In December, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly went out of his way to praise freshman Alex Bars, saying the offensive lineman was "one of the best I've seen in 25 years" and cautioning his incumbent starters the Nashville native could push them for playing time in 2015.
But instead of having Bars battle with Mike McGlinchey at his natural tackle position, Notre Dame shifted Bars inside to compete with Quenton Nelson at left guard. Some of the impetus for that decision came from Matt Hegarty deciding to transfer after being moved off center -- had Bars not been moved to guard Nelson, himself a rising sophomore, wouldn't have had any competition for the offensive line spot between Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin.
Part of it, though, speaks to the strong showing McGlinchey had in his starting debut Dec. 30 vs. LSU in the Music City Bowl and the strides he made following that game.
McGlinchey, a former four-star recruit from Philadelphia, made his first-team debut tagging in for Christian Lombard in Nov. 29th's 49-14 debacle at USC. He said the six or so quarters of experience he gained against two strong defenses already paid off as he honed his craft during the spring.
"It was huge because you always have that little bit of doubt whether you’re ready to compete or not," McGlinchey said. "And once you get into live action, you kind of get your feet wet and you know what you’re capable of doing and know what you have to work on. Definitely huge experience in the last two games. There’s some talented players across from me, which was a wakeup call as well."
Kelly has long praised McGlinchey's athleticism, even saying he has the skills to play quarterback or tight end (though Notre Dame's tackle-eligible play went to Stanley in the spring game). And something that stuck out when recruiting him were his basketball skills -- "we worry that Mike Brey is going to take him from us," Kelly said on signing day in 2013.
But McGlinchey has followed the preferred path of offensive line development under Kelly and Harry Hiestand. He redshirted his freshman year, using the time to bulk up and learn from the guys around him, most notably Zack Martin. He was eased into action his sophomore year as a backup and then late-season starter. So entering Year 3 on campus, he'll finally take over a full-time role -- and he feels ready for it thanks to that Music City Bowl experience and his position coach.
"Coach Hiestand’s very good with just developing players as complete players," McGlinchey said. "All of us are efficient run blockers, all of us are efficient pass blockers and that’s just because of the way he coaches and he believes in a well-rounded, capable player. All the credit to him for what he’s done with us and will continue to do with us."