a few months before his arrival as a freshman in 2013.
“Me overcoming a lot of adversity and them seeing me grow from a freshman to now, I think they saw that in me and gave me a chance to be a leader of this team,” Hunter said.
Once Rochell became a surprise starter in 2014 as projected starter Ishaq Williams was sidelined due to suspension, the example he set began paying dividends.
“Just instilling confidence in guys,” Rochell summarized. “Using the d-line as an example, emphasizing that you can’t be blocked and you’re good enough and perfectly competent to do this and be where you are.
“In a leadership role, you can step back and (watch them as) they see themselves in a certain way. Then they have standards and expectations for themselves. I think that’s the biggest thing – instilling confidence in guys.”
Making the honor doubly impressive for McGlinchey is following in the footsteps of two brothers in arms – former Irish offensive linemen Zach and Nick Martin.
“Now it’s up to me to uphold the standard they’ve set and hopefully exceed it,” McGlinchey said.
Onwualu became a favorite of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s immediately after his transition to the defense following his freshman season.
“I think it’s the time that I’ve put in and my ability to really do whatever it takes to help the team,” Onwualu said.
“I’ve moved to different positions and I’ve been willing to do whatever Coach (Brian Kelly) asked of me. Coach really looks for that, especially in younger guys. Whatever you can do to help, even if it’s a little thing, that’s makes a big impact.”
Hunter had to move beyond the norm to earn his captain’s stripes.
“I would always try to be vocal and step out of my comfort zone,” Hunter said. “Just stay on guys and try to pep guys up. Even last year and the year before, I’ve always been a guy that’s gone out there and practiced hard every day and tried to get better.”
Ultimately, the choice of captains came down to those who put the team ahead of themselves.
“It’s become something I’m emotional about,” Rochell said. “I love these guys and want to get where I want them to go and where I know they want to go. I think people recognize that, and it’s a blessing that people recognize it.”