As part of service class in high school, Dan McCarthy volunteered at nursing homes and inner-city schools and, occasionally, at a food bank on the lower South Side.
Now, the fifth-year senior safety on the Notre Dame football team sees the other side of the spectrum and he’s hungry for a perfect regular season.
The Irish (11-0) could run the table when they meet Southern California on Saturday nigth at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“It’s just amazing,” said McCarthy, a 2008 Cardinal Mooney High graduate. “This season has been spectacular. We were in a lot of close ones, but came out on top. It’s a great group of guys and it’s a lot of fun.”
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound McCarthy made one tackle in last week’s 38-0 win over Wake Forest and played his usual special teams roles as he approaches the end of a college career that has had a feast-or-famine script.
“The coaches have done a phenomenal job,” the 23-year-old McCarthy said of his third-year coach Brian Kelly and staff. “Everyone’s bought into the system and is playing at a high level and it’s definitely been a good ride so far. But most important is to win the next game. We’ve got to keep it rolling.”
Notre Dame won a close game two years ago at the Coliseum.
“We had an interception to top off the win,” McCarthy said of a play that preserved Notre Dame’s lead and decided the outcome.
McCarthy had shoulder surgery and didn’t make that trip in 2010, but he played in USC’s win in 2011 when the Trojans came to South Bend, Ind.
“So we have some revenge this year,” McCarthy said.
Out of high school, McCarthy was one of 24 in what he said was the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Now five remain.
McCarthy was recruited by Charlie Weis. Kelly took over in 2010 and the players embraced the change.
“It’s been a tight-knit group, so everyone [the Weis recruits] stayed together through the whole process,” McCarthy said. “We listened to our leaders and there was a little adjustment period, but everyone got through it stronger and it’s paying off. We had no problem syncing with the younger guys who came in under Brian. It’s worked out well.”
Following a neck injury in high school in 2007, McCarthy was red-shirted his first year at Notre Dame.
He graduated in May with a degree in finance and is now taking graduate courses at the university.
“I’m just focusing on the moment,” McCarthy said. “We’ll see how things go, but we’re looking forward to squaring off with USC.”
Brother Kyle McCarthy, who graduated from Notre Dame and was signed by the Denver Broncos as a free agent in 2010, is now with the Kansas City Chiefs, albeit rehabbing from a knee injury.
Kyle McCarthy played five years under Weis.
“I think everyone who’s a part of the Notre Dame family is excited about what has happened and excited about what is to come,” said Kyle McCarthy.
“It’s more special for those seniors who have seen it all — from where they came from to where they are now,” he said of the coaching transition and won-loss record turnaround. “They went through a couple tough years, but they played together. Now it’s come full circle.
“Notre Dame is held to a high standard, so they’re back to where they should be. They’re the only school in the BCS era that’s not only No. 1 on the field, but No. 1 in graduation rate. That’s something we’re proud of.”
The Irish were top-ranked 19 years ago (in 1993) but haven’t won a national championship since 1988.