The play was barely over and Matt McGinley took a couple steps onto the playing surface at David Person Field, buckling up the chin strap on each side of his white Lycoming football helmet. He hesitated momentarily, seeing if Warriors starting quarterback Tyler Jenny could rise to his feet.
As the trainers ran on the field, McGinley turned toward the sideline, looking for a football and a throwing partner to loosen up his left arm. It's the life of a backup quarterback, always on the edge of his toes, waiting for the moment he's called upon to jump into a football game and be the guy everyone looks to for guidance.
On this day, an abnormally warm early October Saturday afternoon, McGinley was being called upon at one of the most crucial points of Lycoming's eventual 19-16 win over Delaware Valley. Jenny had his bell rung after scrambling on second down, and McGinley ran into a third-and-7 situation at the Aggies' 28-yard line. Head coach Mike Clark could have definitely kept a play call conservative considering the Warriors were on the cusp of kicker Zack Czap's field goal range, but Clark didn't feel like he had to simplify things for McGinley.
Over the course of four years with Lycoming, the coaching staff has forged a confidence in McGinley through junior varsity games, preseason scrimmages and daily work at practice. So there was no hesitation in letting the senior from Tri-Valley High School come into the game cold and throw a pass.
McGinley didn't complete the pass during a drive which eventually led to a touchdown, and he was back on the sideline for fourth down after Jenny had recovered from his injury. But it was one play which spoke volumes about what McGinley has built during his time at Lycoming.
"If something happened with Tyler Jenny, we would put him in and we'd run our offense. That's what we'd do, and not a lot of places can say that," Clark said earlier this week. "I think with Matt, we would still be able to complete 50-plus percent of our throws and continue to move the sticks and score points."
Matt McGinley isn't going to appear on any of the passing lists in Lycoming's record book when his career finishes this fall. A victim of circumstance as much as anything, McGinley will likely leave Lycoming having appeared in potentially fewer than five varsity football games during his four years on the team.
He wouldn't trade any of it, though. What drove him to attend Lycoming during his senior season at Tri-Valley is the same thing which has made the last four years worth it whether he plays in 4 games or 40 games. He's a part of a family.
"Love of the game is a big part of why I stayed. But everyone is family around here, and the tradition here is awesome," McGinley said. "And all that outweighs the other costs. In the end, sure, I may have to pay more money with student loans, but it's family here and I love being on the team."
Division III football is vastly different than the other levels sponsored by the NCAA. It's a level made up almost entirely of pricey private institutions. No athletic scholarships are given to athletes in Division III athletics the way they are at higher levels. Here, athletes are playing because of the love of the sport, as McGinley said.
Clark often talks about the commitment which is involved in playing football at a Division III school. It goes way beyond just taking the time to watch film, attend meetings and practices and enduring the travel schedule. There's a financial commitment by the athlete which comes with playing at this level.
At Lycoming, tuition for a year runs north of $40,000. For players who don't see the field too often in competition, it can be quite the burden to take on just to continue playing a sport for love of the game, especially when they could walk on at any number of state schools for far less in tuition money while getting the same amount of playing time.
"It's so easy to quit. But I think kids like Matt McGinley have an appreciation for being part of our group, and it's a mutual appreciation," Clark said. "It's hard for those guys to come to practice every day knowing they're not going to play a ton on Saturday. But they come out and they want the best for the team. And when guys accept their roles, it's pretty cool. It's a life lesson a little bit."
It's not as if McGinley was an also-ran quarterback without the qualifications to play collegiately coming out of high school. A tall kid with a big arm, McGinley threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in two years as a starter for Tri-Valley. As a senior in 2009, he threw for 2,366 yards and 20 touchdowns as the Bulldogs advanced to the PIAA Class A East final after beating Southern Columbia in the East semifinals.
There was a lot of promise in the abilities of McGinley. Initially Clark wasn't sure he'd even be able to get a player like McGinley to even come to Lycoming because he had him pegged as a borderline Division I-AA, or Division II player. But when McGinley did decide to come to Lycoming, Clark remembers having a conversation with a coach from Delaware Valley where the Aggies' coach was disappointed not to be able to land McGinley.
As a freshman he was behind sophomore starting quarterback Zach Klinger and senior backup Tim Hook. As a sophomore he was still third on the depth chart behind Klinger and Jenny, who was a freshman from Glendale High School. He didn't gain any ground on the depth chart as a junior, still behind Jenny, who had taken the starter's job, and Klinger.
When McGinley stepped on the field in this year's season opener against Brockport in a game which Lycoming's offense strained for production, it was the first time since arriving at Lycoming the senior had stepped foot on the field in a varsity game. There was never a thought to transferring, though. Whether or not he was getting playing time didn't much matter. McGinley was a part of the team he wanted to be a part of.
"Coming out of high school I said I'm going to go where I'm going to go and I'm going to do the best I can," McGinley said. "I've always had a great relationship with Zach and Tyler and I try to push them as hard as I can to make them better."
Circumstances just never seemed to favor McGinley. Klinger started 20 games in his career, including leading upsets of No. 13 Ithaca as a sophomore and No. 22 Rowan as a junior.
Jenny is currently the most accurate passer in the history of Lycoming College football with the third-highest passer efficiency rating of any player who's taken a snap for the Warriors. This year alone Jenny has led wins over ranked Widener and Delaware Valley teams.
"I think Matt McGinley could start for a lot of other schools in our conference, I really do," Clark said. "It's crazy the way it works sometimes and you feel for those guys. But he's a phenomenal kid and we're really happy to have him on our team."
McGinley has appeared in three games this year for Lycoming, playing in a loss to Brockport State and a lopsided win against Misericordia. He also took the one snap in the fourth quarter against Delaware Valley. Lycoming's last five games have been decided by seven points or less, not allowing for much of an opportunity for McGinley to get snaps.
In his limited time he's completed 3 of 6 passes for 31 yards. He threw the only touchdown pass of his collegiate career, an 11-yarder to John Sibel, in the third quarter of a 52-14 win over Misericordia.
He's been mentally ready for every opportunity he's gotten on the field. Although he's never been the starter on the depth chart, he's always prepared as if he was the starter. Clark is confident with one or two adjustments, the offense would run as planned should McGinley be a long-term solution at quarterback.
"Practice is kind of like my game," McGinley said. "I always try to shred the defense and do what I can do. But I try to help teach the other guys, too. I like to talk to (Chase Whiteman) so I can help him learn for the future."
McGinley has embraced his role at Lycoming. Maybe it's not quite the one he envisioned playing when he first arrived on campus, but it's all worked out for the best.
"It's totally worth it," McGinley said. "All the people I've met here, and the coaches, everything about Lycoming is great, especially the football team. Everything here is like family. I'd never give back these four years."