Commentary

McGregor's photos worth a thousand words

Updated: February 27, 2009, 10:12 AM ET
By Mike Loveday | ESPNRISE.com

HYATTSVILLE, Md. -- Bill McGregor has been the football coach at DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) for 27 years. In that time, his teams have won 17 league championships and never lost more than three games in a season, but his greatest achievement has nothing to do with trophies -- it's the photos on his wall.

Bill McGregor
Mike LovedayMcGregor estimates he has helped over 350 athletes gain college scholarships in his tenure as DeMatha head coach.
Organized throughout McGregor's office above the school's gym are the photos of the athletes he helped get into college. Wall space is at a premium in his office and the collection has not been updated in years, but 237 photos stare back and tell visitors all they need to know about McGregor and DeMatha.

"I love this part [recruiting] it's like your second season. Now you're hyped again. You're sitting on the phone at 10:30 or 11 o'clock at night with somebody that calls you," McGregor said. "I owe it to [the players]. They played hard for me -- they worked hard; they did the academic end. I owe it to my players to get them into school."

Each recruiting class has its own unique story, and this year's is no different.

Among this year's crop of talented seniors are quarterback Tom Chroniger and lineman Calvin McDowney.

McDowney is truly a success story. The 6-foot-3, 330-pound senior is committed to New Mexico, but last year he was not on the team. He weighed in at 410 pounds and McGregor practiced tough love in hopes to get him motivated.

"This is one of my favorite scholarships this year," McGregor said. "Calvin, a year ago, was 410 pounds. We threw him off the team, didn't give him a jacket and didn't give him a ring. For a 17-year-old boy that [weight] is not even healthy. My hat is off to Calvin in terms of how he has turned around his life. Now I have to do my job on my end. I don't want to recommend somebody who doesn't play well. If you play well for DeMatha I'm going to play hard for you. He played very well -- he did his part. Now I have to do my part."

Chroniger has been the Stags' starting quarterback the past two seasons, but he has been getting interest to play defensive back -- a position he has not played full-time since his junior year. McGregor said Chroniger's play at safety during the Stags' Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) playoffs is a key reason they won their sixth straight title. Chroniger committed to Eastern Michigan early in the season, but opted to reopen his recruiting in December and committed to Towson this week.

McDowney and Chroniger will be two of the new faces whose photos will hang among names like Brian Westbrook, Josh Wilson, Tommy Dunphy and Jacob Bender.

While names like Westbrook and Wilson may be familiar to NFL fans, on McGregor's wall those photos hang in equal standing beside Dunphy and Bender.

Dunphy was a receiver on DeMatha teams in the early 1990s. McGregor sent film on Dunphy to more than 47 schools and got back 45 rejections. But persistence paid off, and Dunphy received offers from Youngstown State and Northeastern. He went to Northeastern.

Jacob Bender plays for the San Francisco 49ers now, but when he played for DeMatha he held only one offer -- Nicholls State (Thibodaux, La.).

"It's beauty in the eyes of the beholder. I tell the kids this way. You go to a dance and you ask a girl to dance and she tells you I don't like you because your ears are too big or because you wear glasses, too short or too fat. You might get rejected by all these girls, but all of a sudden there's one girl that thinks you're cute so you have that connection," McGregor said. " Same thing with the college coaches - there's so many intangibles that they're looking for. That year they might only have X number of scholarships so they have to be even more particular. It's a crapshoot so you never know. Me as a high school coach has no control over that. All you can do is the best you can do and promote your boys."

DeMatha Players in the Pros

Several DeMatha graduates have moved on to professional football. The following is a listing of former Stags who have played at least one game in either the NFL or AFL. Players in bold are on a current roster.

  • Rogers Alexander, LB, Jets
  • Jacob Bender, OL, 49ers
  • James Brown, DB, Dolphins
  • Garrett Ford, RB, Broncos
  • Tom Forrest, OL, Bears
  • Mike Graybill, OL, Browns
  • Garland Hawkins, DE, Bears
  • Bobby Houston, LB, Jets
  • Mike Johnson, LB, Browns
  • Andre Jones, LB, Lions
  • Jeff Komlo, QB, Lions
  • Brendan McCarthy, RB, Falcons
  • Quinn Ojinnaka, OL, Falcons
  • John Owens, TE, Lions
  • Tony Paige, RB, Jets
  • Steve Smith, RB, Raiders
  • Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles
  • Josh Wilson, DB, Seahawks

While McGregor said he will never tell an athlete which college to attend, he does wear several hats when helping his kids make choices that affect their futures.

"With Coach, everything goes through him," Chroniger said. "You make sure he knows exactly what's going on and how everything is so you and him can be on the same page when you talk to another coach or the same coach. I wouldn't have gotten here without him. I know without him I wouldn't have the opportunities that I'm having right now. He has connections everywhere. He has good relationships with a lot of colleges. His name is just a big impression to college coaches when it comes to recruiting."

McDowney echoed Chroniger's sentiments.

"[McGregor] led me through the recruiting process," he said. "Talked to me about what to do, what not to do. He told me to always have your chin up, your chest up -- those kinds of things. I've been depending on him to point me in the right direction so I won't make a bad decision that will screw me up for the rest of my life."

McGregor estimates that he has helped more than 350 athletes gain college scholarships in his tenure as head coach. Every year between 1990 through 2005, McGregor put at least 10 athletes into college. This year he expects at least 10 of his players will get athletic scholarships.

"Any time someone gets a college scholarship, to me, it's like winning a football game. I love to be part of that," McGregor said. "I love to hear their voice or their parents' voice. It means so much to them. It's a culmination of all their hard work and everything they've done for four years to get that. To me it's not like work; it's play."

The photos serve as both a reminder to college coaches of McGregor's track record and a foreshadowing to current Stags to what they can achieve if they put in the work.

"When you get your picture on the wall it doesn't mean everyone is going to notice you," Chroniger said. "You still have to make a name for yourself and play well at the next level. Being on these walls right here -- they make the name for themselves, but [McGregor] helps get them there to make that name."

Added McDowney:

"It will be very important [to be on the wall] because now everyone who comes in to see Coach McGregor, they'll see our faces added to the legacy of Coach McGregor."

Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com.