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‘I knew I was going to make it:’ An in-depth look at Mike McGlinchey’s path to becoming 49ers first-round pick

© Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA — As NFL prospects waited to hear their name called in Dallas’ resplendent AT&T Stadium, Mike McGlinchey sat at a family friend’s local pizza joint in Richboro, Pennsylvania, with the same expectation.

This was only fitting. Those closest to McGlinchey describe him as ‘family-oriented,’ leaving little doubt he would celebrate this crowning achievement alongside 100-plus family members and friends who packed Giuseppe’s Pizza & Restaurant, a hometown staple.

The gathering started at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, one hour prior to the draft’s beginning. Nine nearby televisions projected the same draft segment. Chatter filled the room while McGlinchey, sitting in a corner, phone nearby, hardly said a word.

The room collectively quieted as Chicago picked with the No. 8 selection. McGlinchey played for Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand at Notre Dame, and a reunion was possible. McGlinchey’s name wasn’t called.

A couple minutes later, his phone illuminated. All eyes focused on McGlinchey, with no one sure which team was on the other line— either San Francisco picking No. 9 or Oakland picking No. 10.

The giveaway came about 30 seconds later.

“Thank you, Mr. Lynch,” McGlinchey said before putting the phone down.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, it’s San Francisco,’” Mike McGlinchey Sr. said.

McGlinchey soon gave his parents the news, hugged his mom, Janet, and a silent room burst into delirium. About a minute later, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that San Francisco had picked McGlinchey, the former Notre Dame tackle, with the No. 9 overall pick. He strapped a 49ers hat onto his head, and the emotions streamed.

“I think a lot of tears were flowing in the room at that point,” said Ed Foley, McGlinchey’s offensive line coach at William Penn Charter School.

McGlinchey was widely considered the top offensive tackle in the draft. That didn’t ensure he would be selected in the top-10, or even in the top-20. The 49ers had last spoken with McGlinchey at the NFL Combine nearly two months prior, leaving him little reason to believe they would select him with the No. 9 pick.

“It’s absolutely nerve-racking,” McGlinchey said. “Everybody else who goes into their work field gets to choose and pick wherever the hell they are going to work and live, and it’s not the same way in the NFL. But it’s exciting. It’s everything you have ever dreamed for, is to be in an opportunity like I got.”

Thousands of kids dream of making it to the NFL. For McGlinchey, this was always more of a likelihood than a long shot.

“It was either play or bust, and that’s the way I attacked everything I ever did in this game,” McGlinchey said. “I knew I was going to make it.”

McGlinchey, who stands at 6-foot-8, 315 pounds, always had size on his side. He was born at nearly 11 pounds and measured 23 inches.

When he reached kindergarten, he played in a flag football league filled with third, fourth, and fifth-graders. He leapfrogged over the 55-pound league, where kids his age played, and into the 65-to-80-pound program. McGlinchey had little problem adjusting and became a starter on the team.

After the season, the team held a party at McGlinchey’s uncle’s house, where McGlinchey Sr. jokingly predicted his son’s fate with the team’s head coach.

“We will remember you when we get to the NFL,” McGlinchey Sr. said, laughing. “That was the first time I can remember ever saying anything.”

When he reached the third grade, Janet pulled McGlinchey out of football because she didn’t want her eight-year-old son playing against kids nearly twice his age. A couple years later, McGlinchey picked up the sport again, while also playing basketball, baseball, and lacrosse. He grew to become 6-foot-5 in the eighth grade, attracting both football and basketball high school coaches from all over Philadelphia.

He chose Penn Charter, a private school of only 240 boys. It was a 40-minute commute from his childhood home in Warrington, Pennsylvania, but McGlinchey had longstanding ties to the school. His older cousin is Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who played at Penn Charter. McGlinchey had another cousin there, too. And he would earn his education through the Catholic school umbrella in which he grew up under.

As a freshman, McGlinchey started as an offensive tackle and defensive end. Once the season concluded, he switched his focus to basketball, the sport he originally considered playing in college.

Coincidentally, he received his first major college football interest during a high school basketball practice.

A member of the Boston College coaching staff had traveled to Penn Charter to visit one of its junior stars. Penn Charter head football coach Jeff Humble escorted the Boston College representative through the basketball gym, where he stopped after spotting McGlinchey.

“Coach turns to me and literally goes, ‘That’s what an NFL tackle looks like when they are 15,'” Humble said.

Boston College soon offered McGlinchey his first scholarship in his freshman year. He nearly committed, wanting to follow in Ryan’s footsteps, just as he did to Penn Charter.

McGlinchey, the oldest of six siblings, was the latest football star in a lineage full of them. He has seven cousins who played college football. The McGlinchey family extends to about 60 relatives on Janet’s side, all of whom lived within 10 minutes of each other outside Philadelphia.

Each year, the extended family takes a trip to Wildwood Beach in Jersey Shore. Ryan always joins. They regularly play pickup football on the beach.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some bloody noses,” Foley said. “Everything they do, they go hard.”

During ‘offseasons,’ McGlinchey played basketball and track and field, developing skills relating to mobility and footwork that helped him in football. While he grew to 6-foot-8 and blossomed into the No. 12 ranked tackle in the country, he played all over the field. The only position he never played in high school was defensive back.

During his senior year, attrition among the offensive line forced Penn Charter players to play out of position. So, McGlinchey changed his jersey number from 74 to 44, signifying the switch from offensive tackle to tight end and fullback.

“He was awesome,” Foley said. “I just went back and looked at film of him. He was just so athletic for his size…Could I tell you he was going to be a top-10 pick? No. Could I tell you he was probably going to be playing on Sundays? Yes.”

McGlinchey attracted interest from all over the country, whether Maryland, Wisconsin, or Alabama. It came down to Notre Dame and Boston College. He developed a close relationship with Notre Dame’s Hiestand during his junior year, and a visit to Notre Dame affirmed his interest. He committed shortly after he was offered during his junior season.

Under Hiestand’s influence, McGlinchey hit the weight room and worked on refining his blocking techniques upon arriving at Notre Dame. He didn’t play his freshman year, instead absorbing all he could from future NFL linemen Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley, who were teammates of McGlinchey’s. He played during his sophomore year, mainly on special teams, before starting at right tackle late in the season.

Prior to his junior year, he was named a team captain. He started all 13 games at right tackle and became a key cog on an offensive line that finished as a finalist for the Joe Moore Award, given annually to the best offensive line unit in college football.

During his senior year, McGlinchey moved over to left tackle alongside guard Quenton Nelson, who was picked No. 6 overall in last month’s draft. McGlinchey was named a consensus NCAA All-American in 2018, as Notre Dame won the Joe Moore Award. The two-time Notre Dame captain ended his career with 39 straight starts, despite suffering a broken hand against USC his senior year.

John Lynch admits he first noticed Nelson upon watching Notre Dame tape, like most scouts. But the 49ers general manager quickly spotted McGlinchey, who finished blocks with authority and moved with finesse despite his size.

The 49ers’ interest augmented after they met McGlinchey at the NFL Combine. He scored a 37 on the Wonderlic, tied for the highest score out of all prospects in the 2018 class. Lynch and Kyle Shanahan interviewed 60 players for about 15 minutes apiece. McGlinchey was one of two players who blew them away.

“He was a guy that came in and just kind of owned the room, and everyone felt it,” Lynch said.

The 49ers brass kept quiet about their interest in McGlinchey, whom they viewed as the top tackle in the draft. They had decided they would select the Notre Dame product with the No. 9 pick if he was still there, regardless of the other available prospects.

They got their wish. The pick initially came as a surprise to many, as it seemed McGlinchey would have to compete with returning starting right tackle Trent Brown. But the morning after the draft, the 49ers traded Brown to the Patriots, paving the way for McGlinchey as Brown’s successor. The Notre Dame product will learn under six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, whose contract expires after the 2019 season.

“God didn’t create a bunch of great offensive tackles out there,” Lynch said. “They are limited. We think we found a guy who has an opportunity to be that, and when you combine his skill on the field, you know, we talk a lot about guys who represent what it takes to win games, to win championships.”

McGlinchey’s high school coaches describe him with the same praise as his newfound professional coaches. Nasty, agile, physically imposing, and ‘badass’ as a football player. Hardworking, humble, intelligent, and family-oriented as a person.

“He is just one of those All-American kids you never worry about,” Foley said.

“He is very grounded,” Humble said. “He knows where he came from, knowing what his parents sacrificed to get him to be where he is at. And really, he is a morally, ethically-grounded kid.”

McGlinchey frequently returns to Philadelphia to speak with middle school and high school football programs. When he is finished with his football career, he says he wants to coach high school football back home.

So, it should be no surprise McGlinchey chose to include those who have helped him and shaped him in celebrating his next journey, the life he always envisioned: an NFL career.

“The No. 9 pick in the draft,” McGlinchey Sr. said. “Incredible. To be so happy and overjoyed, the dream has now finally come true. It’s unbelievable.”

Brad Almquist is KNBR’s 49ers beat writer. Follow him on Twitter @Bquist13.


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