December 27, 2012
Mike Golic Jr. has been growing the beard since training camp in August. It has gotten long. It has gotten bushy. You could hide the Notre Dame leprechaun in there. Heck, you could almost hide Golic's old man.
"I'm proud of what the beard has become," Golic said. "It does get a little unruly once in a while, but through proper care and maintenance it can be tamed."
The one thing he can't hide in that beard, though, is the Golic family love for Notre Dame. The one thing he can't hide is the notion that he has squeezed just about everything from the Notre Dame experience that can be squeezed.
Along with Manti Te'o, Golic was named to the Capital One Academic All-America first team. Currently enrolled in the graduate program, Golic earned his degree in film, television and theater last May with a GPA of 3.428.
Golic was one of 22 players named nationally to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, also winning the school's Irish Around the Bend award for community work. He raised funds for St. Baldrick's Foundation for childhood cancer research. He did a long list of good stuff.
Golic is a founding father of the, ahem, exquisitely produced and directed "Trick Shot Monday," which, well, you've got to find them on YouTube to savor their collegial pingpong ball in-a-cup glory. Dude stared down ESPN sportscaster Samantha Steele and lived to tell about it.
After enduring his share of frustrations, Golic even found time in his fifth year to settle in as the starting right guard on a team that will face Alabama Jan. 7 for the BCS national championship.
That's why this ending feels right for Golic. It's scant exaggeration to assert that not only is he the renaissance man on campus, he's looking like a Renaissance man. Dude is rockin' a look that's part Matt Light, part da Vinci and part Zach Galifianakis. If he dropped 150 pounds, he could pose as Touchdown Jesus.
None of this is a surprise to Josh Reese, who was athletic director at Northwest Catholic when Golic attended high school in West Hartford.
"Football never defined him and that impressed me the most," Reese said. "On the field he brought the NWC program unprecedented success. Off the field, he was loved by all and never fell into a particular clique. He took pride in uniting his peers.
"I knew right away Mikey was a natural leader. That's when he was at his best. Leading others as confidently as possible with a joy and laughter you don't see very often."
After seeing limited play at Notre Dame, Golic started the final four games in 2011 when center Braxston Cave sustained a season-ending foot injury against Wake Forest. Yes, he bode his time. He ultimately won a starting job and rode the tide of one of the best sports stories of the year.
"Obviously, it didn't go the way you draw it up when you first get here," Golic said. "Everybody wants to play early and play often. That wasn't the case for me for various reasons. It was a matter of keeping my nose to the grindstone, knowing eventually that hard work will pay off.
"[A Notre Dame national championship] is something none of the guys has seen in our lifetime. This is a tremendously exciting way for me to complete my college career, but at the same time there's a lot of work we have to do here. With the time we have, we have to do more than stay sharp. We have to get better."
Notre Dame's defense is built similar to Bama's, Golic said. Big boys. Big talent. Some similar schemes.
"On the defensive side of the ball, they're a lot like our team," Golic said. "That's why it has been great for us to go against our defense every day in practice. It's a challenge, to see and talk with them about what works blocking and what doesn't work."
Golic has been front row for Te'o's heroics this year.
"He has been a tremendous leader since he stepped on campus. It's inspiring to see a guy so talented be so hungry to improve. He has showed everybody when you think you have arrived, you haven't. You can still get better. He has been the poster child for that."
He has been front row for Brian Kelly.
"We knew coming into it he was a guy who knew how to win. We saw him be so successful before. But in his three years here, each year as we've grown as a team, come together more and more, he has gotten closer and closer to his players. There's such a comfort level now."
He has been front row for Rick Reilly's great penance. Reilly, who set off Golic's dad on "Mike & Mike in the Morning" with a column in August, later tweeted he'd polish all the Irish's helmets if they lost to USC. Final score, Notre Dame 22, USC 13.
"I give him a lot of credit for sticking to his word. He was very apologetic when he came here, which made it more funny. As far I saw, he did a pretty good job. Our equipment guys gave him Helmet Cleaning 101. He got better as he went along."
Golic, too, was front row for the loss to UConn in 2009 that many Notre Dame fans view as the low point of the Charlie Weis years.
"It was senior day for our guys. They are the ones you learn from coming up, guys you look up to. To see them have to hurt like that on senior day is what hurt the most, what always has stuck with me."
Yet most of all he was front row for the Notre Dame experience. His dad and uncles, Bob and Greg, played at Notre Dame. His younger brother Jake is a tight end on the team. Younger sister Sydney is a freshman swimmer at Notre Dame. Yeah, the Golics know plenty about the sign, Play Like A Champion Today.
"Going down that tunnel, slapping that sign and to be able to run out in front of 80,000-plus people for a handful of Saturdays every fall is a rush you really won't get anywhere else," Golic said. "It's something I cherished every time I did it, this year especially."
So now he talks about using his small window of Notre Dame national exposure to do good community works. He talks about how academics were always stressed at the Golic home and how the first person he called when he was named academic All-America was his mom, Chris. And he talks about his dad.
"He always has been the person I idolized," Golic said. "A lot of the reason I started playing football was because I wanted to be like my dad. The love of that game developed through that. And seeing what he has done in sports media, it's kind of what I went to school for.
"Whenever football does end, it's something I'd like to get into. I've always said I know how to talk. I don't know how to do much else."
His five years at Notre Dame would argue to the contrary. Golic did just about it all.
And the beard?
"It will be trimmed down after the game," Golic said, "but it's going to be out in full force on the seventh."
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