Five years ago, Montana State’s legacy at quarterback had but one name above all the others and that name was Travis Lulay.
After all, Lulay led the Bobcats to three wins in four years against rival Montana, and his first was the biggest, a victory in Missoula, as a freshman, which snapped MSU’s horrific 16-year losing streak to the Grizzlies.
Now, as the 2013 Cat-Griz game approaches, Lulay certainly hasn’t been forgotten, but because of everything DeNarius McGhee has done in the past four seasons at MSU, there’s a healthy debate about who the greatest MSU quarterback of all time is.
McGhee arrived in Bozeman five years ago as a highly decorated quarterback at Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. He led his team to the prestigious 5A Texas State Championship his senior year, and more than likely, if not for his 6-0 frame, he’d be wrapping up his career for an FBS school somewhere right now.
Thankfully for the Bobcats however, the big schools passed on McGhee as a quarterback and he landed in Bozeman. And nothing in Bozeman has been the same since.
McGhee has shattered many of MSU’s passing records, mostly belonging to Lulay. He’s the all-time winningest quarterback in MSU history, and he sits only behind Lulay in career passing yards and career total offense. In nearly four full seasons, McGhee has racked up 10,705 passing yards, which ranks him ninth on the Big Sky Conference’s all-time list. He’s thrown for a school-record 84 touchdowns and is MSU’s all-time leader in nine different passing categories.
As a red-shirt freshman, McGhee was named Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, and he won the award again as a junior last season. He’s a three-time All Big Sky performer and three-time FCS All-American. Earlier this season, McGhee also became the 13th player at any level of college football to throw for over 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000in a career.
Simply put, there haven’t been many things DeNarius McGhee hasn’t done with his time in Bozeman.
“He’s a special player,” Montana head coach Mick Delaney lamented ahead of Saturday’s Cat-Griz showdown in Bozeman. “He’s athletic. He’s won a lot of football games for MSU over the years.
“I think DeNarius McGhee is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play FCS football,” said head coach Rob Ash. “When you look at his record of success, it is almost incredible. He has an uncanny ability to lead his team, and he does it one play at a time, one third down conversion at a time, one score at a time, one comeback at a time. He never gets rattled and he never quits and he repeatedly finds a way to make a crucial play.”
Indeed, McGhee is all that and more. And, like Lulay, he’s already beaten the Grizzlies twice, and has a chance to do so for a third time on Saturday.
But what makes McGhee special, and simply different from other quarterbacks with his skill and his success, is how unselfish he is, how humble he is, and how hard he works to help make his team and his teammates better. That’s always been McGhee’s attitude at MSU, and it’s paid off because in his time in Bozeman, the Bobcats have never been so successful. In his four years as a starter, MSU has been to the FCS playoffs every year so far, they’ve been ranked in the FCS Top 25 every single week he’s been in Bozeman, attendance at an expanded Bobcat Stadium is at an all-time high during McGhee’s tenure, and overall, Montana State University is thriving like never before, and not just the football program.
All of that can be linked to McGhee’s arrival in Bozeman five years ago, and though he’s about to leave the program, as he’ll celebrate senior day against the Grizzlies Saturday, because McGhee chose to play at MSU, the program will never be the same again.
“He is one of the most unselfish players I have ever coached,” Ash said. “He has never focused on individual awards; he has only ever focused on winning games with his team. And that is probably why he has won so many individual awards and deserves to win many more.
“You know; as many people know I really don’t focus on records or anything like that because I know if you win then those things will take care of itself,” McGhee said in a recent interview. “The relationships that I’ve had, and Bobcat Nation in general, it’s treated me well. It’s treated all of us, the entire football program well, and it’s been a joy to play for the MSU Bobcats.”
And McGhee, for all he’s already accomplished, for the fact that he has put himself in rarefied air as quarterbacks go, being on the same lists with the likes of the legendary Dave Dickinson, Russell Wilson and others, as well as Lulay, he’s all about his team, his head coach, his program, and above all else, about winning. And he wants to win on Saturday, he wants to beat the Griz one more time and go to the playoffs. And for all he’s done, he hasn’t beaten the Griz in Bozeman yet. Needless to say, McGhee is ready to check that one off his list too.
“It’s not about my legacy, it’s about the legacy of the Bobcats and that’s what’s missing from our legacy,” McGhee said. “I came in here and Coach Ash gave me the opportunity to play as a youngster. We’ve been able to do a lot of things and this is our last Cat-Griz game. Out of all the offensive coordinators and coaches I’ve had within the past years, the one that is still standing here is the man over there and that’s Coach Ash. I’m going to do everything I can to end this regular season with a win.”
DeNarius McGhee doesn’t need to take the field worrying about his legacy on Saturday. No matter what happens against the Grizzlies inside Bobcat Stadium, McGhee’s legacy is already complete. He started to set the standard the minute he arrived in Bozeman and he’s never stopped.
DeNarius McGhee doesn’t have a legacy at MSU, he IS an MSU legacy.