NEXT GENERATION: TYRIQUE McGHEE
FORT VALLEY, Ga. – Tyrique McGhee let his mama decorate his bedroom in the dorm suite he shares with fellow Georgia freshmen Michail Carter and Tyler Clark. That has resulted in more than a little ribbing from teammates and coaches alike.
In the middle of the bed there is a bright, red pillow that Jacqueline McGhee had custom made by a close friend in the Houston County school system in which she works. On it, she had a message stitched. It reads:
“CALL YOUR MOM.”
“Daily,” Jacqueline McGhee adds for emphasis, laughing. “That’s the pillow that’s on his bed at Georgia. He said, ‘Mom, don’t decorate my room too girly!’ But I had to put my own little touch in there. He took a picture and it was on his Twitter page, so Coach Smart got a copy and Coach Schumann as well. Everyone got a big kick out of it.”
While that pillow has been the source of quite a bit of teasing for Tyrique McGhee, the message comes from his mother’s heart. And, all kidding aside, it is meant to be abided by.
Jacqueline McGhee is a counselor at Northside Middle School in Warner Robins, a former teacher and the mother of three children. Her husband and Tyrique’s father is Tracy McGhee, is a U.S. Army veteran who now works as a civilian aircraft mechanic at Robins Air Force Base.
Once one learns their family story, it becomes very understandable why Mom wants to keep close tabs on her still-17-year-old middle child.
Now a month into living away from home for the first time in his life, Tyrique (pronounced ty-REEK) has been pretty good so far about heeding his mother’s hand-sewn advice. But they both know that the daily interactions will continually dissipate over the coming weeks, months and years.
After all, McGhee was recruited out of talent-rich Peach County to give the Bulldogs some help in the defensive backfield. Much like fellow signee Mecole Hardman, Tyrique McGhee is an extremely versatile and fleet-footed athlete who spent most of his time in high school making plays on the offensive side of the football. Now he’s being groomed at Georgia to transfer those skills to defense.
“It’s a big move,” McGhee said during an extensive interview at Peach County High before departing for UGA. “It’s not even just the football part. It’s about being on your own now. Now you have to fend for yourself. So there’s a little bit of excitement, a little bit of nervousness.”
Why he’s a mama’s boy
If you suspect that Jacqueline McGhee is a little protective of her son, you might be right. It is with good reason that she is.
One must harken back to March 21, 2004, to truly understand. In the McGhee household, that date, to borrow some famous words, is a day that will live in infamy.
Jacqueline McGhee was back home nearby in Macon County to bury her father, Sammy Green, who had died from heart failure a few days earlier. Later that evening, after attending his son’s funeral, Jacqueline’s grandfather, Walter Green of Fort Lauderdale, died suddenly of a heart attack.
And in between, Tyrique, still then a wee tyke of 6 years old, was having a really bad day back home in Byron. The school called to tell his mother that her little boy had been rushed to the hospital.
“So I lost my father and my father’s father on the same day,” Jacqueline said. “During that same day, the school is calling. They say Tyrique was having seizures and they transported him by ambulance to the Macon PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) at the Children’s Hospital. I was beside myself.”
A battery of tests and examinations by neurosurgeons determined that Tyrique had a cyst on the right side of his brain and that was what was causing the grand mal seizures. Dr. Earl Troup, a pediatric neurosurgeon, told the parents they had two options: They could either do surgery to see if they could remove the cyst, which came with considerable risks, or they could try to treat it with medication.
A staunch Christian family, the McGhees gathered together to fast and to pray.
“We chose to medicate,” Mrs. McGhee said. “So he was taking medications from that point on.”
Or, at least through middle school.
Doctors advised that Tyrique should be able to continue to play sports, including football. Even at that point in his life, he had already distinguished himself as special in that regard. In fact, Jacqueline recalls her son being identified as a star-in-the-making his very first year of playing football. As a 6-year-old, he led his first Little League team to a championship with a dominating performance in the “Super Bowl.”
“The P.A. announcer actually said, ‘Chad Campbell (referring to the Peach County High head coach), you’ve got something special coming in No. 1, Tyrique McGhee,” Mrs. McGhee says with a chuckle.
That’s not to say Tyrique’s sporting life simply continued on as usual. No, there were numerous precautions taken along the way. He had multiple tests and sleep studies done every year
In fact, once McGhee entered middle school, his doctors had his head wired to an electroencephalogram (EEG) so he they could monitor his brain activity while he went through preseason practices for two straight days. The reaction of middle school children seeing this skinny kid running around with wires stuck all over his head was to be expected.
Most importantly, though, Tyrique passed the tests.
“He had a lot of accommodations,” his mother said. “We just prayed and we watched. A lot of the coaches were leery at first. They wanted more clearance; they wanted more paperwork. They’d say, ‘Are you sure he can play ball?’ But Dr. Troup told them to allow him to do what he enjoys doing. He could die in a car wreck.”
Georgia has, of course, been apprised of McGhee’s medical history and he has been cleared by the Bulldogs, Mrs. McGhee said. Tyrique came off the medication in middle school. He has not had a seizure in nearly a decade.
“I’ll tell you, it was a rollercoaster ride,” Jacqueline McGhee says with exasperation. “We would have never gotten through it without our faith.”
Doing it all for Peach
Through it all, Tyrique McGhee’s athletic trajectory continued on a decidedly upward arc. By the time he reached eighth grade, his final year of middle school, he was already being invited over to Peach County High School to participate with the varsity team in the Trojans’ Monday practices.
And sure enough, in his first game with the varsity, McGhee caught a pass for a long, touchdown. Campbell knew right away he had himself a special player.
Before it was over, McGhee would end up doing almost everything for Peach County High during his high school career. At different times he played quarterback and defensive back and wide receiver. Sometimes he did all three. And for a long time he tried to play both ways for the Trojans before Campbell finally had to put an end to it this past season.
“I tried, but it was hard, man,” McGhee said of going full time both ways. “The first couple of games I did it successfully. But as the season went on it started wearing on my body and stuff. It wasn’t just the physical part, it was the game-planning part, too. We had two corners that could hold their own, so there wasn’t any use in me trying to be Superman.”
He started off looking like he had super powers. In the opening game of his senior season against powerful rival Warner Robins, McGhee scored his first touchdown on a 54-yard run as a quarterback, then had to turn around on defense and cover talented receiver Marquez Holloway.
McGhee also returned kicks in that late-August game, but finally had to leave late in the fourth quarter due to cramping and hamstring issues. The Trojans lost 44-34 but McGhee had a huge game.
“We tried to play him both ways but mentally it was just too much while trying to play quarterback, too,” Campbell said. “Toward the end of the year we let him play wide receiver and corner and he still didn’t play every down. He actually didn’t play DB a lot.”
That’s similar to the scenario encountered by Hardman, a fellow freshman from Elberton with whom McGhee has become very close. Hardman was recruited nationwide as a cornerback, but it was actually as a quarterback that he did most of his good work at Elbert County High. Same for McGhee as a junior and into his senior year.
Injuries actually reared their head several times in McGhee’s career. Between hamstring pulls, a broken foot, torn thumb ligaments and cramping, it was everything Campbell could do to keep McGhee on the field, much less play him both ways. But that’s why Campbell believes McGhee will flourish playing one side of the ball for the Bulldogs.
“This is the way I’ll put it: If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a really, really good player. He’s what you’re looking for in a corner. He’s explosive. He has quick-twitch, he plays the ball well in the air, he’s got what you’re looking for, he’s a good tackler, he’s a physical kid. If he can hold up and be healthy he’ll be great.”
Unlike Hardman, McGhee didn’t earn national acclaim as an elite recruit. In fact, McGhee comes to Georgia as only a 3-star-rated prospect. But there are reasons for that.
McGhee, like most Peach County players, was not one to make camps and high-profile recruit showcases a priority. In fact, he attended only a couple during high school.
It was at one of those that McGhee was discovered by then UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
“I was at a camp in Cochran (the Mike Hodges QB Camp),” McGhee said. “Coach Pruitt’s son (Jayse Pruitt) was there camping as a quarterback and I was a quarterback. Coach Pruitt saw me being athletic and him and Coach Campbell got to talking and he told Coach Campbell he wanted me to come up and visit in camp. I went up there (to Georgia) a couple of days later and got an offer.”
That put McGhee on everybody’s radar and quickly brought matching offers from Auburn, Clemson, Kentucky and South Carolina. But it didn’t bring dozens of schools from all over the country beating on the McGhee’s door like they did with Hardman.
McGhee quietly accepted the Bulldogs’ offer — which he considered a dream come true — and went back to his business in and around Fort Valley and Byron. That included team workouts and working an offseason job.
Rather than attend camps all over creation his last summer at home, McGhee chose to workout with his teammates and prepare for the coming season. And whenever he did choose to participate in some kind of showcase, he’d always get back to his team as quickly as he could.
He once accompanied a Fundamentally Sound Sports 7-on-7 team to a big tournament in Bradenton, Fla. With the event finished and the entire family in tow, the plan was to stay an extra day and just relax at the beach.
“Tyrique was having none of that,” his father Tracy said. “He felt that Coach Campbell and his team needed him at voluntary summer workouts that Monday. So we loaded up that Sunday and drove back to Byron.”
Tyrique also worked jobs to earn money when and where he could. He spent some time last summer swapping out skates and replacing lightbulbs in the ceiling at Olympia Skating Center in Warner Robins. He also briefly considered joining the speed-racing team there, before he was advised against it.
Besides, McGhee was told all that camp stuff was overrated.
“I’m not a big camp guy,” said Campbell, who has been at Peach for 24 years, the last 10 as head coach. “First of all, our kids here don’t have transportation. Last year, we had four kids out of 80 who drove their own cars. Tyrique’s one of them. Our kids don’t have affluent backgrounds, so it’s up to us. I can’t spread our coaches too thin, and my booster club can’t afford to send every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to go to camp. So it’s hard for our kids to go to all these places.
“I’m like this: I’m a big believer in being a good football player, and that’s why I believe in Tyrique.”
McGhee’s athletic ability comes to him naturally. He is a third cousin and close friends with Macon County’s Roquan Smith, a rising sophomore linebacker for the Bulldogs. His second cousin on his father’s size is former Florida and NFL wide receiver Jacquez Green. But Jacqueline McGhee said her son’s athletic gifts come from her as she was a star sprinter herself at Macon County High School.
But for the McGhees, it never has been about the dogged pursuit of a college athletic scholarship, especially with the way their journey with Tyrique began. Their family values are based in hard work, faith and education. This football thing has always been fun and exciting, but it’s not where they place most of their energy.
Tyrique’s sister Jiquetta is a rising junior at Kennesaw State majoring in civil engineering. Younger brother Tysun, an eighth grader, likes music and plays tuba in the marching band. And Tyrique is a self-professed “history nerd” who plans to get a degree in that discipline at Georgia.
And that’s just fine with the folks.
“This was not a goal for us,” Jaqueline McGhee says of her son landing a full ride on a football grant-in-aid. “Are we blessed? Yes. Are we happy about it? Absolutely. But our hope was to have happy, healthy children who are productive members of society.”
And, of course, children who call their mom. Daily.
Next Generation is a series of profiles on the individuals who signed with the Georgia Bulldogs this past February and have joined the team this summer. This is the last story in the series.
THE NEXT GENERATION SERIES
- To the kids at Elbert Primary, ‘ME-cole’ is beloved
- How Tyler Simmons became ‘The Helicopter Kid’
- There’s more to Charlie Woerner than meets the eye
- Georgia’s new punter born for this role
- Javon Wims’ journey to UGA is one for the books.
- Dogs’ biggest player swims against the tide
- Big brother serves as catalyst for Catalina coming to UGA
- Family losses only motivated David Marshall
- Elijah Holyfield brings a champion spirit to UGA
- A father’s tough love put Michail Carter on the road to success
- Tyler Clark puts his storied town back in the spotlight
- Chauncey Manac: An American success story