Midway through training camp last summer, freshman Marcus McGill was trying to work his way up the wide receiver depth chart when coach Jeff Quinn asked to have a chat with him.
The University at Buffalo coach needed a long snapper and McGill was the best, well only viable, candidate.
“The spot opened up and I had to do what the team needed so I fulfilled that role as long snapper,” the 6-foot-1, 211-pound McGill said. “It was an opportunity to play so I just saw it as an opportunity to make plays at whatever role I was needed.”
Quinn now needs help at another position – the No. 3 receiver behind Alex Neutz and Fred Lee – and McGill is primed to take over that role as well. McGill’s play this spring has featured many of the qualities that made him one of the top recruits in New York in 2011, namely his strength and the ability to make receptions in traffic.
The Bulls are in dire need of someone else to make plays in the passing game. Neutz, the All-Mid-American Conference performer from Grand Island, totaled 65 receptions for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games last season. The rest of the team contributed 131 catches, 1,316 yards and six touchdowns.
The return of Lee, who missed four games because of injury, will help but another receiving option will take pressure off Neutz, who will certainly face more double teams. As of now, McGill is the answer. He pulled ahead of a pack of receivers with a strong performance last Saturday in a team scrimmage.
“I feel good, I feel confident right now,” he said. “I’m learning the offense. Fred and Neutz have been here for a while so I’m just learning from them and stepping up and doing the best that I can.”
McGill has made the most strides with his footwork.
“Coach has really been harping on getting in and out of breaks,” he said. “We’ve been doing drills where we get around cones and doing footwork. Compared to last year, my footwork has been my best improvement so far.”
Quinn asked McGill to fill in at long snapper for a reason: He had experience. McGill started long snapping on the modified level at Gates Chili Middle School, near Rochester.
“I just tried it one day and the coaches said, ‘You’re pretty good at it,’ ” McGill said. “I stuck with it all the way from modified through varsity football.”
Quinn was aware of McGill’s background but was grooming him to play wideout when he noticed McGill was the only player who didn’t send the ball all over the place. It was time for McGill to take one for the team.
Quinn told McGill the position was a valuable one and that not only would he not be redshirted but that he would receive some receiver reps.
McGill’s mood was understandably lukewarm. He had registered nearly 1,800 all-purpose yards and scored 20 touchdowns as a senior at Gates Chili High School and returned eight kicks for touchdowns in his last two seasons. If he didn’t earn a spot in the wide receiver rotation, maybe he could return kicks.
“I was a little indifferent because I came in with the idea of playing receiver,” he said. “You realize you have to do it for the team but you want to play your position as well.
“If you have to do it for the team, that’s what you have to do.”
And McGill thrived.
“He snapped every long snap, punt, kick, PAT, field goal and did a real nice job covering on kicks,” Quinn said. “Very pleasant surprise, very physical player. We were way better at that position than we were and that’s why I was so pleased with Marcus. He has a deep passion for the game and he loves it and lives it.”
To free McGill from the responsibility, Quinn signed long-snapper Corbin Grassman, the cousin of UB punter Tyler Grassman, from Alexandria, Ohio.
“We want Marcus to focus 100 percent at wide receiver but give us the backup we need at the position because we know he can do it,” Quinn said. “It’s a physical presence with Marcus. He’s done a real nice job with his blocking and we’re getting other special teams value with him. That’s why we recruited him here, we brought him here to play.”