Bringing tackling spirit to St. Louis

Andrew Simon

Tim McGarigle tackled everything in sight in his four years at Northwestern.

The NFL is next.

McGarigle, a middle linebacker and the NCAA Division I-A record-holder for career tackles, was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on Sunday.

Sitting at home with his family and flipping back and forth between the draft and movies, McGarigle had to wait through 220 other picks, including 24 linebackers, before his name was called.

“I was a little nervous, but I just knew it would come sooner or later,” McGarigle said. “I was very excited (when I was picked). I knew from the beginning it would be a good fit for me. I’m happy to be a St. Louis Ram.”

It seems odd that a player with more than 11 tackles per game in his career would be passed up by so many teams, but McGarigle suffered from a lack of “natural tools.”

He ran a 4.76-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, while all four linebackers picked in the first round ran under 4.60 seconds. A couple of tenths of a second may not seem like much, but to NFL scouts and general managers, it’s everything.

So how does McGarigle respond to all the doubters and so-called “experts” who say he doesn’t have the natural ability to succeed at the next level?

“I heard the same thing coming out of high school,” McGarigle said. “Only time will tell, but I’m just going to come out with a chip on my shoulder.”

“I wouldn’t bet against Tim,” said Dan Galante, who coached McGarigle during his senior season at Saint Patrick High School in Chicago. “If you give him an opportunity and put him on the field, he’s going to excel. He may not start his first couple of years, but he will become a good player in the NFL because he has a great love for the game. He has intensity and heart, and those are things that are hard to measure.”

What is easy to measure is how much McGarigle stood out while playing on some sub-par defenses at NU. Despite starting only the last five games of the season as a freshman, he still finished third on the squad in tackles.

McGarigle’s tackle total improved each season, culminating with 156 in his senior campaign. In four seasons at NU, he made a record 545 stops, 319 of which were solo.

As a junior, McGarigle earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades. As a senior, he was named as a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is presented to the nation’s top defensive player.

“Relentless,” said Galante when asked to sum up McGarigle’s play in one word. “That’s the word everyone’s used about him at every level. He’s a fierce competitor, and he plays at 110 percent on every play. Everything he does, he does at full speed.”

McGarigle was the only inside linebacker selected by the Rams in the draft, and is currently listed fourth on the team’s depth chart at that position.

At least initially, McGarigle figures to be relegated to a role on special teams, where he will have a chance to impress new Rams’ coach Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

“I just want to contribute as much as I can,” McGarigle said. “I think I’ll fit great with the new coaching staff and the other rookies they brought in.”

Whether he has the raw talent to develop into a starter remains to be seen, but there is little doubt McGarigle will do everything in his power to make it happen.

“Tim was always the first one on the field and in the weight room and the last to leave,” Galante said. “He made sure he did whatever he could to prepare – His work ethic was great, and he was a leader. He led by how he approached the game. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do.”

Reach Andrew Simon at [email protected]