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Mike Golic Jr. grows into family’s role at Notre Dame

(MCT) — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There is a meal before breakfast. Mike Golic Jr. either discovered this or created it.

Some days around 6:45 a.m., he would wake up, concoct a big, calorie-laden shake and guzzle it down. This way, he could wait an hour, maybe 11/2 hours, and then cook an actual meal.

The weight of being a Golic at Notre Dame never has been the problem. Weight, period, has been the issue. Eight hours of sleep was tantamount to fasting for a lineman cursed with a high metabolism. Sheer power was a problem, too, after a middling high school strength program left Golic to do the heavy lifting after he arrived on campus.

Which is all a way to say this: Mike Golic Jr. has started 16 consecutive games for a team playing for the national championship Monday not because he’s a name brand. The right guard was anything but, his gains in bulk and brawn and on the depth chart painstaking at every step, compelling him to question whether it ever would happen until it did.

“He has had to prove himself over and over again,” said Irish tight end Jake Golic, Mike’s younger brother. “He never gave up on it. No matter who was in front of him, he didn’t let it stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He worked his ass off to get out there, and it finally worked out for him this year.”

The contention that everything came smooth and gilded at Notre Dame for the brothers Golic thanks to Uncle Bob with the national title and the former Irish captain/father with the national radio show has its wires crossed a bit. At the moment he found stride at Notre Dame, Jake Golic broke an arm, had back surgery, broke the same arm again, then suffered a concussion.

Mike Golic Jr. tracked a path arduous in its own right. So the brothers who have shared a room forever spent more than one night at Notre Dame talking through the same concerns: Did we make the right decision? What are we doing wrong? What can we do to get on the field?

“At times, it certainly got mentally tough, for Mike to put the time in and then not get on the field and not get the payoff,” said Mike Golic Sr., the former Irish/NFL defensive tackle who now is a co-host of the “Mike and Mike in the Morning” ESPN radio show.

“But you just keep going to practice, you just keep going to the weight room, and you just keep doing it. It was never an option not to. We certainly had our talks. Physically, you can get your body to do that. Mentally it’s tough.”

If there was an advantage to family ties, it was that everyone knew what Mike Jr. was going through while sitting as a freshman, playing a total of seven minutes his second year and then all of 25 snaps his third season before starting four games at center for the injured Braxston Cave in 2011.

“(It was) just kind of refocusing on what you can control,” he said, when asked about the conversations with his brother.

“Sometimes feeling like everything was against you — (it was) just remembering that you can’t control any of that stuff, you can control how hard you work and how hard you come back from it. It was just stressing those points to each other, that this isn’t permanent, this is something temporary, and you know you have what it takes to work through it.”

What remains profoundly amusing to the elder Golic — that his sons, of all people, can’t keep on weight — was no laughing matter. So Mike Jr. sneaked in shakes between meals. Or discovered new and inventive ways to add calories to those meals.

When the Golics returned home, their mother, Christine, made half a dozen full sandwiches and stuffed them into the fridge. For snacking.

“She was like a line cook when they came home,” Golic Sr. said.

Or as Cave said of his friend: “For a period of time, I don’t think I ever saw him not eating.”

Still, it took the season-ending foot injury to Cave at Wake Forest in 2011 to mark the beginning for Golic Jr. He took over at center, then slid into the right guard vacancy for 2012 and hasn’t relinquished it. It helped that, during the preseason, Golic hit the 300-pound mark and stayed there, as well.

“Sometimes you can be good enough to play and you don’t get an opportunity,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He had so many snaps under him that it was going to be hard to unseat him (this season).

“When he handled the strength issue and he got the opportunity then all his (other) strengths came to the top. The kid is sharp, he’s very, very smart. He does not miss an assignment. The mental end is great. So once he got the strength and opportunity, all of the things he had now get a chance to show themselves.”

On a long-ago recruiting visit to Florida for Mike Jr., with Jake tagging along, their father made it clear: Take whatever trips you want, talk to who you want, but make sure you’re comfortable wherever you go.

The brothers shook their heads. They said they understood. Then they both chose Notre Dame. And their father never said another word about it.

“They’re smart kids,” he said. “They knew what was going to come of that. It was all just natural how they handled it.”

Mike Jr. calls it a blessing. He says following his uncle and father at Notre Dame opened doors and provided opportunities. (The starring role alongside Samantha Steele in ESPN’s “College GameDay” vignette about the Irish’s “Trick Shot Monday” tradition comes to mind.)

“Being able to talk to guys who have been through the things I’m going through right now, and have been to the places that we all want to go, it’s such a tremendous resource,” Mike Jr. said.

His sense of humor, even in the face of criticism as the Irish line’s perceived weak link, hasn’t waned. He began growing a beard in preseason and hasn’t trimmed it. He deadpanned that guys are supportive before adding: “I haven’t met a girl yet who has liked it.”

“You can listen to every Joe Schmo on Twitter who says you’re not good enough,” Jake Golic said. “The people on those social media sites don’t have much to say anymore.”

Now he can go where his very famous father couldn’t. Mike Sr. is both terrified and tantalized at this prospect. Terrified because it will be another championship lorded over him forever, as his older brother Bob’s 1977 title already is.

Tantalized because with a championship his son has a chance to make an unforgettable name of his own.

“Who should be terrified is his audience, if that happens,” Mike Jr. said. “Because he will be unbearable.”

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