On a typically muggy late August morning last week, the Howard football team was winding down practice when Coach Gary Harrell blew his whistle and called for players to gather for wind sprints. There were a few muffled groans for the least popular portion of drills, but not from quarterback Greg McGhee.
The senior consistently was among the first to finish when his group comprising the skill position players ran the roughly 53 yards from sideline to sideline a half-dozen times. With some teammates hunched over and breathing heavily afterward, McGhee smiled wide as if he were welcoming additional cardio.
Entering his final season, the reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player of the year has been pleasantly engaged in even the most grueling parts of training camp. The mundane details — walking through the Greene Stadium tunnel onto the field, pre-practice stretching and joking with teammates during water breaks — are no longer taken for granted.
“I was talking to a couple older guys on the team, and we were just like, ‘Wow, sprints hurt,’ but it’s the last time it’s coming around for me, so you definitely have to appreciate everything a little bit more,” McGhee said.
The four-year starter has been selected MEAC preseason player of the year after directing the Bison to five wins over their final six games. McGhee passed for 2,379 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 896 yards and three scores to lead the MEAC and rank 18th in the Football Championship Subdivision in total offense.
The left-handed dual threat posted more than 400 yards of offense in two of the Bison’s final three games, all victories. In Howard’s final home game, on Nov. 9, McGhee accounted for 474 total yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 victory over Savannah State. Included in that performance was a career-best 148 yards rushing despite fumbling on the first possession.
The upswing during the second half of the season in part led to Howard (6-6 last year) being picked fourth in a preseason poll of MEAC coaches and sports information directors. It’s the highest the Bison have been voted in the preseason in a decade.
“I feel good about where we are,” said Harrell, who is back after a one-year leave of absence for undisclosed personal reasons. “We’ve got some work to do as far as being a little more well conditioned to where we finish a football game, but I feel good about we are right now. I feel like we have an opportunity to really do something special here.”
McGhee, meanwhile, is chasing an individual milestone while trying to deliver the Bison’s first MEAC championship since 1993 and third in school history. With 2,913 yards of total offense, McGhee will become the conference’s all-time leader in that category, breaking the record quarterback Ted White set while playing at Howard from 1995 through ’98.
The 1996 MEAC player of the year has served as the Bison’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the past three seasons, developing a special relationship with McGhee through countless hours of personal attention, whether it be reviewing game film on the big screen or breaking down defensive tendencies on a dry erase board.
They also have discussed White’s five-year career in the NFL, his time with NFL Europe’s Barcelona Dragons and the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, and McGhee’s dreams of playing football professionally.
“All he needs to go out there and do is be himself,” White said of his star pupil who’s also a standout in the classroom. “Greg is a great guy on and off the field. The guy has done everything and more that we’ve asked him to do, always on the field trying to get better. I’m proud of him.”