COLUMBUS — The three quarterbacks currently competing to start for Ohio State football this fall gained their competitive edge at a young age. Here is Kyle McCord’s origin story.
Darryl Jackson could not help but notice Kyle McCord.
The coach of the Pennsauken Youth Athletic Activities juniors football program was not alone. McCord played for the Fleetwood Indians, a rival team in the South Jersey Elite Youth Football League. Even as a fifth-grader, McCord looked like a star in the making.
“At that young age, to see a young man play with such poise and confidence, it was something to see,” Jackson said. “That’s what caught everyone’s attention. He was known throughout the league because of that.”
Derek McCord could not help but notice Darryl Jackson. Or rather, that Pennsauken team Jackson coached in their common league.
A former Rutgers quarterback, Derek McCord already had an inkling he might be raising a future major college quarterback. When he watched Pennsauken — including two wins over Fleetwood in his son’s fifth-grade year — he saw a different kind of athlete, another dimension of speed, and a talent level that would push his son to develop.
Beginning with McCord’s sixth-grade season, father and son drove 25 minutes each way every day a few townships over for football practice. That first season, Kyle shared the quarterback job with another player. He was out of his comfort zone at first, adjusting to new teammates from new backgrounds.
He was also laying the foundation for a rise to one of the best quarterback prospects in the country and, maybe, the next starter at Ohio State.
“His competitiveness and willingness to be in an uncomfortable position at a young age for the betterment of himself was something we saw early on,” Derek McCord said.
Kyle McCord did not switch teams to play more. Initially he played less. Pennsauken already had a quarterback, though one with a run-first skill set.
Jackson installed packages for each quarterback and played both. Through that timeshare, Jackson learned about the non-physical skills McCord would keep developing into his high school years. How quickly he could learn and retain Jackson’s spread offense and “very big” playbook. How unselfish he was and able to accept his role on a highly talented team.
The team switch also forced McCord to adapt in other areas as well. He moved from a predominately white team to one largely comprised of blacks and Hispanics, according to Jackson. McCord also exceeded the weight limit for the sixth grade program, so his teammates — and competitors — were all a grade or two older.
“It was more something where Kyle was going to show, ‘I belong here. I’ll show you I can do what’s asked of me,’ ” Jackson said. “Playing with the older kids he did just that.
“I was blessed to have a group of kids who wouldn’t say younger guys shouldn’t be in there. He jelled with them and worked well running our offense and made us better, so it was easy for him to fit right in.”
That decision to switch youth league teams informed the one the McCords made a few years later. Kyle could have attended his local public school and maybe been assured of a big role right away. Instead, he enrolled in private school power St. Joseph’s Prep.
That football program has produced, among others, Super Bowl quarterback Rich Gannon, current Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski. Derek McCord had coached there in the early 2000s and believed it could be the incubator his son needed.
A returning starter blocked McCord’s varsity opportunity as a freshman. As a sophomore, he had to compete against C.J. Duell, now playing at FCS program Central Connecticut State.
“He had to earn his spot,” Derek McCord said. “If I kept him in town and sent him to the local high school he probably wouldn’t have had that competition to compete for the job.
“That didn’t phase Kyle. He believes in himself with his work ethic and preparation and God-given talent.”
McCord won the job as a sophomore and threw for 2,883 yards and 38 touchdowns. He led St. Joseph’s to the first of three consecutive Pennsylvania state championships. In August of his junior year, he committed to Ohio State, knowing he was signing up for at least a two-man quarterback battle.
Now it’s a three-man competition against second-year QBs C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller. McCord is the youngest member, joining this winter as an outsider after both returning redshirt freshmen had spent a year in the program.
Jackson saw a young McCord encounter similar scenarios at a pivotal age and emerge even better.
“It was something to see how a kid can mature in just one year even more, and that’s what he did,” Jackson said.
“When Kyle wanted to be the leader, Kyle stepped up. When he saw something wasn’t quite right, he spoke up — even to me. Not in a disrespectful way, but he came to me. ‘Coach I saw this. What about that? I would listen, and 99 percent of the time, he was right.”
Could McCord once again prove to be mature beyond expectations? Ohio State will find out in the coming months.