McGough, other local athletes get NFL shots

The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone, and one athlete from The Laker/Lutz News Coverage area had the privilege of hearing his name called during the three-day event from April 26 to April 28 — Gaither High School product Alex McGough.

McGough was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round (220th overall) as a quarterback out of Florida International University.

Florida International University/Gaither High quarterback Alex McGough was selected in the seventh round (220th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 NFL Draft. (File)

A four-year starter, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound McGough cemented his legacy as FIU’s most decorated passer, completing 807-1335 passes (60.4 percent completion rate) for 9,091 yards, 65 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. He also rushed for 535 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Last season, he guided FIU to an 8-5 record — the program’s third-ever winning season and first since 2011 — a mark achieved in Butch Davis’ first season as FIU head coach.

“I couldn’t be happier for Alex,” Davis said, in a released statement on McGough’s draft selection. “His passion, leadership and performance last year was incredible. He played a huge role in our team’s success, and he has absolutely earned this opportunity to play in the NFL.”

In a post-draft media conference call, McGough said he’s “beyond grateful” to get chosen by the Seahawks, adding he’s “ready to get to work.”

Said McGough, “I wanted to come into the draft just kind of open-minded, and obviously, whatever happened, happened…The only thing I could control was the work I put in. I’m very happy with what I put in, and Seattle saw that and they took me.”

Though he didn’t earn an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in March, many NFL draft analysts viewed McGough as a late-round sleeper, spotlighting his physical tools, poise, and red zone accuracy, while also spotlighting his limitations.

An ESPN.com draft analysis characterized McGough as “a good athlete with a good frame, though his hands (9 1/8 inches) are on the smaller side. His 30:19 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past two seasons isn’t ideal.”

Seattle brought McGough in for a private workout a few weeks prior to last month’s draft. During his visit McGough said he developed a connection with quarterbacks’ coach Dave Canales and came away overall impressed with the organization.

“It’s an organization full of great people, and they want to win bad,” McGough said.

McGough was one of 13 quarterback prospects taken in this year’s draft and the

first by the Seahawks since Russell Wilson was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft.

Besides Wilson, Seattle’s starting quarterback and a four-time Pro Bowler, the roster includes two other quarterbacks — seven-year veteran Austin Davis and second-year player Stephen Morris.

McGough likely will have to beat out one of those backups in training camp and preseason to solidity a roster spot.

“I’m a competitor that wants to win and I’ll do everything to win,” McGough said. “I just want to play football and succeed.”

Though he’s facing a relative uphill battle, McGough is no stranger to perseverance, nor proving doubters wrong.

He most recently underwent a full recovery from a broken left collarbone he suffered in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in December.

And, despite a noteworthy high school career — amassing more than 5,100 career passing yards and 52 touchdown passes in four varsity seasons — McGough was rather under-looked. He earned just two football scholarship offers (FIU and Colgate University, in upstate New York). He went on to achieve instant success at FIU, setting numerous school passing records and then becoming the program’s eighth player to be drafted in its 14-year football history.

Meanwhile, McGough joins rare company as just the fifth player from a Hillsborough County high school to be drafted as a quarterback in the last 50 years. The others are Robinson’s John Reaves (1972), Leto’s Gary Huff (’73), Chamberlain’s Dean May (’84) and Plant’s Aaron Murray (2014). (McGough transferred from Wesley Chapel High School to Gaither following his freshman year.)

Besides McGough, a handful of other athletes with ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area have been given shots with various NFL teams, signing as either priority undrafted free agents or invited tryout players.

Each will have an opportunity to stick with their respective teams at rookie mini-camps, which run from May 11 through May 14.

Here’s a closer look at the others:

Janarion Grant, receiver — Baltimore Ravens (mini-camp tryout invitation)
College: Rutgers University (Piscataway, New Jersey)
High School: Pasco High School; graduated in 2013

(File)

When healthy, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound receiver was one of the most electrifying offensive playmakers in college football, chiefly in the return game. But, Grant struggled to stay on the field of late, playing in a combined 11 games the last two seasons, dealing with an ankle injury and other nagging ailments. Despite limited action in 2016 and 2017, Grant

became Rutgers’ all-time kickoff return-yardage leader (2,857 yards) and tied for the NCAA record for combined kick return touchdowns (eight). That skill on special teams perhaps gives him a leg up on other tryout players the Ravens signed.

Before college, Grant left a lasting legacy at Pasco High School, where he was a four-year starter and still holds the county record for most career touchdowns (77) by a skill player. He was also a two-time All-State selection.

Also notable, Grant is the grandnephew of Lacoochee native Jim “Mudcat” Grant, a 14-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, who, in 1965 became the first black pitcher to win 20 games in a season in the American League and the first black pitcher to win a World Series game for the American League.

Trey Johnson, defensive back—Pittsburgh Steelers (priority undrafted free agent)
College: Villanova University (Villanova, Pennsylvania)
High School: Steinbrenner High School; graduated in 2013

(Courtesy of Villanova University Athletics)

A standout defensive back at a small school in the FCS ranks — 45 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception and 13 pass break-ups in 2017 — Johnson further landed on NFL scouts’ radars after showcasing elite athleticism at Villanova’s Pro Day in late March. At the sanctioned workout, the 5-foot-11, 177-pound Johnson touched 36 inches in the vertical jump, reached 10-foot-8 in the broad jump and posted a sizzling 4.37-second 40-yard dash.

Johnson becomes the first Steinbrenner High graduate to sign an NFL contract. There, Johnson earned four varsity letters in football, as well as three in basketball and two in track. He was also inducted into the National Honor Society.

Jacob Pugh, linebacker — Seattle Seahawks (priority undrafted free agent)
College: Florida State University
Schools: Godby High School (Tallahassee); Jefferson County High School (Monticello, Florida); Pasco Middle School (Dade City native)

(Courtesy of Florida State University Athletics)

A decorated high school player and highly-touted blue chip prospect who won state championships at two different north Florida programs, the Dade City native never seemed to fully blossom at Florida State, where he posted a combined 108 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two interceptions across four seasons.

Solid numbers, sure, but a bit anticlimactic considering Pugh was named an Under Armour High School All-American and widely viewed as one of the nation’s top five linebacker prospects in the 2014 recruiting class.

Blessed with length, agility and athleticism in a sturdy 6-foot-4, 246-pound frame, Pugh has moldable traits to stick on an NFL roster.

Pugh attended Pasco Middle School before his family moved to the Panhandle, where he began, and ended, his prep career.

His ties to east Pasco run deep. His uncles, Darren and Troy Hambrick, led Pasco High to the county’s only state championship (1992) before spending five years each in the NFL. He’s also related to Pasco High alums Janarion Grant (Rutgers) and Josh Johnson, a former NFL who now plays in the Canadian Football League. Pugh is also cousins with fellow Auburn wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers, a Dade City native who attended Tampa Catholic, where he was one of the most prized football recruits to come out of the Tampa Bay area in years.

Shaheed Salmon, linebacker—Tampa Bay Buccaneers (mini-camp tryout invitation)
College: Samford University (Homewood, Alabama)
High School: Land O’ Lakes High School; graduated in 2014

(File)

The 6-foot-2, 232-pound outside linebacker solidified himself as one of the most dominant tacklers in the FCS ranks the last two seasons, racking up a combined 202 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks in 2016 and 2017. Though an undrafted player from a lower-level division of college football, a path to the NFL isn’t out of the question for Salmon, as more than 150 FCS players made NFL active rosters in 2017.

At Land O’ Lakes, Salmon was a four-year starter and an All-State selection as a senior. He also competed in basketball and track.

Published May 9, 2018

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