Progress during the pandemic for Notre Dame freshman O-lineman Michael Carmody

Eric Hansen | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Aday after playing in a pickup basketball game against notably former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec, Michael Carmody spent the better part of Monday afternoon in his room designing a roller coaster.

The 6-foot-6, 300-pound soon-to-be graduate of Mars (Pa.) Area High School near Pittsburgh is good enough at both passions that he could have made them the focal point of his future — one instead of football, the other presumably when football ends for the likely future engineering major.

And football is really just beginning in some respects for one of the most intriguing members of ND football’s freshman class — at least as an offensive lineman, his projected college position.

His rawness — two seasons at offensive tackle, after being a quarterback and running back for most of his football existence and more recently a tight end his sophomore year — is part of his allure.

So is his footwork and drive, both of which helped him lead the nation in rebounding among high school basketball players this past winter, according to MaxPreps, at 19.5 per game.

“Believe it or not, Michael grew up playing guard,” said Rob Carmody, the father and high school hoops coach of both Michael and brother Robby, the latter a junior guard on the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

“Michael averaged 19 points a game for us. He can shoot the ball. He’s got a nice stroke. Every once in a while, he likes to show he can still go through his legs, step back and shoot a 3.

“And you almost hope it doesn’t go in, because if it does, you know that he’s going to shoot another one.”

The presumption in football is not only that he’s successful morphing in that sport as well, but that his best days are ahead of him. Sort of like fellow Pennsylvanian Mike McGlinchey when he arrived at ND in 2013, as promising as he was unpolished before incrementally developing into a first-round NFL Draft pick.

So the more probing question is not who is Michael Carmody, but who will he become?

The answer to the former is certainly relevant to the latter.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carmody has thrived.

He has added 15 pounds of muscle, in part because he had access to a gym with weights and a trainer the whole time, instead of having to rely on resistance bands and DIY options. And because brother Robby was home taking his ND classes online after the school shut down in-person instruction in mid-March, Michael has been extra motivated.

“From a very early age, they’ve been hyper-competitive with everything,” Rob Carmody said. “I mean, it’s a race who gets in the shower first in the morning. It’s just a nature they both share, but we’re really lucky. It’s always been in a way that’s very respectful of the other one and it makes them both better.”

Robby, incidentally, is six months removed from an ACL tear in his left knee, his second season-ending injury in as many seasons at ND. He suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder as a freshman.

“I hesitate to say he’s way ahead of schedule, because I’m not a doctor,” Rob Carmody said. “But when you look at his legs, if you take away the scars, you wouldn’t know which one he had surgery on.

“He’s got the size and muscle definition back. He’s moving around well. He’s still not doing explosive things on the court yet. That’s still a little bit away, and that’s only precautionary. I think strength-wise and everything else, he looks good.

“We’ll see what it looks like in a couple of months, but six months out, he’s met just about every benchmark that he would need to do in his recovery.”

Meanwhile, Michael’s first basketball venture since early March beyond playing H-O-R-S-E came Sunday in an impromptu pickup game that admittedly included minimal social distancing.

Jurkovec, who transferred to Boston College from ND in January, was a former All-State basketball player at Pine-Richland High in a neighboring school district.

Robby and Jurkovec were at times AAU hoops teammates, at times rivals growing up. Their fathers attended the same high school and remain friends to this day.

“Great kid and great family,” Rob said. “Jokingly, I would say we’d love him to move into our district, which never happened. I wish he could have continued to be at Notre Dame.”

Because Pine-Richland (6A) and Mars Area (5A) were in two different enrollment classifications, the Carmody brothers and Jurkovec didn’t face each other in baseball, basketball or football during their high school years.

“Phil can still play basketball,” Michael said. “Yeah, it was pickup basketball, but it was competitive, and it felt good to be competitive again. Through the lockdown, I’m not sure I had seen more than five or six people at a time outside of my family. It just felt good to be able to have fun again.”

Michael missed the final game of his high school career due to a suspension over an intentional foul call in a 52-51 upset loss to Laurel Highlands on Feb. 28.

Elizabethtown then eliminated the Fightin’ Planets, the 2019 state runners-up, in the PIAA playoffs on March 6, 58-56 in overtime.

“Mike is probably the hardest guy to officiate in our area, because he is physical, and part of everybody’s game plan is to get Mike out of the game,” Rob Carmody said. “The crazy thing about it is if Mike is 180 pounds, we never have this discussion.

“He got a rebound, a kid reached in to get the ball, and Mike turned. If you look at it live when it happened, it almost looked like Mike hit the kid in the head. When you see it slow motion on camera, he hits him on the outside of his arm. There was no intent.”

Reaction on social media was swift and harsh.

“People told him to go kill himself — it was awful,” Rob said. “This is not a violent or nasty kid. He’s a Big Brother in our town to a kid who has autism. He’s a funny, goofy kid. But he learned you’re always under a microscope.

“He had to go in front of a committee. And what made us proud is that when Mike had a chance to address the committee, he said, ‘I was wrong. I apologize.’ He learned from it and moved on.”

When that moving on process includes a move to South Bend, none of the Carmodys are sure yet.

“What I do know is that when both of them leave, it’s going to help our food bill,” Rob said with a laugh.

Michael is scheduled to graduate on June 12 with a 4.0 GPA. He would have started in-person classes in South Bend three days later. Instead, because of the pandemic, he’ll begin online.

Fall semester classes at Notre Dame start Aug. 10 on campus, but it’s anticipated that football players will be welcomed to campus for voluntary workouts long before that. The NCAA in late May announced that was allowable at any school as early as this past Monday.

Notre Dame is expected to announce its plans soon.

“Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later when I get to go and be with my teammates,” Michael said. “Until then, I’ll keep doing the Zoom meetings with the other offensive linemen and (O-line) coach (Jeff) Quinn.

“Because I haven’t played a lot of offensive line, some of the stuff is very confusing. I try to write every single thing down and then learn it. It’s a lot. But I think it’s going to help in the long run, just overall, because I’ll know a little bit more coming in. I’m lucky to get this kind of jumpstart.”

And when it comes time to suit up this fall, Michael Carmody said he’ll have no hesitation to practice or play a contact sport during the pandemic.

“I know that all the right things are going to be put in place, and everything’s going to be so carefully done that I don’t think there would really be much of a risk at all,” he said.

Rob echoed those sentiments where both sons are concerned.

“I can say this probably as well as any parent at Notre Dame,” he said. “I know what Robby has gone through with the two surgeries. I know what kind of care they have there. I know how concerned they are for the safety and well-being of their athletes.

“They’re not going to do anything that compromises the safety of the kids. The number of people who are always reaching out to him to make sure Robby is OK, it’s unbelievable. And I hope it exists at other places, but I know that it exists at Notre Dame.

“From our perspective, when they tell us, it’s time to get back here for Robby and we need to get Mike activated for the rigors of college football, we’ll feel completely confident in turning our guys over to coach (Brian) Kelly and coach (Mike) Brey.

“You can’t find two better guys to manage the next part of your kids’ lives. They’re fantastic people. We’re incredibly blessed to have those people taking control of our kids for the next four, five years.”

Notre Dame incoming freshman offensive lineman Michael Carmody, left, has added 15 pounds of muscle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notre Dame’s Robby Carmody (24) helped bring out the competitive edge in brother Michael, an Irish incoming freshman football player, this spring back home in Mars, Pa.