San Francisco 49ers

Big guy, strong roots: Why the 49ers zeroed in on Mike McGlinchey

September 10, 2016: Notre Dame players Drue Tranquill (23), Mike McGlinchey (68), and cornerback Jesse Bongiovi (34) sing the Alma Mater after NCAA football game action between the Nevada Wolfpack and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Nevada 39-10.
September 10, 2016: Notre Dame players Drue Tranquill (23), Mike McGlinchey (68), and cornerback Jesse Bongiovi (34) sing the Alma Mater after NCAA football game action between the Nevada Wolfpack and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Nevada 39-10.

Two items Mike McGlinchey's parents made sure they had before heading off to one of their son's youth basketball games: A water bottle and his birth certificate.

"Because people always questioned whether he belonged on the team or not," his mother, Janet, said.

You see, the McGlincheys' oldest child stood out among peers the way a tiger would in a room full of house cats. He was big out of the cradle, was called "Big Mike" while he was still a grade schooler and didn't stop growing until he went off to college.

His parents wouldn't let him play football at age eight, for example, because their town's weight-based league would have put him on the same field as eighth and ninth graders. "So that year he ended up playing soccer, which he hated dreadfully," Janet said.

Every six months mother and son had to go shopping because Mike had grown out of his shoes. Well, at least until he entered high school when Janet started ordering shoes online since the ones they sell in stores weren't big enough. Mike's topped out at size 17.

During warm-ups at youth-league games outside of Philadelphia, parents of the opposing players would look at McGlinchey and shout: "Yo, did No. 44 drive the bus here?" McGlinchey was 9 years old at the time, not just the youngest kid on the team but the youngest in the league.

All of which begins to explain why the 49ers used the ninth overall pick on the offensive tackle from Notre Dame. Sure, his size played a role. They love that someone who stands 6-8 and has massive 10-inch hands will be battling in the trenches and protecting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But there's also a maturity and steadiness about McGlinchey that drew the 49ers.

One draft publication said he acts "like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company." Before the draft, analyst Mike Mayock rated McGlinchey as his top tackle because his work ethic and passion for the game were "unparalleled." "So I know what I'm getting with that kid," Mayock said. "And that's why I bang the table for him."

Said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan a few hours after the 49ers selected McGlinchey: "To me what separates Mike from everyone else is the person you're getting."

No holding back

How did McGlinchey get that way? Parents and adults expect more from big kids because they instinctively think they're older than they are. They play with older children because they're so much larger than their peers and they aspire to be like their playmates.

When Mike was in kindergarten, he was on a team with third and fourth graders, prompting his coach to note that while some of his players were learning advanced multiplication and division in school, one of his players didn't know how to read or write.

"Even as a toddler he was always playing with 4- or 5-year-olds because he was so much bigger," Janet said. "So I think he always gravitated to that mature level faster than most kids his age. His size sort of forced him to act more mature when he was still a young kid."

McGlinchey also is the oldest of six children and is among the oldest of what Janet described as a the "second wave of cousins." There are 22 of them on her side of the family, the vast majority rough-and-tumble boys who sharpened Mike's sense of competition.

Her brother, John Loughery, was a quarterback at Boston College when Doug Flutie arrived there. She has nephews who played at Sacred Heart, Brown, Elon, Temple, and one, Matt Ryan, who was the third overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.

The boys played basketball, lacrosse and plenty of other sports. But in their family, football is king.

The cousins played it on the beach at the Jersey shore in the summers. Janet said the family used to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia every year. To the chagrin of her and her sisters, however, that tradition was bumped aside by a late-morning turkey-bowl game in the park. A football game even broke out following -- immediately following -- their grandmother's wake. The boys were still in their suits.

"I think that's how she would have wanted it," Mike told the Chicago Tribune in 2015.

"We always joked that our basements should have had rubber floors and rubber walls," Janet said. "We've had many dings in the wall that my husband has had to re-spackle or re-dry wall. Whether it was somebody being shoved or the sofa went through or a lacrosse ball going through or anything like that. When they played together they played hard. There was no holding back. They just competed with one another all the time."

No mere brute

Some of the cousins, including Ryan, are as tall as 6-4. Mike was the biggest of the bunch, but he was no mere brute.

He was the center on his high school basketball team who was, as you would expect, an excellent rebounder, but who also had a smooth jump shot and was reliable from the free-throw line.

In football, he had soft hands like a tight end, served as the team's longsnapper and even could throw. One of his youth-league coaches suspected at the time that if McGlinchey were to play in college it would be as a quarterback. After all, he was tall and could throw the ball 60 yards when he was 12.

Another youth-league coach, Dave Armstrong, remembers watching McGlinchey when he was the only fourth grader on a team that had kids as old as 13. On one play, McGlinchey was lined up as nose tackle. When the center tried to undercut him, McGlinchey deftly leaped into the air, hurdled the blocker and came crashing down on both the quarterback and running back.

"He destroyed the whole thing," Armstrong said. "I coached many great kids over the last 30 years. But when I saw that, I had to get on the phone and call my son. I said, 'Wow! What I just saw this kid do was unbelievable!'"

McGlinchey had an invitation to attend the draft in Dallas. He declined. After all, the NFL wouldn't have allowed him to bring the 150 family and friends with whom he wanted to celebrate the occasion. Instead, they rented out a space at Giusseppe's, an Italian restaurant outside of Philadelphia.

After receiving a phone call from 49ers general manager John Lynch, McGlinchey got up and gave long hugs to his mom, dad and girlfriend. After that, it was a party until a car arrived at 5 a.m. to take him to the airport and his first trip to Santa Clara.

"I’ve got a huge, crazy family with a lot of people that are a lot of fun and very loud and very exciting," he said. "But it’s something I’ve worked for and my family has helped me work for 20-something years now. It was a huge moment for us."

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