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After tough early-season loss, FAMU’s Rasean McKay is back to his winning ways

Both coach Willie Simmons and former Rattlers QB Ryan Stanley helped boost his confidence

TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M quarterback Rasean McKay wants to win out the rest of the season. His mission is for his team to compete for the Southwestern Athletic Conference title.

Because the spring football season was canceled, McKay spent that time reviewing the team’s playbook, and strengthening his throwing, accuracy and leadership skills. After playing understudy to the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) player of the year Ryan Stanley for two years, McKay was named the starter for the highly anticipated matchup against Jackson State to open the season at the Orange Blossom Classic in September.

However, that did not go well.

McKay faced much criticism for his shaky performance. It was a nightmare, something that he said still haunts him to this day. He missed receivers and was never able to get the offense moving. McKay’s stat line against Jackson State was 18 completions on 29 attempts for 78 yards. After that performance, fans criticized his performance, saying, “Leave McKay in Miami.”

“I mean, salt on my mouth from that game,” said McKay. “I say, it’s a tough game. I said, think about a game every once in a while, but, I mean, it happens, so I already just put it to the side. It didn’t come out how I wanted to come out, but that was the first game in two years. You know, it’s kind of tough. It was a tough game, but I put it to the side. It was eating me up, [and I have to admit that] it’s still eating me up right now.”

Following Jackson’s State game, coach Willie Simmons named Junior Muratovic the next game’s starting quarterback against Fort Valley. In a conversation, McKay gave Muratovic advice for his first official start.

The Rattlers’ game against Jackson State will be featured in the ESPN+ series Why Not Us: FAMU Football, which featured the Orange Blossom Classic. McKay is one of the key players profiled in the series.

“I was in that situation before when I said when Ryan went down [for the North Carolina] A&T game and when he went down, basically, I was the next man up,” McKay said to Muratovic. “I just told him the role of [quarterback is to] just lead. I know he knows the playbook. So when he got in, I was real positive with him making good reads, making the right reads, throwing the right throws, and moving the chains.”

Despite Muratovic being named the starter, McKay would see playing time in the game. McKay was given the starting quarterback position for the next game against South Florida.

Since McKay has redeemed himself, he’s starting in Saturday’s homecoming game against Grambling State. The Tigers are coming off a bye week, and FAMU (5-2) beat Mississippi Valley 31-28. McKay threw three touchdowns and two interceptions in the victory.

For the season, he is 121-for-210 passing for 1,226 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

“[Rasean] puts a lot of pressure on himself to do it the right way,” said Simmons. “And so, I don’t think the outside noise [has] gotten to him after the first game. He’s continued to get better every single week. That’s what [I want to see as a coach], that’s not dwelling on Game 1. He’s fully entrenched in Game 7 at this point.

“And I think he’s looking forward to continuing to lead this football team, because that’s what we’re going to need to be successful, a quarterback who can channel ­­­the energy, the way he needs to focus on things that are important, and, and be the quarterback for the [team], which comes with his own set of responsibilities and challenges, in and of itself.”

Simmons, Stanley and McKay share the connection of playing quarterback in college. Simmons played quarterback at Clemson from 2000-2002 before transferring to The Citadel, where he would finish.

Rasean McKay (left) hands the ball off to Jalil Core (right) of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the second half against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 18 in Tampa, Florida.

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Stanley won the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year award in his playing days. He left the Rattlers as the all-time career leader in touchdowns (67), passing attempts (1,187), completions (636), and passing yards (8,424). He ranked first in MEAC history in passing attempts and second in total passing yards (8,424) and pass completions.

“I’ve reached out to him [before the season started] and told him never to let the moment be bigger than [you],” said Stanley. “Being the [starting quarterback] can build a lot of nerves, which is normal, but just be you, because the coaches and locker room trust you.”

Simmons and Stanley had successful careers and understand the pressure of leading an offense. In conversations with McKay, they advised him on how to maneuver while playing quarterback for FAMU.

“I always told him you don’t have to do anything special [in the offense],” said Stanley. “Our receivers are the best in the nation. All [Rasean] has to do is drive the car like a nice Mercedes with all bells and whistles. Just get in and enjoy the ride. [He doesn’t have to do] anything special. Get the ball to the playmakers, and in [the quarterback] spot, you need short-term memory whether you just threw a touchdown. [As a quarterback], he can’t dwell on the plays [that have] already happened.”

Friendship and leadership matter

Outside of football, McKay and Muratovic share a deep friendship. In Muratovic’s words, they “joke around with each other and have become real cool friends.” Being close to family and friends is important to McKay, a redshirt senior majoring in criminal justice.

McKay, who grew up in Miami, lost his father when he was 4 years old. He doesn’t like to talk about it much. His father’s love of baseball influenced his decision to play the game.

“[My father’s] favorite sport was baseball,” said McKay. “So that’s where I fell in love with playing baseball. I’ve built my arm strength playing third base and pitcher.”

McKay spent summers in Tallahassee hanging out with his older brother, Robert, who was then running backs coach at Amos P. Godby High School, one of the more notable schools in Tallahassee. McKay often watched practices to spend time with his brother. One day, he was noticed by one of the football coaches. He was asked to participate in a 7-on-7 drill.

[The coach] told me to throw to an open receiver,” said McKay. “[I dropped back from under center] and threw to all of the receivers. The success against the defense would make the defensive coaching staff upset because of my lack of experience playing the quarterback.”

He was quarterback for Godby in both his junior and senior seasons while exploring and competing in another passion of his, baseball.

The only college interested in formally recruiting him was Warner University, a small, private Christian university in Lake Wales, Florida. As he considered where to attend college, he considered FAMU because of his family.

“I had got an offer from Warner, but that’s where I really wanted to go,” said McKay. “All of [my immediate] family came to Tallahassee and went to [FAMU]. I had a preferred walk-on spot at [FAMU]. I am not going to go to Warner, but I [will come to FAMU].”

Redshirt junior defensive lineman Richard Summers, a Tallahassee native, was a member of the Godby team. McKay and Summers developed a friendship that’s continued at FAMU. Summers has witnessed McKay’s transition and growth from baseball to football.

“He had to get used to the mechanics of football,” said Summers. “I’m saying it’s difficult to play, being a quarterback. So, he just had to get used to that. Being the quarterback, he learned how to throw the football and not overthrow a [receiver].”

Outside of leading the FAMU offense, McKay manages the budding rap career of his teammate Martery Brown, a redshirt junior linebacker. He and McKay met at Godby in the weight room, and their relationship has grown outside of sports.

“[Rasean] has done a lot for my music career,” said Brown. “I don’t want to go into the many sacrifices Rasean has made for my career. We split everything between us.”

Now that he’s the starting quarterback at FAMU, what does it feel like playing quarterback at homecoming? 

“It is a dream,” said McKay. “I always want to play the game of football somewhere. [The students and alumni] love the school, so it will be a packed house. I am just ready to go out, execute, and do what [the offense] has to do.”

Calvin Sykes is a graduate student in sports science at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Fla. A native of Miami, Sykes was the sideline reporter for the Florida A&M Rattlers football from 2018-2020, program director for the school’s radio station WANM FM 90.5, and has written for HBCU GameDay.