TAMPA — It might be midnight, even as late as 1 a.m., on a school night and teenaged Timmy McClain would be throwing footballs to his father, Tim, in the field next to their house, lit only by streetlights.
The ball might wobble on a throw and dad would say, “Do it again,” because Timmy “had to get out the wobble.”
It wasn’t always that late, but it was every single day. Asked Wednesday what he did most often as a kid, USF’s true freshman quarterback said, “a lot of drills.”
“If we started late, say around 11 p.m., we would still do it until we got it right,” said McClain’s father, a lawyer in Sanford and former quarterback at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. “Sometimes he would get mad at me and we would all get frustrated. We were all tired. But you have to do it until you get it right.”
When Timmy got a few years older, it was him telling his dad they had to keep going.
A set of 10 drills of 10 passes each designed by his father — which Timmy started doing daily at age 7 — are burned into his memory. Other drills included running through cones, agility ladders, spinning away from giant inflated exercise balls rolled at him by his dad, throwing over barriers to keep his release high. There were also running, lifting and stretching exercises.
“Sometimes I really didn’t want to do it and sometimes out of anger I would chuck the ball real hard at my dad,” said McClain with a lighthearted chuckle. “But we kept it at and it helped me get better and better.”
By the time he started high school as a freshman at Sanford Seminole, McClain was a quarterbacking machine. His coach showed him the playbook and McClain, without anybody telling him to, wrote out each play on an index card with progressions/checkdowns on the back.
He moved all the living-room furniture to the walls and spread the 70 or so cards on the floor. He sat in the middle and went through them until he got them all down.
“We had to step around the cards on the floor for three weeks,” his dad said.
McClain, already quicker and stronger than many of the older players around him, proceeded to start every game through his four years of high school, leading the Seminoles to a 40-5 record, including a perfect 12-0 mark and Class 8A state title in 2020, his senior season.
He graduated early a few weeks later and headed to USF. McClain said coach Jeff Scott was a huge reason he chose the Bulls over other schools, including Boston College and Louisville.
When offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. held a meeting with the quarterbacks the day before the first spring practice, McClain showed up with 100 index cards, complete with the Xs and Os and arrows on one side and the progressions and so forth on the back.
“I had never seen that before,” Weis said. “And as we were talking through the plays, he was taking down notes on his notecards. He knew exactly what we should be doing. Normally, you have to teach guys how to take notes. He was on it. I mean, he should be going to his prom. But in the spring, he’s fully immersed in what we’re doing. It’s that important to him.”
When he was little, McClain’s grandmother, Sally Ann, would watch Timmy play in the yard and say over and over again, “That boy is going to be famous.” She said it so much, her sisters joked they were the last words she said before shed died.
The buzz around McClain picked up considerably after last week’s performance against No. 15 BYU. The Cougars won 35-27, but only after USF and McClain, in only his second collegiate start, gave the them a scare.
After trailing 28-6 in the first half, McClain guided his team to scoring drives of 62, 75 and 94 yards as the Bulls (1-3) outscored the Cougars 21-7 in the second half. They scored on five of their final six possessions, including touchdowns on all three second-half drives.
The 19-play, 94-yard drive was particularly impressive, as McClain completed 4 of 5 passes for 48 yards before Jaren Mangham scored on a fourth-down plunge, cutting the gap to 35-27 with 5:41 remaining.
BYU ran out the clock, but a McClain made a statement with his quickness, elusiveness and rifle left arm that was not lost on his teammates.
“Timmy is going to take this program far,” left guard Demetris Harris said. “When he came in as an early enrollment, you could see it. It’s like he’s been there before. He’s so poised, the moment is never too big for him. He’s quiet, he’s reserved, he’s soft spoken, but he is confident. He doesn’t let any moment get too big for him.”
Not even with Lavell Edwards Stadium louder than any stadium Scott said he had ever heard. So loud, center Brad Cecil had to initiate the snap on the crucial fourth-down play by yelling, “Go!” Even then, Harris, lined up right next to Cecil, said he couldn’t hear him.
Was McClain nervous at all in that setting? Worried about getting the snap?
“No, never,” McClain said with a bright smile, ready for his next challenge Saturday at 4-0 SMU. “I’ve never heard the crowd, no matter how loud or big it has been. I really don’t even know they are there. I’m focused on executing the game plan, that’s all.
“The stadium and the crowd, it all just goes away and it’s just like throwing back home in the field to my dad. That’s all it is.”
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