Tyrique McGhee entered the spring of his sophomore season with the advantage of significant playing time as a freshman.
Georgia’s secondary is still filled with veterans entering this season, but it didn’t matter to McGhee, and he chose to take upon a bigger role.
Along with the upperclassmen who have shown their leadership qualities, McGhee stands out on the Bulldogs’ practice field and is unafraid of imploring his teammates to increase their level of effort.
As a second-year player, why is McGhee open to becoming a leader?
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“He realized that he had experience,” Georgia senior safety Dominick Sanders said. “Those guys that have come in, he tells them, ‘Hey look, I’m a guy that came in and played as a freshman.’ Don’t look at it as a lot, but look at the small things and focus on what you need to do at that position.”
McGhee has played at a number of positions throughout the preseason. Entering the slate of practices, it was assumed that he would be a significant competitor to replace Maurice Smith at the star position.
But his 5-foot-10 size leads McGhee to have more opportunity at a different position. Along with work in the secondary, McGhee’s special teams role is expected to continue after seeing the most snaps amongst true freshmen in 2016.
“He’s playing a lot of corner, not just star,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “Because of his frame and his bulk, we’ve played him a little more at corner than at star. In passing situations, he’s played really well at the star. He’s got to continue to improve. I love the mentality he approaches each day with.”
The cornerback position is currently manned by senior Malkom Parrish (5-10) and junior DeAndre Baker (5-11). But their size, like McGhee’s, isn’t what makes them good corners.
“He’s not very big, but around here it’s not about size, it’s about heart," Sanders said of McGhee. “He has heart, and he gives his all. That’s what I love about him, and he will have a big impact on this defense.”
Aaron Davis, a fifth-year senior with the Bulldogs, added the “fearless” moniker when describing McGhee. The sophomore has emerged as a popular player among his older teammates.
While McGhee is spoken of frequently to see playing time in the secondary, the competition is steep. In addition to Parrish and Baker, Georgia has four cornerbacks in its freshman class. At the star position, Davis, J.R. Reed, Richard LeCounte III and Deangelo Gibbs are also vying for playing time.
“He played corner on both sides and the star position and he handled that well,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We just map out his reps every day. We script every rep in practice. A lot of times we’re doing work on both fields and have a lot of guys working at the same time. We have to make sure he gets his star reps and his corner reps on both sides and that hasn’t been an issue so far.”
McGhee played in eight games last season, collecting nine total tackles. His playing time was intermittent, but he showed qualities that Smart became fond of.
Smart credited McGhee’s best quality to how he was taught during his high school days at Peach County, led by head coach Chad Campbell.
“I would put Tyrique up there as one of our best tacklers,” Smart said. “I learned a long time ago when you sign a young man from Peach County, he's going to know how to tackle. They play tough, physical football, and Tyrique identifies that each day.”