Student-athletes are often stereotyped as putting athletics over academics on their list of priorities — but not Denarius McGhee. While he may be a nationally ranked quarterback for the Bobcat football team, McGhee also embraces his roles off the field.
The Exponent recently sat down with McGhee to ask him about life at MSU. He proved to be humble and soft-spoken, yet friendly and enthusiastic. Eager to get the interview going, he started the conversation with an exuberant, “Let’s roll!”
McGhee’s life began far away from Bozeman and its mountainous surroundings. Born in McComb, Miss., McGhee moved with his father to Euless, Texas, during high school. From there, “Everything just went uphill.” It was in Texas that his football career began, as he led his high school team — which was ranked number one in the country by Sports Illustrated during his senior year — to a state championship win. He considers himself “lucky” that he ended up where he did, as there were few opportunities for him in Mississippi and “it would have been really hard to get out.”
Now, McGhee is arguably one of the busiest students at MSU. When asked how he balances his roles as a student and an athlete, he said, “It’s tough. I’ve recently had to eliminate some of my social life to be really good on the field and in the classroom.” Determined to succeed, he noted being organized and changing his study routine as things that help him keep his studies on track.
McGhee also joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity last year. “I love the fraternity. With my huge class load, it gives me a break from everything,” he said. “I can go to the house, hang out and release some of the pressure by hanging out with my brothers.”
Alex Chiapetta, president of the Interfraternity Council and one of McGhee’s best friends, remarked that he knew right away he wanted McGhee in his fraternity.
“Pi Kappa Alpha recruits guys that are four things — scholars, leaders, athletes and gentlemen,” Chiapetta said. “It was very clear that Denarius filled all of those characteristics well.”
Chiapetta, who is also McGhee’s Pi Kappa Alpha big brother, said, “‘D’ is a genuinely nice and humble guy. He’s a normal dude and football is just what he does.” McGhee’s background and activities offer a unique representation of diversity to his fraternity. “There’s a lot more to him than just football,” Chiapetta said, “and even if football doesn’t work out for him, I know he’ll do great in life.”
Through activities such as membership in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and his position as director of marketing for the Blue and Gold Ball Committee, McGhee enjoys practicing his business and management skills. He stated these experiences are some the most rewarding aspects of campus involvement. “I don’t think a class can teach you exactly how to market an event,” he explained. “You have to make some mistakes to learn, just like football — you learn as you go.”
In the off-season, McGhee visits the Boys and Girls Club and reads to kids in local elementary schools. “I like being involved in the community as much as I can,” McGhee noted. “It’s what I like to do — be a part of something bigger than myself.”
McGhee says he doesn’t ski, but enjoys traveling around the state in his free time. While this was difficult to do this summer with three jobs, including an internship with a local television station, he managed to make it to Kalispell, Missoula, Polson and many other towns to visit friends.
After the season begins, McGhee thrives on consistent rituals. “Whenever you skew from the plan, things just don’t work out well,” he explained. When asked about his pregame ritual, he laughed jovially and said, “Oh, that’s inside information!”
However, he revealed that he eats a big breakfast with lots of bacon on game day and likes to have a “clear mind.” He also avoids pregame music. “It clutters my mind when it comes to focusing on the game,” he said.
When he’s not preparing for a game, McGhee is a self-proclaimed “huge R&B fan” — which is no surprise considering he is related to R&B star Brandy. He also enjoys country and dubstep, but “it depends on the mood.” While he avoids listening to music while walking around campus, he will “kick some tunes” while driving, at home or in the shower. His current favorite album is Chris Brown’s “Fortune.”
If McGhee were not playing football, he says he would be “involved in campus and campus life” — and not just by joining a few clubs. He would like to be a part of student government, joining committees and possibly running for student body president. As to why, he stated, “Because that’s where you learn a lot about yourself and other people. In the future, these are who we’ll be working with.”
While McGhee would continue playing football in the NFL or Canadian Football League “if the opportunity presents itself,” he wants to use his business degree to do consulting work for offshore oil plants. Later on, he would also like to work in university administration as an athletic director.
At the top of McGhee’s graduation bucket list are visiting Glacier National Park, recruiting for his fraternity and winning a national football championship. As he explained, a national championship, would be “huge…not only for us [the team], but for the entire community as well.”
Another goal for McGhee is to mentor upcoming quarterbacks. “This run doesn’t end with me,” he said. “This program is going to become something that’s huge. We just need to keep passing everything down.”
A favorite quote of McGhee’s comes from one of his football coaches: “You never go broke taking a profit.” McGhee explained it means that “if you don’t take those opportunities [given to you], then you’re missing out.”
He also mentioned a famous quote from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” For Denarius McGhee, the goal is to take all the shots and opportunities life throws his way — and it’s hard to imagine he won’t succeed with this philosophy.