Eager Student

IRVING, Tex. - After the NFL Draft every year, the locker room in Valley Ranch is filled with guys who assure anyone within earshot that it's been "a lifelong dream" to end up with the Dallas Cowboys.

In many cases, that often translates to something like "it's been a dream to play my favorite sport for a living" … but not necessarily in Dallas.

In the case of quarterback Stephen McGee, however, the claim just seems more believable. McGee hails from Burnet, Texas, which is about 54 miles northwest of Austin, played at Texas A&M, and just for good measure, bears an eerie resemblance to James Van Der Beek's character in Varsity Blues.

"I've certainly had my ups and downs getting here, but at the end of the day, despite what anybody wants to say, I've continued to work my butt off, and here I am," McGee said Friday after his first mini-camp workout with his new team.

"From Burnet High School, to Texas A&M, and then to Dallas, Texas to be a Cowboy — it doesn't get any better than that, to me. Yeah, I wish I could have been a little bit higher pick, but you know what? It worked out the way it was supposed to, and I'm glad that I was picked where I was, and can be a Dallas Cowboy. Talking to my dad — he was pretty pumped up about it. You take a step back and look at everything that has happened, and what a blessing it is to be in Dallas today, and have this opportunity. I couldn't be any more thrilled — it really is a dream come true, and a blessing to be here.

"The last time I put a star helmet on my head, I was six or seven, and I had my little uniform, running around all crazy in my front yard. It was a surreal moment for me — finally soaked in when I strapped it on and went to work today (for mini-camp).

So McGee is genuinely thrilled to be a Dallas Cowboy. But what the Cowboys have in McGee is harder to determine. He's a superior athlete who performed capably in a run-first offense for three years in College Station after signing with the Aggies as one of the top recruits in the entire nation. He finally got into a passer-friendly offense in his senior year when former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman took over at A&M, but missed most of his senior season with a shoulder injury. For his career, McGee threw for just 5,475 yards, completed 59.5 percent of his passes, and threw 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

But while McGee's passing numbers were modest, he still caught the eye of Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who said he liked McGee's elusiveness and ability to function when plays broke down for the Aggies, even comparing his rookie passer to starter Tony Romo by saying McGee has "some nine-ish qualities."

"That's the greatest compliment that I could get right now," McGee said. "Whether or not I'm Tony Romo has yet to be seen, obviously. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and I'm just so thrilled to be able to learn from a great quarterback like Tony Romo. I've got a lot to learn, and have a long way to go, but it surely is a great compliment, and it's definitely good to hear, because he's one of the best in the league, and if you can be just a little bit like him, I know I'm on the right track. I've loved to watch him, I love the way he carries himself, his moxie, his demeanor — he's always really cool under pressure."

McGee said that he learned a great deal from Sherman and former Packers and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Tom Rossley, who joined Sherman in College Station.

"It was huge," McGee said of Rossley's influence on his development as a pro prospect. "A lot of the same things that we did there, you're starting to see here, whether it's a concept or the way they coach a play — it's similar, even though they call it something else.

"There's some similarities you see — especially as I went through the draft process, talking to different quarterback coaches — that they all have, and being with that quarterbacks coach in college that coached quarterbacks in the NFL for a long time, that experience, and the way he coaches guys and prepares guys … there's huge, huge bonuses to that."

But despite what he learned from Sherman and Rossley, McGee admits he likely would have been selected higher than he was (Dallas picked him in the fourth round) had he chosen a school with a more potent passing offense.

"There's no doubt. I have said that — if I had been in a different offense, obviously I would have been a higher draft pick and thrown for a lot more yards," McGee said. "Despite all that, though, it's not about my individual success — it's about our team's success. That's what's most important. That's one of the most important lessons I've learned through the whole thing: It's not about Stephen McGee — it's about Texas A&M, about the Dallas Cowboys. Whatever I can do to make the team better — I'll lay my individual interests to the side for the team any day. Our coaches have always done what they thought (gave us) the best chance to win the ballgame, and I've never second-guessed that for a second."

In his first weekend with the team, McGee took on the role of the diligent student, eager to soak up the schemes and terminology used in the Dallas offense.

"It's all maintaining focus, continuing to work my butt off and be ready whenever the situation calls, whenever that may be, so I'm going to come in here and put my head down and go to work every day," he said.

"I'm going to make it my goal not to be outworked by anybody. I want to learn from the very best in Tony Romo and Jon Kitna, and soak up everything Jason Garrett and Wade Wilson have to tell me, because obviously those are two of the best quarterback coaches in the league, (guys) that have played the game, as well.

"What a perfect situation for me."

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