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December 25, 2012

A legacy earned

Mike Golic, Jr., has his father’s gift of gab.

Ask him a question and he can roll on for long periods of time, talking the football jargon and diplomatically singing the company line, particularly as the Irish prepare for the biggest game of their lives.

Golic has fit in at Notre Dame in other ways as well. A 16-game starter at center (four games) and right guard (12), the 6-foot-3, 300-pounder earned his way into the starting lineup in 2012 after serving as Braxston Cave’s understudy in the final five games of the ’11 season.

“It was very important for Mike to have a good senior year, and he decided that he was going to work extra hard and fight and win a position, and he did that,” said first-year Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“He is dedicated and sunk everything he had into it and came out as a starter. He had to beat out red-shirt freshmen to do it and he did that, so that’s a testament to Mike. He’s been around here a long time and hasn’t had a lot of opportunities. But he took advantage of an opportunity, went out and won a position, and goes out and battles for us every week.”

There were those who claimed the only reason Golic landed a scholarship offer from Notre Dame was because of his father - Mike, Sr. - who played defensive end for the Irish with distinction in the early ‘80s, as did uncle Bob a few years before at linebacker and middle guard. (A third Golic brother, Greg, played offensive tackle for the Irish in the early ‘80s.)

Charlie Weis - a Notre Dame graduate himself - certainly favored sprinkling his Irish roster with Notre Dame legacies, which played a role in his recruitment of Mike, Jr. But while lacking overall strength and not playing against some of the nation’s best prep competition, Golic, Jr., was a technician who took following in his father’s footsteps to Notre Dame seriously. He had fundamental skills and a solid knowledge base with which to work.

But after three seasons at Notre Dame, Golic barely had sniffed the field, and eight games into his senior season in 2011, he was a backup to Braxston Cave at center with nary a chance of making a significant contribution.

Then Cave went down with a foot injury at Wake Forest, and now Golic was expected to step in and help continue Notre Dame’s march to post-season play. The performance was hit and miss at times, and Golic’s future as a fifth-year senior in ’12 was not a certainty.

“There are times when you get down,” Golic admitted. “But I’ve had a tremendous group of people around me. My family, my close friends here and back home who were able to keep me positive and remind me that the hard work was going to pay off. Staying ready is the most important thing in the position I was in last year.”

The voice of reason echoing through his head belonged to his father.

“Just stay after it,” said Golic the younger of his father’s persistent message. “All you can control is what’s on your end right now. You can’t force anything else to happen. You’re not going to be able to make people do what they’re not going to do. You have to stay sharp and stay ready.”

If Golic’s fifth year wasn’t etched in stone, neither was winning a battle against talented youngsters such as Christian Lombard (a red-shirt sophomore who eventually settled in at right tackle), and red-shirt freshmen Nick Martin and Conor Hanratty. But Golic held off the charge, and when he is the subject of an interview session today, he’s asked about how he’s going to block Alabama’s ferocious defensive line in the national championship game.

“They’re a talented and a well-coached group, and we can’t give them anything,” said Golic of Alabama’s front, led by nose guard Jesse Williams. “It’s a challenge enough to block players at this level. This is the best of the best there is, so if you give them any little bit, they’re going to take advantage of it because they’re already playing at a high level.

“Like Coach Hiestand said, if our eyes are in the right place and our footwork is right, our targets are correct so we don’t give them that extra bit of wiggle room.”

Golic believes the Irish offensive line benefits from playing against another top-rated defensive line in practice every day.

“They roll a lot of guys through on that defensive front, and they have a lot of big, solid bodies, just like our defense,” Golic said. “That’s such a huge advantage for us right now, to be able to practice against the No. 1 scoring defense in our country. Big, strong talented guys that play very similarly to the guys at Alabama.”

There is a surreal feel to Notre Dame’s preparation for a national title game after a 19-year gap since truly competing for the big prize and a 24-year lapse since the last national championship claimed by the Irish.

But Golic’s background - both as the son/nephew of former Irish players and a legacy trying to carve his own niche - have him well prepared for the biggest game of his life.

“I was a backup last year at a couple of positions inside and if I wasn’t ready when my number was called, then I’d be letting everyone else down as well as myself,” Golic said. “Staying ready and being accountable to what I was responsible for in my role on the team was (my dad’s) message to me.”

He’s his father’s son, all right, playing for all the marbles come Jan. 7.

 

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