Quarterback Kyle McCord made his earliest successes as a freshman in the 2021 season.
In Week 4, while then-quarterback CJ Stroud was recovering from his shoulder injury, McCord rose through the ranks and earned the first and only start of his career. After his first two passes were incomplete, McCord threw his first of two touchdowns on a five-yard pass to former wide receiver Chris Olave during the Buckeyes’ second drive en route to finishing with 319 passing yards in the 59-7 win vs. Akron September 25, 2021.
More than a season later, McCord finds himself in Ohio State’s newest quarterback competition, and he said he still looks back to his first start over a year ago to find confidence and motivation in himself.
“You can prepare for different defenses, but at the end of the day when the ball is down and you’re in there, you have to deal with some things on the fly,” McCord said. “It was good to have that experience, to have some good games and some bad games and learning from that I think has really helped me, especially at this point so early in my career. I think it is very important to gain experience.”
McCord and freshman quarterback Devin Brown will compete this spring for Ohio State’s starting position in the 2023 season. Both potential starters said Tuesday they were “get the most out of it‘ from each other after the first of 15 spring drills leading up to the spring game.
For McCord from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, he has a chance to show who he really is.
Head coach Ryan Day said on Feb. 1 he wants a quarterback who’s tough and can top a roster of football players. Throwing touchdowns and converting on third and long chances will come, but there are other intangible ways to impress the coaching staff and earn the starting spot.
“Of course there were opportunities to speak out, to lead and to speak, things like that came,” McCord said. “Definitely something I wanted to be a little aware of early in the winter and then over time it just became second nature.”
A chance to succeed Stroud, who McCord has looked up to and shadowed as a backup for the last two seasons, is opportunity enough.
McCord said it was a “natural transition” as Stroud, who has been named a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and just as often the Big Ten’s Graham George Offensive Player of the Year, embraced a new spotlight and dedicated himself to the NFL -Draft declared in January. This left the Buckeyes without a reigning starter – but left McCord with a wealth of knowledge many cannot find elsewhere.
“I learned a lot from CJ, on and off the field, physically, mentally, everything,” McCord said. “It was interesting to be able to spend my first two years with him and he was great at it, open to everything. Whenever I had a question, I never hesitated to ask him and he was always absolutely honest with me and gave me a lot of good advice, for which I am very grateful.”
McCord has appeared in 12 games over two seasons at Ohio State, primarily as Stroud’s backup and the Buckeyes’ late-game signal caller, with the outcome largely in hand. Despite playing seven games last season, McCord had more pass attempts in the 2021 season, with 38 compared to 20.
It’s often said that the goal of training is to make it more difficult than a live game, but in Day’s eyes, he said he’s seen McCord embrace that challenge since arriving.
“He’s grown and I think he’s done a good job,” Day said. “His attitude was excellent. He is very hardworking so now is the time to put him on the field and compete.”
Whoever the up-and-coming starting quarterback turns out to be, they have ample opportunities to throw at wide receivers.
Sophomore wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. — who played with McCord at St. Joseph’s Prep High School — and Emeka Egbuka combined for 2,414 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Fourth-year tight end Cade Stover and third-year wide receiver Julian Fleming are also returning for more seasons at Ohio State, leaving the Buckeyes with plenty of experience and athleticism among the targets to choose from.
“I think that’s one of the deepest positions we have on this team and I think the young guys are strengthening quite well,” McCord said. “I think it gives other guys a chance to step up and make a few plays and they showed they could do it on day one. But I’ve been throwing with all the guys all offseason, so I don’t think we really missed a shot.
Many haven’t seen too much of what McCord can do or is challenged to do in the Big Ten game. It’s important to remember that the last time Ohio State held a quarterback contest, the Buckeyes chose a gunslinger who hadn’t already thrown a college-level pass.
That won’t matter to McCord, nor will it matter too much to quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis and the Buckeyes.
“It’s not just tough for a quarterback. It’s tough for any position. The boys want to come in and play,” Dennis said on February 1. “On the other hand, as a player, you have to look at it internally and say, ‘Okay, what do I have to do when does my chance come that I’m ready to make the best of it?'”
What McCord brings to the Buckeyes is a 6-foot-3, 222-pound frame with two seasons at Ohio State and his offensive playing style.
The first spring practice is over and over, and soon the second and third will come, revealing a lot about the Ohio State quarterback competition and McCord, who wants his performance to respond to any criticism or praise that comes his way.
“I think time will tell, to be honest,” McCord said. “I could sit up here and say what I want to do and what I want to achieve, but at the end of the day I think the film will speak for itself when the time comes.”