Ready to learn

IRVING, Tex. - For quarterback Stephen McGee, the perfect role model for him to emulate will be in front of him every day.

McGee, the Cowboys' fourth round selection (101st overall) in the recent draft, received high praise from his new employers when Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones compared him to incumbent starter Tony Romo, saying he had some ‘9-ish qualities.'

"That's the greatest compliment that I could get right now," said McGee, who started just three games as a senior at Texas A&M last Fall due to a torn labrum injury in his throwing shoulder.

"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 got a lot to learn, obviously - I have a long way to go, but it surely is a great compliment. It is great to hear because he is one of the best in the league and to be a little bit like him, I know I'm on the right track, I guess."

The comparison to Romo comes from McGee's ability to improvise and scramble when protection breaks down while still being able to make a play. His scouting report pumped up his toughness, leadership qualities and pocket presence, all similar to Romo. That was one of the reasons Jones picked him and after one day of rookie mini-camp on May 1, Jones was still enamored.

"I had a few comparisons there to his style and the way he was able to manage to keep his focus on a good play, yet at the same time, be evading pressure," Jones said. "So I like that about him and I like his arm strength."

Coach Wade Phillips wouldn't go so far as to compare him to a young Romo, but he also had a positive review of McGee's first appearance on the Valley Ranch practice fields.

"McGee was poised, I thought he threw the ball well," Phillips said, noting that having a backup that has similar abilities to the starter benefits everybody. "I was really pleased with his accuracy. I think that's obviously very important for a quarterback. Now we don't have the rush, we don't have all those things, but still, I thought he was very accurate and that's a good sign."

McGee acknowledged that he admired Romo not just for what he can do on the field but also his actions off it.

"I always like to watch him," said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound McGee. "I love the way he carries himself, his moxie, his demeanor, he's always just really cool under pressure. He always has a swagger, the guys rally around him, you could just tell when you watch him on TV. Definitely a guy you can learn a lot from, not just being a great quarterback but the leadership he can bring in the locker room."

Without even realizing it, McGee also demonstrated a little of that same swagger he likes in Romo when asked about his long-term goals and he envisioned himself starting for Dallas and winning a Super Bowl here.

"I'm glad that he's got that kind of vision," Jones said when informed of McGee's comments. "If you wait until you climb through the ring ropes before you mentally picture yourself as heavyweight champ, you'll never get it, that'll go right past you and you won't even understand it was right there for you to get. You've got to have pictured yourself many years and months and prepared yourself for standing there as a quarterback in the Super Bowl and I'm glad he's thinking that way years ahead."

There is one aspect of Romo's footsteps that McGee will likely follow, and that's a long wait on the sidelines as he sits and learns behind the Jedi Master, who didn't take a snap until his fourth season, in addition to recently-acquired veteran backup Jon Kitna.

"Most definitely, I got a lot to work on," admitted McGee, who was the fifth quarterback taken in the draft. "I'll just come in here, put my head down and go to work every day. I'm going to make it my goal not to be outworked by anybody and I'm going to learn from the very best in Tony Romo and Jon Kitna and soak up everything that (offensive coordinator) Jason Garrett and (quarterbacks coach) Wade Wilson have to tell me, because obviously, they're two of the best quarterback coaches in the league that have played the game as well, so what a perfect situation for me. I just want to soak it all in, learn as much as I can and be ready to go when my time comes."

As a Texas boy from the town of Burnet, which is outside Austin, McGee was thrilled to be chosen by the team he grew up rooting for and noted that when he pulled on his new Cowboys helmet at rookie mini-camp May 1, it wasn't the first time he'd ever done so.

"There's no doubt about it, it's a dream come true for me," McGee said. "The last time I put a star helmet on my head was when I was six or seven and put my little uniform on and was running around like crazy in my front yard. It was a surreal moment for me when I first strapped it on and went to work."

A dynamic passer at Burnet High School, McGee led his team to the Class 3A state finals in each of his last two years, setting the 3A state record with 101 career touchdown passes. But in his first three years at A&M under former coach Dennis Franchione's more run-oriented offense, McGee didn't have the opportunity to display his passing abilities all that often, although his stats were pretty good.

He earned All-Big 12 honorable mention as a junior, when he completed 211-of-364 passes (58 percent) for 2,311 yards and 12 touchdowns while also rushing for 899 and five TDs on 181 carries (4.97 average), for an Aggies team that went 7-6.

McGee was eager to get the chance to prove he could flourish in a more passer-friendly offense under new coach Mike Sherman last season, but the shoulder injury derailed his year. Even so, the difficult experience still provided a valuable lesson for him.

"Extremely frustrating, it was the toughest year of my life," acknowledged McGee, who completed 56-of-85 passes (65.9 percent) for 586 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in six overall appearances for an impressive 126.85 QB efficiency rating.

"I was so excited to get in the West Coast offense, be able to throw the ball around, had the best fall camp of my life and then get hurt the second game of my senior season, come back too early and re-injure my shoulder the fourth game. There's nothing I can do about that, it's out of my control, so that's a big lesson I had to learn - control the things I can control and I can't worry about the rest. I can only be me and continue to find a way to make the team better."

He credits his quarterbacks coach last year at A&M, Tom Rossley, who was previously the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers for six seasons, with providing some important preparation for the professional coaching style.

"I think being around a quarterback coach in college, that has coached quarterbacks in the NFL for a long time," McGee said, "that experience helped prepare me for the way guys in the NFL coach, so there's huge bonuses to that."

Now that he is officially a part of the Cowboys organization, McGee reflected on his journey to this point and indicated that while he had hoped to be selected higher in the draft, his final destination was all he could have hoped for.

"I 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. "From Burnet High School to Texas A&M to Dallas to be a Cowboy, it doesn't get any better than that for me. Yeah, I wish I could have been a little bit higher pick, but it worked out the way it was supposed to. I'm glad that I was picked where I was, that I could be a Dallas Cowboy."

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