SOUTH BEND — The defining piece of Mike McGlinchey’s past, ready to spring to life again this weekend, starts with ruined dress clothes and how the consequences that ensued were always worth it.
Usually, the grass stains and ripped pockets and seams came from impromptu football games at Thanksgiving time in an extended family that so far, by McGlinchey’s count, has produced seven current or former college football players with more on the way.
“We were just an insane football family,” said the Notre Dame junior offensive tackle, who ventures home to Philadelphia this weekend with the rest of the ninth-ranked Irish (6-1) to face 21st-ranked Temple (7-0), which counts his cousin, John Loughery, as one of its backup QBs.
Kickoff is 8 p.m. EDT Saturday, with ABC-TV carrying the game nationally, ESPN’s College GameDay setting up shop at Independence Mall, and scads of McGlinchey’s family working their way to sold-out Lincoln Financial Field.
The Irish have actually made arrangements to do a light workout at McGlinchey’s former school, the backdrop for some of his more sane football memories. As far as the less sane ones …
“I remember at my grandmother’s wake, we were all playing a tackle football game in our suits outside,” the William Penn Charter School grad said Wednesday after practice. “I think that’s how she would have wanted it, but that kind of gives you a perspective of who we are.”
Cousin Matt Ryan, a pain in Notre Dame’s back side when he played for Boston College and the current starting quarterback for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, is the most famous of the brood.
Not that the 6-foot-8, 310-pound McGlinchey didn’t have his moments of triumph over Ryan.
“He’ll probably be mad that I told you this,” he began, “but when I was in high school, we were at a graduation party. And we were playing a pickup (basketball) game, and I dunked on his head. That’s my glory right now.”
And how did Ryan take it?
“Probably not well, because the party kind of freaked out after that.”
McGlinchey historically played football in a freaked-out fashion. That included a short stint at quarterback, sort of the family position of choice, while at Penn Charter and tours of duty at almost every other offensive and defensive position except cornerback and safety.
From being the designated route-runner for all the aspiring QBs during family trips to the Jersey Shore, McGlinchey had initial visions of perhaps playing tight end in college — something some recruiters threw in their sales pitches, which McGlinchey loved but ultimately interpreted as a ploy.
“I knew my true destiny was to play offensive line, with my hand in the dirt,” he said. “I came to terms with that, and I enjoy playing offensive line. It’s a lot of fun.”
But also a lot of work — particularly to go from playing small-school ball, where he could simply maul opponents with his size/strength/emotional edge, to being part of the offensive line dynasty of sorts that O-Line coach Harry Hiestand has assembled at Notre Dame, that requires technique and a cerebral edge as well.
“He came in with very little knowledge of an offensive lineman,” ND head football coach Brian Kelly said. “Just even vocabulary, words of an offensive lineman, didn't resonate with him.”
And so he redshirted as a freshman and made some inroads as a sophomore, to the point he was pushing multi-year starter Christian Lombard at right tackle before taking over the starting position in the bowl win over LSU last December, after Lombard’s back troubles escalated and ended his career.
Through it all, Kelly never lost sight of the gleaming potential he saw through the rough edges.
“I think any time that you put somebody out at the tackle position, and somebody that didn't have a pedigree, particularly, at the position,” Kelly said, “nor came from a football program that turns out a lot of Division I prospects, you really have to trust in your evaluation. And trust that you're going to get somebody that is committed to that developmental process.
“And we knew Mike and how hard of a worker he was, and we knew what we were getting with a workman-like attitude that he has every day. And then Harry (Hiestand) has done a great job of developing him.
“He's still scratching the surface. Every day is, I think, he sees things that he has not seen before. But the length, the athleticism, makes up for a lot of things that he had not seen before.”
The elusive piece was tempering his passion that was so much a part of him growing up. Not expunging it completely, but marrying the emotion with a more pragmatic approach to improvement.
“It’s been a challenge,” McGlinchey said. “You need to have a fire in your stomach and the want to beat the guy across from you. But at the same time, you’ve got to be cool, calm and collected, because if your head’s not in it, you’re not going to be able to make your block.
“A lot of times in practice, if you miss a block, it sits with you. The next play, you’re not really focused on what you need to do for the next one, and you kind of screw that one too. It’s a process of learning how to get beat and regain yourself for the next one.”
If/when it does come together — and Kelly is convinced it will to the point McGlinchey will not only play in the NFL, but become “a great pro” — McGlinchey will likely have taken his own, unique path to get there.
Just as he did with resolving the recruiting process. He made his verbal commitment to Hiestand and Kelly from a gas station on the Indiana Toll Road. Then, he had his father, who was driving him to see other colleges in March of the younger McGlinchey’s high school junior year, turn the car around and head back to Notre Dame.
Temple was part of the recruiting process, too. Earlier in his junior year, McGlinchey took a recruiting visit there, when current Boston College head coach and former Irish assistant coach Steve Addazio was the Owls’ head coach.
“They’re a strong program,” McGlinchey said. “Nobody gives them enough credit, but they’re a good program, tough kids. They’re growing. They’re hungry. It’s been pretty cool to watch. Hopefully, though, we’re not going to let them do that this week.”