McCarthy is Notre Dame's safety valve

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
12:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Linebacker Kyle McCarthy, left, has an interception in each of Notre Dame's first three games.

Kyle McCarthy gave a simple, cliched explanation for how he came up with last week's game saving -- and possibly season-saving -- interception at Notre Dame's 4-yard line with 57 seconds left against Michigan State.

"I was just in the right spot at the right time, I guess," he said.

The problem with that answer is that it gives the impression that McCarthy was somehow fortunate to be in that position. Do it once, and maybe that's true. Keep doing it, as the fifth-year senior has, and it means something else entirely.

"Kyle has really done this going on two years for us," head coach Charlie Weis said. "He always seems to make a big play."

McCarthy has grabbed an interception in each of Notre Dame's first three games and is one of only 16 players nationally to have at least three picks. He has interceptions in four straight regular-season games dating back to last year.

"Being a fifth-year guy, I have seen a whole bunch of offenses, and I recognize some things that have happened in the past, and I think it's paying off for me," he said.

The story of how McCarthy got to Notre Dame -- now that's a case of being in the right spot at the right time.

He seemed like a natural fit for the Irish from the beginning, and not just because of that last name. His grandfather, Jack Mayo, was the captain of the 1947 Notre Dame baseball team and went on to play for the "Whiz Kids" Phillies team that made the World Series. His older brother, Brian, graduated from Notre Dame in 2006 and is now in law school. Younger brother Dan is a sophomore reserve safety for the Irish.

The basement of the McCarthy family's home in Youngstown, Ohio, is full of Irish gear. When the four boys and their dad, John, would take to the yard for their annual turkey bowl Thanksgiving game, they'd first all touch the "Play Like A Champion Today" flag that John had nailed to the door.

But Kyle was a quarterback in high school and didn't get much attention from Notre Dame when Ty Willingham was the head coach. He was planning on going to Navy to be the quarterback there. His recruitment picked up when he had an Ohio record 93-yard interception return in the 2004 state championship game, and a neighbor who had been an Irish graduate assistant urged new coach Weis to give McCarthy another look that winter.

McCarthy, who was also being recruited by Ohio State, committed to the Irish after being hosted by Brady Quinn and Tom Zbikowski on his visit.

"Once Notre Dame came on, I knew where he was going," John McCarthy said.

Kyle had a hard time getting on the field his first three years, sitting behind Zbikowski, Chinedum Ndukwe and David Bruton, all of whom are now in the NFL. When he finally got a chance last year, he seized it. He led the team with 110 tackles, becoming the first Notre Dame defensive back ever to eclipse 100 stops. He has a team-high 27 tackles this year.

McCarthy might not turn a lot of heads just by walking on the field with his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame. But Weis said all the NFL scouts that come through South Bend ask about him, because they've seen on film how he's always in position to make plays.

"He's turned into one of the most consistent tacklers in the secondary since I've been here," Weis said. "He still contends he could have been a good option quarterback here if allowed to be."

McCarthy, though, is clearly in the right spot at the right time right now for Notre Dame.

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