Texas Tech offensive coordinator David Yost and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson aren’t joking when they say they’re still learning the names of each other’s players. Time for new coaches being precious, they’re too laser focused on coaching their own personnel to know all the guys on the other side.
But Yost knows that No. 8 on defense is Zech McPhearson.
“Our new guy, McPhearson, is hard to throw on,” Yost said. “He stands out every day. I don’t know any of their names, but their numbers. I’ll be like, ‘Who’s number 8?’ ‘They say, ‘Oh, McPhearson.’
“You say that four or five days in a row, it sticks. I actually know his name now.”
That was part of the point in McPhearson’s leaving Penn State as a graduate transfer this summer. About two weeks into preseason practice at Texas Tech, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior from Columbia, Maryland, has stamped himself as starter or top backup material at cornerback.
At Penn State, McPhearson was a self-described “all-around special teams guy” and in the rotation at defensive back.
He played in 24 games the past two years and got credit for eight tackles each season.
Told of Yost’s observation, McPhearson said, “Coming here more mature, being able to come in and fit in easy with this scheme, it’s helped me make a couple of plays on the ball, wreak havoc to the offense, but I never can be satisfied. The praise is a good thing, but always working to take that next step.”
McPhearson is used to having to fight to distinguish himself. His father played at Boston College and with the New England Patriots, his mother ran track at UCLA and, in a family of seven boys and one girl, every one of the brothers has played college and-or professional sports.
Five of McPhearson’s brothers played college football at Penn State, Maryland, Illinois, New Mexico and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Another, Matthew McPhearson, was an Arizona Diamondbacks fourth-round draft choice in 2013 and now plays in the New York Yankees’ system. Gerrick Jr., who played football and ran track at Maryland, stood out in sprints, at one point breaking Renaldo Nehemiah’s school record in the indoor 60 meters.
Derrick McPhearson played football at Illinois and spent time in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system.
So who’s the best athlete in the family?
“We have this argument all the time,” Zech McPhearson said. “Obviously, I’m going to say myself. But there’s definitely a lot of talent in my family. … Everybody’s gifted at different things.”
McPhearson sailed through Penn State quickly enough, earning a degree in labor and employment relations, to have two years of football eligibility left.
He’s not wasting any time.
“I love Zech McPhearson,” Tech coach Matt Wells said. “He’s tough. He’s smart. He does all the little things right. He’s a good tackler. You’ll see a lot of Zech McPhearson the next two years.”
Upon deciding to leave Penn State, McPhearson also visited Iowa State and looked at Syracuse before deciding on Tech and coming to Lubbock in June. Wells overlapped briefly with one of the McPhearson brothers, Emmanuel, who was a wide receiver at New Mexico.
So there was some familiarity. Beyond that, McPhearson wanted to test himself elsewhere.
“I had the mindset, ‘I’m not a teenager going out of high school to college,'” he said. “‘I’m older, more mature, so why not step out and try something new?’ I trusted the coaches and what they’re striving for here for this program.”
Returning starters DaMarcus Fields and Desmon Smith, along with McPhearson and John Davis, are battling for the top spots on the depth chart at cornerback.
McPhearson played the Star position at Penn State, which he described as a slot corner and similar to cover safety in Patterson’s scheme. Wells, to accelerate learning, prefers to keep newcomers at one position. In McPhearson’s case, that’s been cornerback.
“I came into this camp just wanting to work hard, take the next step and hopefully that’ll give me a bigger role here on this team,” he said. “I’m just putting in work with the older guys who have been here. They’ve been helping me a lot with film and all that stuff and learning the scheme and everything.”