Golic father and son

Ten players, ten reasons: Mike Golic Jr.

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The eighth in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond, TJ Jones, Prince Shembo, Theo Riddick, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Tommy Rees.

The business of being a Notre Dame legacy is a tricky bit. At a school where family ties often stretch out over generations, the pressure that comes along with carrying the family name — especially on the football field — often brings added responsibility.

That’s certainly the case for a player like Mike Golic Jr., an Irish legacy more visible that just about any other, thanks to his All-American uncle and his namesake father, one of the most popular ESPN personalities in the country — and a staunch Irish supporter.

But for much of Golic’s career at Notre Dame, the fifth-year guard was buried on the depth chart, not necessarily a product of a loaded offensive line, but the fact that the 6-foot-3, 300-pound was just shorthanded physically. And whether it was fair or not, the fact that neither Golic nor his brother Jake had seen much of the field had many fans wondering whether the brothers received scholarships because of their football ability or their famous surname. It’s a burden and a pressure not just on the Golic brothers, but fellow legacies Conor Hanratty and TJ Jones.

“I think there’s a little bit more just because everybody talks about, why is that kid there?” offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said today. “Is he there because he’s a good player or because he’s the son of a former great Notre Dame player?”

Before last season, you could have made a pretty persuasive argument that that while the last name was noteworthy, it was also taking up two valuable scholarships. Still buried on the depth chart along the line, Golic’s biggest hit hadn’t come on the football field, but in a YouTube video that went semi-viral, where he and teammate Brandon Newman sang Toto’s Africa.

“Brandon and I weren’t playing a ton. Football’s a big part of our lives, so you have to have something to blow off a little steam every once in a while,” Golic told The Observer last year about the video. “Being FTT majors, we’ve made it a little goal on the side to become a YouTube sensation.”

Good thing for Golic he didn’t pin all his hopes on his singing career. The reserve lineman, who many worried would be exposed if he saw the field in his younger years, ended up being thrown into emergency duty in 2011 when center Braxston Cave suffered a season-ending injury. Tasked with shutting down Wake Forest’s Nikita Whitlock, one of the most disruptive linemen in the ACC, a funny thing happened along the way. Golic played pretty well.

While the veteran offensive lineman was sometimes overpowered down the stretch last season, Brian Kelly and the offensive staff were impressed with Golic the technician. He may have lacked the strength to match-up with a team like Florida State, but Golic played assignment correct football, was a great leader both on and off the field, and supplied key depth along the interior of the offensive line, a position group that saw a steep drop off behind a group of veteran contributors. The 2011 season may have ended with a whimper, but the Irish found Golic to be a a guy worthy of a fifth year and a chance at a starting job, something thought long impossible.

Tasked with capitalizing on his final year as a college football player, Golic knew what he needed to do. And to his credit, he’s done that.

“Physical strength has improved the most. He’s got a stronger lower body, that was something that needed to be addressed,” Kelly said about Golic Jr. “The other thing was he got an opportunity. He got an opportunity last year when Cave got hurt. That gave him the chance to be the starter in spring and he held on.

“When he handled the strength issue and got an opportunity, then all of his strengths came to the top. And you know what his strengths are, the kid is sharp. He’s very, very smart. He does not miss an assignment so the mental end is great, he comes to work every day prepared and ready to go.”

You might not confuse Golic for fellow guard Chris Watt, but after a relatively slow start this season, Golic and Christian Lombard have played consistent football on the right side of the offensive line, making the run game a little less left-handed and keeping defenses honest in short yardage situations.

After four long years, Mike Golic is spending his final year at Notre Dame starting along an offensive line that anchors one of the strongest run games in recent history. While progeny of Irish greats like Duerson and Montana never stood much of a chance to step into the large shoes their fathers left them, Golic — after working his way into position — has done his family proud.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.