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McEvoy hopes to make it back to Division I
For someone who has been on the roster less than two months, Tanner McEvoy is making his presence felt.
The Arizona Western quarterback emerged from a three-player race for the starting job despite missing almost all of training camp. He had an efficient game in his first start Saturday at Pima, and looks to up his game when the No. 5 Matadors host No. 9 Scottsdale in a Western States Football League battle.
McEvoy transferred from South Carolina in August, turning the battle for quarterback from a two-man scramble between Cedric McCloud and Kendall Barnes into a three-man fight. After the team's scheduled August was cancelled, all three quarterbacks saw playing time Sept. 1 against Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College in Pueblo, Colo. Despite coming in only for five passes in the fourth quarter — completing three of them for 17 yards, including a touchdown — McEvoy impressed the coaches.
“Cedric just didn't play as well as we thought he would, and with the line not blocking as well it kind of hurt us a little bit,” Matador's head coach Tom Minnick said. “That's why Kendall went in, made some plays with his feet. Then Tanner went in at the last minute to give him some reps, see how'd he do. Then in practice you could see Tanner getting out of harm's way and making plays with his feet. So we decided to go with Tanner.”
The team has another two weeks to prepare after Ellsworth for the Pima game. After a week of open practice, McEvoy officially became the starter.
Minnick — who has expressed frustration at the schedule this year in which his Matadors played one game when most team played three — said McEvoy benefited from the extra bye weeks.
And although McEvoy said he's hoping to play better, he was glad for the extra time.
“It helped a lot just to learn the offense,” McEvoy said. “I think it really helped me to where I am now.”
In the WSFL opener against the Aztecs, McEvoy completed 13 of 20 passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns. He added 78 rushing yards.
Having made such progress in such short time, McEvoy said he's not taking anything for granted.
“They say it almost every day, every position is open to competition,” McEvoy said. “My spot is not locked right now, I just have to keep performing. After the Ellsworth game, we had a week of practice, and they told us whoever had the better week of practice is going to be the starter. I guess I had the better week of practice, so here I am now.”
McEvoy said there is plenty of motivation for players at the NJCAA level — namely getting to (or back to) NCAA schools — but having two other quarterbacks pushing him adds another level of drive.
“Most kids come to junior college to come back to where they were,” McEvoy said. “I'm trying to get back to Division I where I was, and obviously these kids keep pushing me. Cedric is a great quarterback, so is Kendall, but every day is a competition.”
In addition to McEvoy's scrambling skills, Minnick said he likes the football education his sophomore quarterback has received. He didn't play last year at South Carolina, but was on the roster coached by Steve Spurrier. That was after going to high school at Bergen Catholic, one of the top prep teams in New Jersey.
“He got good grades, he comes from a catholic school out in New Jersey, one of the top catholic schools in the state,” Minnick said. “He got coached by some high school football coaches that are well known, and he also went to South Carolina where he was coached by the Ball Coach for a little while. So he has some coaching behind him too.”
McEvoy said the team's success last year — a one-touchdown loss in the El Toro Bowl to East Mississippi was all that stood between the Matadors and a national championship — was a big drawing point. Among other reasons.
“Coach Minnick contacted me, I always liked the west coast, they have In-N-Out Burger, I don't have that back home, so that was a big bonus,” McEvoy said wryly. “But honestly I knew they had a great program, they lost last year in the championship and hopefully we'll turn it around and win this year.”