Miami cornerback Brandon McGee doesn't let the pressure of preparing for the NFL Draft faze him.
Whether it was competing in the East-West Shrine Game or at the NFL Combine in front of television cameras, scouts, coaches and general managers, nervousness isn't in the vocabulary of McGee.
"There's no pressure," said McGee back during the Comibine. "I like being in situations like this, being on a platform where I'm able to compete against some of the top guys, some of the quote, unquote top DBs."
Life has prepared McGee for more than being the only obstacle between the goal line and some burly running back rumbling down the sideline. Or Megatron-like wide receivers running fade routes in the corner of the end zone.
As an adolescent, McGee was forced to mature ahead of his time.
"My dad battled cancer when I was in fourth grade," explained McGee. "He had his voice box removed actually. Now he speaks through a voice simulator, and he didn't smoke at all. It wasn't due to tobacco. And also, I lost my mother when I was 13 to breast cancer."
Through it all, sports was an escape for McGee. His father, despite any limitations he might have, kept his son involved in sports growing up: football, basketball, track and field. He'd play on AAU teams and travel constantly throughout the summer.
Nothing could bring his mother back. McGee could never forget the painful memories, but he learned to cope, and sports was part of that mechanism, that outlet.
"Just going through those things definitely made me stronger," said McGee. "I'm able to take adversity; I'm able to take criticism. And me personally, I feel like I'm my own biggest critic. So whenever I'm faced with adversity, I just think of what I've been through already and what I'm being able to overcome."
McGee took that competitiveness to the University of Miami. Even though he wasn't recruited by current head coach Al Golden, McGee's personality fit right into the reclamation project Golden is building for the Hurricanes.
The impressionable McGee took to heart Golden's "Uphold the Legacy" sermons that served to honor the talented players from Miami's storied past. That included admiring fellow cornerback Sam Shields from afar, a former Hurricane and current Packer. McGee said he wasn't surprised to see the success Shields has experienced in the NFL because of his talent level, even though he made the difficult switch from wide receiver.
As for McGee himself, his college career wasn't one that included statistical superlatives. His senior season was his best year, and it only included a modest two interceptions and seven passes broken up.
But he took his role as a captain seriously, and he's now being looked at as a legitimate NFL prospect because of his athleticism. Standing 5-11 and 193 lbs., McGee ran a 4.40 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and had a three-cone drill time of 6.71 seconds that ranked in top four among cornerbacks.
McGee counts former Packer Charles Woodson as his favorite professional defensive back, a player he tries to pattern his game after. His senior season at Miami, he would watch film and attempt to implement aspects of Woodson's game into his own.
"He's definitely versatile," said McGee. "He moved back to safety. He's played inside at nickel; he's played outside at corner. I played nickel as well at Miami, so I feel like me bringing that versatility to my game definitely helps my stock out."
Spurred by conversation of Woodson, McGee was asked whether he liked to play run defense and responded, "Yeah, you have no choice."
Even though he's been under a microscope the past few month by talent evaluators, McGee said he's been staying relaxed and calm. Through his conversations and interviews with NFL decision makers, he's been trying to relate his "football intelligence," which he considers his biggest strength.
He wants coaches to know he's not only able to understand defensive philosophies, but that he also comprehends what the offense is doing as well. He grasps what an opponent is liable to do based upon down and distance or field position.
After all he's been though, McGee is ready for the next challenge in life. Vertical jumps, bench press repetitions and short shuttles are small peanuts. The groundwork has been laid, and now it's time to carve out a career in football.
"I've been preparing for this moment my entire life," said McGee. "This is what I've dreamed about basically. For me to be a professional, I conduct myself like a professional as well."
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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