Johnny McEntee's journey from walk-on to starter
Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011 02:12
It's third down, nine yards to go and UConn is down 31-24 against Western Michigan with about five minutes left to play. The Huskies have possession at their own 21-yard line and need a first down to keep the critical drive alive.
Johnny McEntee takes the snap, drops back and searches for an open receiver. He throws a bullet down the middle, but a Western Michigan linebacker gets a hand on it and tips it up. The ball flutters in the air for a few gut-wrenching moments before falling into the hands of UConn receiver Kashif Moore for an 18-yard gain and the critical first down.
A couple of days later, sitting in a dull grey study room at the Burton Family Football complex, the quarterback from California said he got lucky on the play.
"But that's the way the ball bounces," McEntee said. "And sometimes it bounces your way."
The Huskies wound up losing 38-31, but McEntee finished the game with 300 yards passing and a career high four touchdowns in just his second game as the full-time starter.
Not bad for a walk on.
Considering where he began and how much he had to overcome to become UConn's starting quarterback, lucky could describe McEntee himself too. He was not highly recruited out of high school and UConn was the only Division I program that offered him a chance, and they did so as a preferred walk-on. Once on the team, he found himself buried in the depth chart taking snaps with the scout team with seemingly no chance to move up in the ranks.
But then head coach Paul Pasqualoni took over after Randy Edsall left for Maryland, and he opened up the quarterback competition, giving McEntee a realistic chance of becoming the starter for the first time. Over the next few months he battled three scholarship players for the job. In the end, he came out on top.
It's unlikely there's another starting quarterback anywhere in Division I who's had a journey quite like McEntee has. To be sure, his story is still a work in progress. His performance as the starter has been inconsistent, and with several younger quarterbacks waiting in the wings, many fans question whether he should remain the starter.
But for now, McEntee is relishing his opportunity.
"This is the only place that really gave me a chance to play football," McEntee said. "I always had a dream of playing Division I football. I had to go where the opportunity was."
And as he said, sometimes the ball bounces one's way.
Straight Outta Servite
Johnny McEntee grew up in Fullerton, Calif., roughly 3,000 miles away from Storrs, where he attended Servite High School.
"He's a California kid in every sense of the word," said junior wide receiver Nick Williams, who is also McEntee's roommate. "He's not one of those intense, in your face kind of guys, he's just kind of goes with the flow, calls out the play and doesn't really add any ad libs. He's just a regular, calm and relaxed guy in the huddle."
Running back D.J. Shoemate, who was teammates with McEntee at Servite, used similar words to describe him in the huddle, adding that he had a certain vibe about him, both on and off the field, that made people want to follow him.
"Johnny was well liked in high school," Shoemate said. "He had a lot of friends, he had a lot of people that wanted to be around him."
Shoemate said that McEntee had a way of bringing people together and making mundane things like going bowling an event. He also talked about how he and McEntee used to throw toilet paper at houses and trees back in high school, and about how McEntee always used to give himself away because he'd use really nice, quilted paper.
"He couldn't buy the cheap stuff," Shoemate said. "He used to give it away with that."
After graduation, the pair went their separate ways. Shoemate was a highly regarded, four-star prospect who earned a scholarship to USC. However, McEntee was not as popular with scouts as he was with his peers. Since he had no scholarship offers, he wound up looking into Curry College, a small Division III school in Milton, Mass.