Mike McGlinchey OPC ’13 spent the fourth weekend of July the way all the best summer weekends are spent, on the beach in North Wildwood.
There, surrounded by friends and family, including sister Mary Jane OPC ’17 and brothers Frank OPC ’15 and Matthew Class of 2020, the sprawling clan (cousin Matt Ryan OPC ’03 couldn’t make it) played in the surf and had fun. Everyone on the beach knows the family, and the Eagles fans among them have made allowances for the red Atlanta Falcons jerseys the McGlincheys sometimes wear in support of Falcons’ quarterback Ryan.
This weekend, though, there was another shade of red jersey, this one belonging to the San Francisco 49ers. Two days later, it was time for McGlinchey to fly out to California to begin his first NFL training camp, penciled in as the 49ers’ starting right tackle.
The Niners expect big things of McGlinchey. They drafted the Notre Dame standout with the ninth pick in the 2018 draft and rewarded him with a four-year, $18.3 million contract. So far, it is paying off. Through early October, he was the top-rated rookie offensive lineman, according to the website Pro Football Focus.
Though he has seen the NFL close-up, thanks to Ryan, McGlinchey was clear-eyed about how his first professional camp might differ from high school or college. “I think it’s gonna be a lot of football, maybe just a little bit more intense.”
The best nicknames are the ones that are most apt. McGlinchey has always been Big Mike. For a guy who is 6 feet 8 inches and 312 lbs., it fits. Big Mike is big. Really big—and always has been. He weighed 11 lbs. and was 23 inches long at birth and began playing flag football against fifth graders when he was only in kindergarten. By eighth grade, he was already 6 feet 5 inches.
When McGlinchey was first approached about attending Penn Charter for ninth grade, it wasn’t clear whether he would focus on football or basketball. Indeed, he was in no hurry to specialize, even in football; eventually, he played every position except defensive back.
To his credit,” then-football coach Jeff Humble said, “he was such a team-oriented kid that he was always like, ‘OK, coach, whatever you need me to do.’”
Opposing coaches didn’t know how to handle him. Humble relayed a story told to him by the Germantown Academy coach, whose team had lost to PC for four straight years. If we can keep McGlinchey from tackling our fullback and quarterback at the same time, the coach said, we can run the option on you guys all day.
“Lo and behold,” Humble said, “Michael would tackle their fullback and their quarterback at the same time, and it totally destroyed their offensive game plan.”
When football season was over, though, McGlinchey also played basketball and even tried lacrosse before track coach Stephen A. Bonnie OPC ’66 persuaded him to switch to track. As a senior, McGlinchey won the state championship in the shot put.
Still, it was obvious where his athletic career would take him. When McGlinchey was only a ninth grader, Humble said, a coach from Boston College visited PC to scout another student. Catching a glimpse of McGlinchey at basketball practice, he stopped in his tracks. “That’s what an NFL lineman looks like when he’s 15,” the coach said.
In the classroom, history teacher John Burkhart OPC ’72 recalled McGlinchey as a “meticulous writer, with good Catholic-school penmanship,” but also competitive to do his best.
“He is the kind of guy, when it’s time to play and have some fun, he’s all in. But when it’s time to work, the switch goes on,” Burkhart said.
For his Senior Comprehensive Project, McGlinchey decided to help teach that lesson to the fourth grade.
Fourth grade teacher Beckie Miller Hon. 1689 said that the fourth graders that year were having trouble in recess, squabbling over whose turn it was or what games to play. McGlinchey volunteered to help them learn how to play better and still have fun. He showed them how to organize their games and to make sure everyone got a chance.
“The teachers were thrilled,” Miller said, “but that paled compared to the kids’ excitement, because he was Big Mike. He was literally twice their size.” When he returned to PC during college breaks, McGlinchey made a point of seeking out those kids.
McGlinchey chose Notre Dame over Boston College, which Ryan and his uncle, John Loughery OPC ’78, had attended. He was a two-time captain for the Fighting Irish and a first-team All-American. Last April, McGlinchey passed up the chance to attend the NFL draft in person, choosing instead to celebrate at Giuseppe’s Restaurant in Richboro, surrounded by the people who knew him best.
“You only get a very small number of tickets to the green room [at the draft], and my family is not small,” he reasoned. “So I was not going anywhere that I couldn’t celebrate with my whole family.”
After a quick stop at PC in July to see old teachers and sign a few footballs, McGlinchey flew off to start his new job. He used some of his signing bonus to buy a house in San Jose and had his other big purchase, a Chevy Suburban, shipped to California. Nothing too fancy.
“I’m a pretty simple guy,” he explained. “I take care of what I need to take care of.”
This season, Big Mike will stand out on his own. Family guy though he is, he is ready to do that.
“It’s kind of been, ‘Mike McGlinchey, comma, Matt Ryan’s first cousin,’ ever since I was in high school,” he told a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer last March, adding, “I’m kind of thankful for that.” But from now on, playgrounds in Philadelphia will see a new shade of red amid that sea of Eagles green—and so will the beaches in South Jersey.
“We now have two teams to root for,” McGlinchey said. “Unless I play the Birds, everybody in Wildwood is going to be rooting for me, too.”