Johnny McEntee's journey from walk-on to starter
Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011 02:12
From walk-on QB to starting QB
When the 2011 spring practices began, four quarterbacks sought the starting job: McEntee, sophomore Michael Box, redshirt freshman Scott McCummings and freshman Michael Nebrich. In August, Box fell out of the running and started taking snaps with the scout team, and ultimately he transferred to Division II Indiana University in Pennsylvania.
The remaining three kept battling, but when the season began, none of them had been given the job. McEntee started each game, but was rotated out for McCummings and Nebrich regularly. But on Sept. 24 at Buffalo, McEntee completed 12 of 21 passes with two touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 17-3 win. After the game, the coaching staff announced that he would be the starter for good.
According to quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead, there wasn't any one moment where the coaches looked at each other and said "Yep, he's our guy." Rather, the decision to name McEntee the starter was a culmination of factors that all came together around the time of the Buffalo game.
"As it progressed we felt that based on our pro-style system that Johnny was the best combination of pocket-passer with accuracy," Moorhead said. "We evaluate every practice, and obviously the games played a huge part in that process as well, and it was a decision that was based off of both of those things."
Moorhead said that after Frazer graduated, the decision was made to explore every option available to find the right person for the new offensive system. As a result, McEntee started off at the same level as his three scholarship competitors, and from there the battled took off.
"It seemed like nobody could really separate themselves all spring, and even in the summer, it just kind of kept dragging on," McEntee said. "It seemed like the harder we each tried to separate ourselves, the more mistakes we kept making, but eventually it kind of worked itself out."
McEntee said that he thinks the fact that he is older and more experienced than his younger counterparts helped give him the edge. Both Moorhead and Williams said McEntee's biggest advantage wasn't his experience, but the fact that he was the best drop-back quarterback, which is essential in the type of pro style offense Pasqualoni runs.
Williams said that the coaching change helped McEntee's cause as well.
"Under Edsall he was buried in the depth chart. He was the walk-on quarterback who was taking reps with the scout team," Williams said. "[Pasqualoni] came in and they opened up the competition, and that gave him even ground. Whereas before, if the old staff was still here, he'd still be thought of as the walk-on quarterback who takes reps with the scout team [and] who has never really had the pressure of handling the mental side of actually being quarterback and going through the week and all the preparation."
Williams said that it's tough for a walk-on player to move up in the ranks because the program isn't as invested in them financially. The thinking is that "why would we go with him when we've invested more in this guy?" he said.
"When you think of his story and how he became the starter, it's pretty impressive," Williams said. "It's not very often you'll see a walk-on quarterback being the starter in a high-level program."
"You reap what you sow and Johnny's worked hard, his shot came and he took advantage and he's a success story," Shoemate said. "He's a Cinderella man. It's a great story. He's worked his butt off so I don't take anything away from him."
McEntee finished the season 5-7 as the starter with 2,110 yards passing, 12 touchdown passes and eight interceptions in 12 games. His best games came against Western Michigan, Buffalo and Rutgers, when he helped lead UConn to a decisive 40-22 win. His worst; the Syracuse game, in which he threw two interceptions, was sacked three times and missed receivers enough times to be booed by the crowd.
After the game, people speculated that McCummings should get the nod going forward. McCummings' playing time did increase, and even Nebrich began to see some game action in the season finale against Cincinnati. With highly touted recruit Casey Cochran coming in next year, McEntee's status as the starter is not guarenteed.