S Kyle McCarthy making big plays for No. 25 Irish
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)Kyle McCarthy has gone from dependable to indispensable for Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound safety and team captain is leading the Fighting Irish in tackles with 59 and is third in the nation with five interceptions. Not bad for a guy who worked his way up from a player whose biggest contribution as a freshman was being quarterback for the scout team before the Navy game.
McCarthy not only has become the steadiest player on a shaky defense, but he has consistently made big plays for the 25th-ranked Irish (5-2).
Against Michigan State, McCarthy sealed the victory with an interception at the 4-yard line with 57 seconds left. He hit Washington receiver D'Andre Goodwin so hard at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-19 on the final play in overtime that he jarred the ball loose, knocked Goodwin's helmet off and ended the game. Last week against Boston College he had two second-half interceptions.
"He's made game-changing plays, seal-the-victory type of plays," coach Charlie Weis said. "You can't give him enough credit for that."
McCarthy is moving from strong safety to free safety against Washington State (1-6) this week as Notre Dame tries to stabilize a secondary that keeps giving up big passing plays.
Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said McCarthy's intelligence and anticipation are key.
"He's very aware of what's going on. He's almost in their huddle a lot of times," he said.
McCarthy is an even-keeled player. He didn't get upset after he was flooded with phone calls from friends asking what happened after an ESPN announcer incorrectly blamed him for a blown coverage that led to a Purdue touchdown earlier this season.
"We're a team, and I'm the leader of the defense, so obviously I take full responsibility for that play," he said. "Getting called out on national TV, it's not really cool, but I guess it comes with playing football at Notre Dame."
McCarthy graduated with a degree in finance last spring. He's taking graduate classes in environmental crisis, human anthropology and piano. Asked about his piano playing, McCarthy replied: "I have no previous expertise in the area. However, not that I need help, but I feel the female population might like that out of me."
McCarthy is more likely to be playing in the NFL than a recital hall. Weis said McCarthy is always one of the first players pro scouts ask about.
"How many tackles do you see the guy miss? He's always making a play. You can't put a value on that," Weis said.
Weis said it's gratifying to see McCarthy doing so well because he works so hard.
McCarthy, whose grandfather, Jack Mayo, was captain of the 1947 Irish baseball team, grew up dreaming of playing for the Irish, saying he was "brainwashed" early growing up in Youngstown, Ohio.
"Just being an Irish Catholic kid, last name McCarthy, I didn't really have a chance," he said.
He attended his first Notre Dame game as a 7-year-old in 1994, a heartbreaking loss when Michigan won on a 42-yard field goal with 2 seconds left. As a high school senior, McCarthy wasn't offered a scholarship by Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham. After Willingham was fired, Weis gave McCarthy a chance.
He played mostly special teams as a sophomore. As a junior, he started getting on the field as a backup, even starting against Navy. As a full-time starter last season, he finished with 110 tackles, a record for an Irish defensive back.
"He's a perfect example of really what college football used to be," Weis said. "You come in, you pay your dues, and you just keep on working your butt off and then eventually you get your opportunity to get on the field and you make the most of it."
McCarthy takes pride in that.
"I just took it one day at a time. I didn't try to think too far ahead. I just tried to take it a practice at a time, work hard in the weight room and the classroom. I had to work for everything I've got here," he said. "I feel like I did it the right way."