Nov. 4, 1999
by Ken Kleppel
Windows of opportunity open and close quite frequently.
Today, opportunities abound for Notre Dame senior Mike Gandy and the 6-4, 292-pound right offensive guard will not allow his own personal window to shut.
At least not after all the effort put forth to open it.
“I think what I learned most from Notre Dame and what I’ll carry with me is the hard work that it takes to succeed in school and in football,” says Gandy.
Teammate and fellow senior offensive lineman Robb Mowl provides proof that Gandy’s transition entails more than just a switch in positions that he has encountered during his Irish career.
“Mike has shown most progress through his maturity level,” Mowl says. “It is hard to tell if you don’t know him. He has made a strong to football and school and it definitely shows. Everyone looks up to him. He leads by example, but also is vocal if he has to. With all that he has been through, I’ve honestly learned from Mike to never get discouraged.”
Gandy’s ability to withstand pressure from a blitzing defensive front parallels his ability to withstand the combined rigors of Notre Dame athletics and academics.
In preparation for a 1997 contest with Pittsburgh, Gandy broke a bone just above his ankle and needed season-ending surgery to repair the injury.
“Being out of football showed me how much I could miss playing and my teammates,” says Gandy. “I learned to appreciate football and school and realized how, in a second, it is all gone.”
After excelling in baseball, basketball and soccer as a youngster, Gandy decided to try organized football for the first time in his sophomore year of high school at Garland High School in Garland, Texas.
“I played basically because my friends were playing,” says Gandy. “I’ve always liked the Dallas Cowboys, but I had never been a big rah-rah type football fan.”
Recruited to Notre Dame as a tight end, Gandy did not play as a freshman and, after a brief stint on the defensive line in the spring of 1997, Gandy found a permanent home on the offensive line.
“I wasn’t a great receiver in high school,” Gandy says. “I figured somewhere down the line I would be moved to the line. I expected it to happen way in the back of my mind.”
Perhaps he was able to foresee his success in the trenches as well.
Gandy served as the top reserve at the strong offensive guard position throughout the first nine games of his junior campaign in 1998, earning significant playing time every third offensive series.
Following an injury to starting offensive guard Jerry Wisne, now a member of the Chicago Bears Gandy started the home finale against LSU, and twice more against USC and Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
“From a team standpoint, my best moment on the field last year was the Boston College victory,” says Gandy, who always seems to be the first lineman participating in endzone celebrations. “From my own standpoint, the LSU game was amazing to start.”
Gandy also had the unusual chance to briefly display his raw athleticism against Baylor last season, lining up as a blocking back in the elephant backfield formation for a goal-line situation.
“That was pretty fun,” smiles a modest Gandy. “I’ll never forget it.”
Considering all of his experience, Gandy is a veteran anchor on an Irish offensive line laden with youth and potential.
Yet freshman offensive lineman Sean Milligan believes Gandy’s influence extends well beyond any veteran label.
“He was real quiet, always serious and no joking around,” says Milligan on his first impression of Gandy. “Yet, I learned that is just his football demeanor – the game is like his job. Off the field he is easy going, but on the field he is a competitor. He stays after practice all the time to make sure things are done right. He’s been there before and knows how to get things done. That’s how I want to model myself – to be a hard-nosed competitor like Mike.”
Gandy certainly understands the challenge of freshman year.
“As a freshman, you need friends immediately,” says Gandy. “The older players talk to the freshmen and let them know that if there are any problems, we are all there for them.”
Such an attitude encourages second-year offensive line coach Dave Borbely.
“Mike is a very good athlete, has a lot of ability and he has really grown up into a mature player,” Borbely says. “The biggest difference between this year and last year is he is physically stronger and mentally matured. He takes on the responsibility and the leadership capacity that goes along with the territory of being a senior. He has been real good with our younger players in turns of trying to help them.”
The 1999 campaign has proven extremely rewarding for Gandy. Starting each of the six contests, Gandy has nearly matching his total minutes player from last year of 136:11.
“We grade the lineman game to game,” Borbely says. “He’s scored in the high seventies which is considered a winning performance for our lineman. He’s becoming a real solid player.”
However, Gandy sees room for improvement.
“I don’t play as well as I think I can play,” Gandy says. “I feel I can always do something better.”
Borbely offers another perspective: “Last year we thought he had a chance to be a starter, but as a football player he couldn’t make it happen. This season he is trying to grasp the opportunity to become the player he thinks he can become and that we think he can become. He is not a complete player or finished product yet by any sense and I think he knows that. We have just scratched the surface with him and he can be as good as he wants to be.”
“The older I’ve become, the more responsibilities I have received,” says Gandy. “I appreciate these opportunities.”