Ronnie McGill thought he had a good work ethic. He was a standout running back at North Carolina, a Doak Walker Award candidate his senior year. He impressed as an intern with the Tennessee Titans after graduation. But when he accepted a scouting assistant job with the New England Patriots back in 2010, his standard for hard work changed.
Suddenly the scouting reports he compiled weren’t as comprehensive as he thought. He looked at the work of his colleagues and saw a higher level of detail.
“You don’t realize how much everybody around (the Patriots) works,” McGill says. “That just makes you pick your game up.”
And McGill did. In seven years with the Patriots, he’s moved up the ladder. Starting with data entry and college scouting, he currently prepares reports of other NFL teams and evaluates free agents.
Super Bowl 51 marks McGill’s third trip. Even though he came to Foxborough well into their run, he never expected it to continue like it has.
“The stability here is crazy and it starts with the owner down to coach Bill Belichick all the way through us,” McGill says. “You’ve got to give credit to everybody. This is the hardest working place I’ve ever been. It is a grind. It’s tough, but it normally pays off at the end of the year.”
McGill’s path to New England started, oddly enough, in his Morrison South dorm. Jack Richmond, his suitemate from freshman year at UNC, put him in touch with someone at the Titans who helped get him his first job.
Working for the Patriots isn’t for everybody, McGill says, but he loves it. Hours are long and standards are high. People revel in the minutiae of football.
He remembers his first year with the Patriots, the Massachusetts winter dumped two feet of snow outside his house.
“I look out and I'm like, ‘There's no way anybody’s going to be doing anything today,’” McGill says. “I call in and they said, ‘You got a couple hours to get in.’”
McGill finds himself valuing small details in a new way now. He's learned to voice his opinion while respecting the input of others.
“You can see once new guys get in here which ones are going to get worn down and which are going to thrive,” McGill says. “It’s no knock on them. It’s just the way we operate.”
McGill, who ran for 2,393 yards and 24 touchdowns as a Tar Heel from 2003-06, hasn’t made it back to Chapel Hill in a few years due to work, but the Tar Heels are still with him most days.
“I literally wear Tar Heel stuff everywhere I go. Not every day but if I’m gone for three days, I’ll have one Carolina shirt," McGill says. "I met a ’69 alum when I went up hiking in Colorado over the summer, which was really cool. We talked about Chapel Hill a lot.
“I always consider it the best place in America.”
He traveled to Miami for Carolina’s win over the Hurricanes this year. He doesn’t know many of the younger guys but caught up with Chad Scott and met Fedora, who was extremely welcoming.
“It was like seeing my brother,” he says. “He had people showing me around. We talked for a little bit. It was awesome.”
McGill is off the clock for the season -- his responsibilities ended with the AFC Championship -- but he'll still make the trip to Houston before starting free agent research next week.
“I just get to sit back and enjoy it with the rest of the people I work with,” McGill says. “I’m 1-1 (in Super Bowls) right now. So hopefully we’ll be 2-1.”