McGehee more than a number

Offensive tackle Billy McGehee will earn his first major-college start Saturday when Arizona State plays Texas A&M in Houston, and he'll do it coming back to his home state.

Seventy-Five

It is just a number. It is a lineman’s number. It is a boring number. It will never touch the football, score a touchdown or win the Heisman. The No. 75 will be lost in blur of other high numbers, clustered together, fighting and scrapping in the trenches.

It is Billy McGehee’s number.

It belongs to the senior offensive tackle. For three years, McGehee has worn No. 75 at Arizona State. He wore a gold No. 75 jersey when he spent time on the scout team. Last season, No. 75 was seen only on the field in blowout victories.

In McGehee’s final season at Arizona State, he locked down the starting right tackle position. He waited a long time to start this Saturday in his home state of Texas.

McGehee started playing football for a lot of reasons. He plays to achieve his lifelong goal of being a collegiate athlete. He plays to try and win a national championship with his teammates. He plays for his family. He plays for his faith. He plays for his brother.

With only 12 guaranteed games left in his collegiate career, McGehee will play this season for himself.

Twelve

In the summer, the No. 12 is on every ASU player’s mind.

After the Sun Devils finish up spring practices, they turn their attention to the weight room and they follow the instruction of Head Coach of Sports Performance, Shawn Griswold.

Griswold challenges the players to be named to the elite group known as the “Dirty Dozen” at the end of summer training.

“Going into the summer, I wanted to make sure that I got into the Dirty Dozen because for me that was a sign that I really worked my butt off and made sure that I pursued the weight room,” McGehee said. “Going into the fall, I got the Dirty Dozen and I made sure that everything I did, I realized that it was my last chance to do it.”

Griswold selects the 12 members of the team based on a points system. Athletes are scored on lifting tests like back squat and power clean and also agility skills like the broad jump and vertical leap.

He chooses four players from the offensive and defensive linemen group, four from the large skill position group of running backs, tight ends and linebackers and four from the smaller skill positions like defensive backs and wide receivers.

Therefore, McGehee was selected as one of the four of the big-bodied linemen.

McGehee has always been large. He stands at 6-foot-6, 314 pounds.

McGehee has always been strong. Griswold said he has the second highest back squat max of 563 pounds. He is second on the team behind senior guard Christian Westerman who can squat three more pounds.

Even though McGehee had the size and strength, he needed to be able to move and use that strength on the field. He lacked functional strength and flexibility.

Griswold said McGehee spent extra time after his lifting sessions stretching so he could be more agile on the field.

“He’s much quicker to his sets, he’s a lot more powerful, he’s playing with a better pad level which was always kind of his issue was playing too high,” Griswold said. “So those kinds of things have been better for him. His mindset’s a lot different. He’s a lot more confident.”

Thomsen said McGehee’s improvement this summer is not the only reason he is starting.

“He’s been here three years,” Thomsen said. “When he got here, he wasn’t as strong as he is now. It’s been a three year process. Coach Griz has done a tremendous job with him and he’s done a great job just applying the work.

“So he’s worked himself into a position. Give him credit, he’s waited a long time. Some guys would give up before that point. He’s waited a long time to get to that point and I’m proud of him.”

When McGehee sets a goal for himself, he accomplishes it. He made the Dirty Dozen and became a starting tackle in the Pac-12.

When McGehee was in high school, he wanted to earn an athletic college scholarship. But at the time, he did not want to play football.

Thirty-two

The No. 32 was McGehee’s number in high school but it was not on a Texas football jersey.

McGehee said when he was at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano Tex., his main focus was basketball. Because McGehee is 6-foot-6, with a wide frame and a long wing span, it is easy to see why he could be an effective basketball player.

Some shoulder injuries and his love for basketball kept him off the football field in Plano. Unfortunately for his basketball career, McGehee had some stiff competition at Prestonwood.

“One of the players now is on the Lakers, so I was good but, I was never good enough to beat him,” McGehee said. “So I just decided my senior year, I was like, ‘You know what, let’s try out football.’”

The player starting in front of McGehee was Julius Randle who was a McDonald’s All-American, played at Kentucky and was drafted by the Lakers with the No. 7 overall pick.

When McGehee put on the pads for his senior season, he thought he would play tight end but, his coaches stationed him at offensive line.

McGehee excelled in his only season playing high school football in Texas. Since he only played one year, he did not have a lot of film and Division I coaches did not know about him.

He said he got some offers to be a walk on, but decided to attend junior college at Navarro College in Corsicana, Tex.

As a junior college lineman, it can still be hard to get noticed by Division I coaches. Fortunately for McGehee there were only a couple degrees of separation between he and the ASU coaching staff.

McGehee belongs to the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. When ASU coach Todd Graham was coaching Allen High School in Texas, Graham was also a parishioner of Prestonwood.

Coach Graham has a strong relationship with Prestonwood Pastor Dr. Jack Graham. They share the same last name but they are not related.

Dr. Graham sent coach Graham some of McGehee’s high school film and that put McGehee on the coaches radar.

Cody Crill is now the head coach at Navarro but was the offensive line coach when McGehee was there. Crill knew Bob Connelly who was the ASU offensive line coach at the time.

Because of those connections, the ASU coaching staff scouted McGehee and decided he was good enough to offer a scholarship.

McGehee took a trip to Tempe with his family with former quarterback Taylor Kelly as his host. He committed to ASU a week after the scholarship offer.

McGehee’s mother Elaine McGehee said her family was ecstatic when he got the offer.

“It was everything we had hoped for and nothing we expected,” Elaine McGehee said.

Just like in high school, McGehee only has one season to truly show his football talents at the college level. He choose to play football because his dream of playing college basketball was out of reach.

That was not the only reason.

Seventy-four

The No. 74 was McGehee’s football number at Prestonwood in high school. It was also his brother’s number.

Billy McGehee’s brother, Thomas Kendrick McGehee III, was a two-way starter at Plano Senior High School. McGehee said his brother had the southern nickname of “Tripp” for being the third Thomas McGehee.

Both McGehee and his mother Elaine McGehee said Tripp McGehee was a gifted football player. They both cited the fact that he was two-way starting defensive end and offensive lineman, which is difficult to achieve at a big school in Texas.

Tripp McGehee had a lot of potential but he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Elaine McGehee said it was different for Billy growing up with a brother with an addiction problem.

“Tripp had a tremendously great heart for others,” Elaine McGee said. “He just had a hard time loving himself.”

In 2009, Tripp McGehee was recovering. Billy McGehee said he had been sober for a year.

On July 12, 2009, Elaine McGehee saw a police officer and a chaplain walking up to her door. Since she was a military wife knew that only meant one thing.

Elaine McGehee said her son died instantly after crashing his motorcycle traveling to his girlfriend’s house. She said it was a single vehicle and the police officers said he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident.

His senior year in high school, McGehee only wanted to wear one number, 74.

McGehee said his brother loved football and he learned a lot about the game from his older brother. But, that is not the lessons he learned from Tripp’s life and death.

“One of his last things he told me was, ‘Don’t make the same mistakes,’” McGehee said. “So for him, I just want to make sure that everything I’m doing is honoring him and honoring that promise I made to him.”

When Billy arrived at Arizona State, former offensive lineman Jamil Douglas wore the No. 74. Douglas was a veteran on the team and a three-year starter. Douglas was not giving up his number.

McGehee was given No. 75. At first, Elaine McGehee said he was upset.

He wanted to wear his brother’s number again but it was better for McGehee to have his own number and his own identity at his new home.

Seventy-Five

McGehee said growing up he and his brother had the clichéd competitive relationship when it came to sports.

After his brother passed following his junior year, he wore No. 74 to continue the competition even though his brother was gone.

“I saw him playing football and I just remember that was such a big deal to him, I wanted to do it and kind of one-up him in a sense, you know the brotherly rivalry,” McGehee said.

Now McGehee wears No.75, which his own number. The No. 75 is still an offensive lineman’s number. There will not be any highlights of McGehee wearing that number and scoring a touchdown.

The number is still important to McGehee, his family, his brother’s memory and most importantly himself.

“In a sense I’m playing for him but I’m also playing for myself, just getting that recognition, that confidence in myself,” McGehee said. “Now I wear 75 because I’m one better.”


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