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.