KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Greg McGhee’s football path changed course after Jeff Tedford came calling.
Following a four-year career at Howard University, the 22-year-old quarterback was training in hopes of getting a shot in the NFL. But when the head coach of the B.C. Lions paid McGhee a visit, he soon realized his immediate future lay north of the border.
“(Tedford) came out to Virginia where I was working out,” said McGhee. “He basically told me that I bring something to the team that they don’t really have here and that I’d be a great asset.”
After weighing his options, McGhee signed with the Lions in February, forgoing any chance to participate at the NFL combine, a move that showed he’s serious about the CFL and gave him the opportunity to take part in B.C.’s passing camp in April before his first professional training camp.
“I think it just made sense to him,” Tedford said after a recent practice at Thompson Rivers University. “I laid out to him what his reality was in terms of his opportunity in the NFL or opportunity in the CFL.”
A Pittsburgh native, McGhee is the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s all-time leader for total yards with 10,169, including 2,579 on the ground.
Tedford coached a number of big-name quarterbacks during his time at the University of California, most notably former Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, and said McGhee has all the tools to be successful at this level.
“He’s athletic, he’s smart, he’s got a strong arm,” said Tedford, in his first year with the Lions. “He can put the ball anywhere on the field. He’s got a lot of gifts.”
Most players from the U.S. joining CFL teams don’t know much about the league before arriving, but McGhee had a strong connection in former Montreal Alouettes quarterback Ted White, who is now Howard’s offensive co-ordinator.
“He’s one of the greatest quarterback coaches I’ve ever been with,” said McGhee. “A lot of the stuff we do here (with the Lions) is actually similar to what we ran in college. There are a lot of concepts and things like that I understand because of (White).”
The six-foot-three 208-pound McGhee is one of four quarterbacks currently on the Lions’ roster behind veteran pivot Travis Lulay. The other rookie under centre for B.C. is Jonathan Jennings, a Saginaw Valley State product who has worked out for a couple of NFL teams over the past year.
Like McGhee, the chance to play for Tedford was part of why he signed with the Lions.
“His knowledge of the game is extraordinary,” said the 22-year-old from Columbus, Ohio. “He understands quarterbacks, he understands how to coach them, and that’s exciting for me.”
McGhee and Jennings each said switching to three-down football and a wider field with an extra player has been an adjustment, however both seem to be grasping things early in camp.
“After the first day, it wasn’t that different,” said McGhee. “You’re still watching the safety and reading the same keys on offence that you do in American football. You’ve just got to win on first down.”
And while McGhee hasn’t given up on the dream of returning to play south of the border one day, he’s putting all his energy into a big first step with the Lions that came about only after he and Tedford crossed paths.
“(The NFL) is definitely the plan for a lot of guys,” he said. “But right now I’m focusing on making the team and crawling up the ladder.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press