Mike McGlinchey's Notre Dame career comes full circle in Citrus Bowl

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Mike McGlinchey is back at the beginning.

Older. Wiser.

Hopefully, a little healthier.

Notre Dame’s 6-foot-8, 315-pound graduate student and two-time captain made his first career start in a bowl game against LSU.

His 39th and final start will come Monday — you guessed it — in a bowl game against LSU.

In between, the Philadelphia native flipped from one end of the offensive line to the other, survived an excruciating 4-8 season, bypassed the NFL Draft and earned consensus All-America honors in his final go-round in South Bend.

But it all started in the 2014 Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

Or, more specifically, in his hotel room the night before.

“I had a really nasty stomach bug,” McGlinchey recalled of his first career start, in his sophomore season. “It started at 9:15 the night before, and I was up every 15, 30 minutes puking up until the start of the game … and into the game. It wasn’t a fun experience.

“I don’t really remember much of the feeling, other than being in pain on the sideline.”

Like most first starts, McGlinchey’s wasn’t perfect. There was plenty for Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to correct — and not just on the field.

“I know Harry gave him a hard time that morning and told him, ‘You should have contacted our trainer. We can help you with that before it gets so bad,’ ” McGlinchey’s mother, Janet McGlinchey, said. “But Mike didn’t know that. He didn’t know to call a trainer at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.”

You know the old phrase, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you?”

Not. True.

“He was sick as a dog,” McGlinchey’s father, Mike McGlinchey Sr., said. “I remember seeing him running off the field a little bit before halftime. I was like, ‘What’s going on here? Why is he going back?’

“We heard after the fact that he ran back to the locker room to get an IV because he was sick.”

In retrospect, McGlinchey says he has never been in more pain on a football field than in that 31-28 Music City Bowl victory over LSU. Not even last season, when he broke his hand in the first quarter of a 45-27 loss at USC and opted to play the rest of the game.

The lesson, perhaps: nothing worth having, or doing, comes easy. That’s certainly been the case in McGlinchey’s noteworthy Notre Dame career.

But, despite first-round NFL Draft projections in 2017, he stuck it out for another year.

“It was huge for me, not just as a player but as a person,” McGlinchey said of his fifth season in South Bend. “You have time to think about what really is important to you and how to get to what you want to accomplish. I think I’ve taken a huge step forward in not only my game but the way I look at the game, the way I study the game and the way I can lead my teammates.

“I think it was a huge, valuable step for me. I think a lot of guys saw that.”

What else does McGlinchey want his teammates and fans to see when they look back on his completed career?

“I hope what guys have learned from me is just how to do things the right way,” McGlinchey said. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.

"That’s all the guys before me ever did. Just to be able to look back and say, ‘OK, this is how it’s supposed to be done, and 68 did it the right way.’ That’s all I could ever hope for.”

But, don’t misunderstand: McGlinchey’s Irish career still lacks an ideal ending. And, while he and unanimous All-American left guard Quenton Nelson are both slated to be first-round selections in April’s NFL Draft, their priority is the present — namely, Monday's Citrus Bowl against No. 16 LSU (9-3).

As it should be. Though No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) rushes for an average of 279.1 yards per game (seventh nationally) and 6.4 yards per carry (third), the Tigers' defense has been just as stout, smothering opponents to the tune of just 126.4 rushing yards per game (21st).

Monday will bring a match of two sides' opposing strengths, and Notre Dame's strength is Nelson and McGlinchey.

“I’m not on a victory lap by any means,” McGlinchey said. “I still have business to do. We have to take care of LSU.

“But the thing I’ll cherish always about this place is the relationships I have. I’ve made the best friends in the world. I’ve been mentored by the best coaches and some of the best players that have come before me.

"I have been so lucky to have been able to play here, to be able to grow here and have the people I’ve been able to meet. I consider myself the luckiest man in the world to be able to play at Notre Dame, and I loved every minute of it.”

Well, maybe not the minutes (and hours) leading up to that Music City Bowl victory in Nashville. But you get the point.

Looking back, there isn’t much about McGlinchey’s Notre Dame debut he’d like to replicate.

Except, of course, for the end result.

“I think karma has kind of a negative connotation,” McGlinchey said. “So I don’t know if it’s necessarily karma, but hopefully we’re coming out on the positive side of this one, just like last time.”

CITRUS BOWL

WHO: No 14 Notre Dame (9-3) vs. No. 16 LSU (9-3)

KICKOFF: Monday at 1 p.m. EST

WHERE: Camping World Stadium; Orlando, Fla.

TV: ABC

RADIO: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: LSU by 3

Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (68) stands for the Alma Mater following Notre Dame's 24-17 win over Navy, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)