Malik McGue has Steve Spurrier’s jersey to wear and Reed Hayes’ shoes to fill.
McGue, Science Hill’s junior quarterback, will follow Hayes in wearing Spurrier’s recently unretired No. 11 one year after Hayes put together arguably the most impressive season ever by a Hilltoppers quarterback.
“I just hope I can come out here and be as good as Steve Spurrier and Reed,” McGue said.
The 5-foot-7, 160-pound McGue doesn’t possess Hayes’ strong arm but is considerably quicker than the athletic Hayes. In fact, McGue could be the area’s premier athlete.
“He’s outstanding,” said Science Hill coach Stacy Carter, whose Hilltoppers are a popular pick to win the Big Seven Conference. “I mean, I think he’s the best player around, for sure. He can just do so much.”
Indeed, McGue will play some at receiver when Tucker McPherson’s in the game. He’ll also continue to start in the secondary and return kicks and punts.
“That’s really what every player wants to do,” McGue said. “They want to be on the field the whole time. … I’m just glad he’s giving me the opportunity to let me do these things. I love kick returning. I love making exciting plays. So it’ll be fun to see what I can do.”
McGue was Science Hill’s leading receiver and scored 12 touchdowns last season, including a 41-yard TD reception in a last-minute playoff loss at Oak Ridge. He also started as a freshman, a season that included him returning a kickoff 92 yards for a TD and catching a 59-yard pass for another in a victory at Daniel Boone.
His most exciting play in 2012 might’ve been an 86-yard return against Greeneville. A penalty flag that nullified the entertaining juke-filled journey almost seemed irrelevant.
“He took it, like, 90 yards and, oh my gosh,” Hilltoppers linebacker/running back Gad Nagba said smilingly. “Sometimes it’s just crazy watching him do what he can do. He’s a little slippery sucker. It’s hard to get a hold of him. I’ll give him that. He does some stuff that I can’t even think of.”
McGue also impressed while getting open against Dobyns-Bennett’s Malik Foreman for a 10-yard touchdown on a fourth-down play that gave Science Hill a 27-19 lead with 12 seconds left in the first half.
“He returned a kick in a scrimmage the other day,” Carter said. “I mean, he’s just a phenomenal player. … You all know what kind of player he is, and … we can showcase him a lot of ways. We’ve got him moving around, but he is the starting quarterback.”
McGue has worked frequently with receivers this summer, and has developed some favored targets.
“I like Malik Stephens. I like the way he plays. He runs crisp routes,” McGue said. “And Mikey White is really tall and athletic. He is one of those guys kind of like Tre’ Fields from last year. You just throw it up to him and he’ll go up and get it. And Elijah Mathes plays more like I did. He’s more of the quick guy. He runs the five-yard outs and makes a big play out of them.”
The threat of McGue scrambling will help receivers get open, and McGue’s confident he can hit an open target.
“My arm’s gotten a lot stronger and I’ve gotten a lot stronger in the weight room,” he said. “My accuracy is getting there, too. My freshman year I couldn’t even throw a spiral. It was ridiculous.”
McGue likes the way McPherson throws the ball. McPherson hadn’t played football for a couple of seasons, and his return should help utilize McGue’s versatility.
“He’s been throwing the ball really well,” McGue said. “I thought he was gonna come in here kind of nervous, but he’s come in here and took charge.”
McPherson’s emergence could help provide a wrinkle or two for the Hilltoppers’ playbook — and opposing coaches’ faces.
“The offense we run with Coach Carter — I get to run the offense and then I get a lot of athletes around me,” McGue said. “It’s gonna be fun.”
Science Hill’s Hayes-led offense was entertaining in 2012. Hayes has tutored McGue some since last season.
“I’ve watched film with him and stuff like that,” McGue said. “He’s kind of helped me on how to read defenses and basically telling me to take what the defense gives me. We’re gonna run the same offense. It’s gonna be the same type of stuff. “I mean, you’re not gonna see me scramble around and launch it 40 yards … because I don’t have the arm that he has. He put up outstanding numbers last year. I hope to put up some close to that.”