Alex McGough doesn’t mind being a local celebrity.
Not just in his hometown of Tampa — specifically the Lutz and Central Pasco areas — but also in Birmingham, Alabama, where he’s the starting quarterback for the United States Football League’s Stallions.
“Alabama really loves their football and they’re not lying when they say it,” the former Gaither High football star said. “They support us and it’s great, and it’s fun to get recognized in town at the store or in a restaurant, be asked for a selfie. That’s nice, but I’m just really happy playing football again on a consistent basis.”
McGough was selected with the sixth pick of the first round of the 2022 USFL Draft by the Stallions, however, he suffered an ankle injury in the team’s first game on April 16, 2022. The Stallions went 9-1 that season and made it to the championship game vs. the Philadelphia Stars. McGough came into the game for the injured J’Mar Smith and went 7-for-10 passing for 77 yards and a touchdown, helping the Stallions earn their first USFL championship with a 33-30 win.
“Last season was an interesting roller coaster of things that led to that (performance in the championship game),” McGough said. “I just went into that game preparing like I always do and, unfortunately, I hate that he had to come out due to injury, but I just went out there and played like I always do and I was just happy we fought the way we did.
“It was pretty unbelievable how it all happened and the emotions of it didn’t hit me until the next day.”
It’s been a long journey for McGough, who started his high school football career at Wesley Chapel High before transferring to Gaither prior to his sophomore year. As a Cowboy, McGough passed for 1,727 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior, then another 1,258 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior year in 2013 before signing with Florida International University (FIU).
“Yeah, of course, I think about those days, but I also think 10 years — it kind of just puts in perspective how fast it can go when you’re not paying attention,” McGough said.
While at FIU, McGough had a record-breaking career starting as a true freshman, throwing for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns and earning a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. As a sophomore, he set single-season records in pass attempts (420), completions (269), yards (2,722) and touchdowns (21).
Injuries limited his playing time as a junior, but he still threw for 1,891 yards and 13 touchdowns, and when his college career was over, he had a school-record 9,091 passing yards and 65 touchdowns in 45 games.
Then it was time for the National Football League.
The Seattle Seahawks took McGough in the seventh round (220 overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft, becoming the first quarterback drafted by that team since they selected Russell Wilson in 2012.
Unfortunately, though, McGough didn’t see any real NFL action, instead bouncing around on practice squads with the Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans.
He got a second stint with Seattle and even started a preseason game, but never got to play meaningful professional games until he was with the Stallions.
“I am happy I chose to stick with (football),” he said. “I mean, the goal is to get back to the NFL, but, again, I’m just loving being able to play regularly again.”
Not only is McGough playing regularly, he’s now one of the best USFL quarterbacks, leading the league with 16 passing touchdowns and is second in passing yards, with 1,822 yards.
With a record of 7-2 — which is first place in the South Division over the Memphis Showboats, New Orleans Breakers and Houston Gamblers, respectively — McGough and the Stallions are eyeing back-to-back USFL championships.
“Coach (Skip Holtz) really puts an emphasis on each week and comes in with the 0-0 (record) mindset,” McGough said. “We’re not to worry about the playoffs, but that we be better than the next team and handle each week like we should — and the chips will fall where they may.”
This year’s playoffs begin on June 24, with the championship game set for July 1.
As McGough continues the season, he still fondly remembers his “glory days” as a local football star — and celebrity.
“That’s why they call it glory days, right?” McGough said. “The goal was always to make it to the NFL and play at the highest level, but it’s hard to say I haven’t thought about that, but I don’t ever really think about it all the time or in the moment — I’m just trying to win games, like I always have either back home or at FIU or here in Birmingham.
“But (playing here in Birmingham) is going great and I’m really enjoying it.”
United States Football League (USFL)
Details: A professional American football minor league that began play on April 16, 2022. As of 2023, the league operates eight teams in four cities, seven of which are east of the Mississippi River. All eight teams bear the brands of teams from a previous incarnation of the United States Football League that operated from 1983 to 1985. The current USFL champions are the Birmingham Stallions, who won the league’s championship game against the Philadelphia Stars on July 3, 2022, 33-30.
For more information on the USFL, visit TheUSFL.com.
Published June 14, 2023