Enter Jaevon McQuitty, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound 4-star recruit out of Columbia, Missouri, with a knack for making tough catches.
“We’ve got Jaevon McQuitty who is a playmaker, a tough kid; he’s a perfect fit for us right now,” Mike Riley said during his press conference on national signing day. “Jaevon’s been committed for quite a while and is in school.”
McQuitty’s story began in a small Missouri town with a population of fewer than 100 people. His family moved to Columbia when he was in kindergarten in order to give Jaevon a better life.
That better life included football, which McQuitty began playing when he was 9-years-old. At first, it was merely something to pass the time, but it became much more for him.
“It’s just an outlet just to be something, to make something of my life,” McQuitty said.
He began at running back, until he hit a growth spurt and his coach moved him to tight end – much to his dismay.
“I wasn’t feeling that,” McQuitty said.
The coaches told him if he wanted to move to wide receiver he had to improve his footwork. So McQuitty asked his father to buy him some cones to do drills at home.
“I was trying to get my footwork right,” McQuitty said.
The coaches held true to their word, and McQuitty’s hard work paid off as they eventually moved him to wide receiver. During those years, McQuitty developed a true love for the game.
“I just liked it,” McQuitty said. “There’s something about the smell of that turf.”
When McQuitty arrived at Battle High School – a school that opened in 2013 – an upperclassman told him he would not see the varsity field, that he’d be playing freshman and junior varsity football all year. McQuitty had other he plans.
He played varsity from day one, as did his best friend and quarterback Brevinn Tyler. The duo had played together since fourth grade and had already established a strong connection, which they brought with them to Battle. Any resentment the upperclassmen might have had quickly faded as McQuitty and Tyler won them over with their work ethic. Together, Tyler and McQuitty saw it all through their four years of varsity football.
“Being able to go through it with your best friend, I think, is something that is really special and not a lot of people get to do,” Tyler said. “Playing four years in high school, that gave us a lot of experience and I think that really helped when it came to the playoffs. We had a lot of experience and saw almost every defense you could see at the high school level and every situation you could see. So we were confident we could make any play we needed to.”
Tyler and McQuitty helped lead the Spartans to a state title as sophomores – Battle’s first year of post-season eligibility. Any time the Spartans needed a play, Tyler was targeting one player and one player only – McQuitty.
“The defense knew it too and they still couldn’t stop it,” Tyler said. “Dominating over four straight years, it was just something special to watch.”
McQuitty’s performance that season caught the eye of the Nebraska coaching staff. The Huskers invited him to the 2015 spring game, creating a dilemma for the talented prospect.
He was already planning on going to a Rivals Combine on the same day. At the urging of his mother, however, McQuitty chose the Nebraska spring game and found himself with an offer by the end of his unofficial visit.
Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri offers followed over the next 10 months, but on March 12, 2016, he committed to Nebraska. McQuitty cited the coaches’ past success with building up players as a reason for his decision
“Coach (Mike) Riley, Coach (Keith) Williams, Coach (Danny) Langsdorf have developed real players,” McQuitty said.
McQuitty’s relationship with Williams, Nebraska’s wide receivers coach, was and is especially strong as the two talk every day.
“He’s just a player coach,” McQuitty said. “He just keeps it real. He doesn’t sugar-coat anything . . . If someone tells you how it really is and what they really think, that’s like the most love a person can give you.”
The Spartans went 24-5 over McQuitty’s last two years and made it to the semifinals both years as he grew into a team leader and dominant force on the field.
“He is a vocal guy,” Tyler said. “He’s not afraid to tell a teammate, ‘Let’s go, get your mind right.’ But he’s always positive, which is a big thing. A lot of vocal guys can be demeaning, but he knows the balance of how to motivate a player without having to kind of bully them into being great, how to positively motivate people.”
McQuitty surpassed 1,000 receiving yards as a junior, but his true coming-out party as a senior came in a 55-52 week-four win against the eventual state champion Vianney (Kirkwood, Missouri).
“We were down by like 21 points I think at some point and he just took over,” Tyler said. “He was just making plays that I’d never seen him make before and I’d been playing with him more than anybody has. There was one play, we ran a seam and he was triple-covered, and I still threw it to him anyway, and he jumps up, grabs the ball over three people, comes down, puts his hand on the ground to keep from falling and then he takes off and scores from 60 yards out. It just shows that’s how much he wants to win; he’s going to do anything. When the ball’s in the air, there’s no question about it.”
McQuitty finished with seven receptions for 259 yards and four touchdowns. The next morning, he had to get up early to take the ACT.
“He’s always really serious and he’s always deep into the game, but at the same time he’s also so loose and just having fun because he enjoys football,” Tyler said about McQuitty’s demeanor during games. “That’s just what he does; he loves the game and you can see the way he plays and the way he interacts with teammates. He’s always out there just trying to have fun, and if he’s not having fun then he’s not going to be playing. He loves the game of football.”
McQuitty graduated in December and decided to join four other recruits on campus as early enrollees at the beginning of the spring semester, hoping to give himself the best opportunity to see the field as a true freshman. He wants to learn as much as he can.
Tyler said one trait will serve McQuitty well as he strives to carve out a role for himself at Nebraska: his dependability.
“If you need him on third down, he’s got you. If you need him on first down, he’s got you. If you need him to go block a linebacker, he’s going to go do it,” Tyler said. “He’s going to do anything he can to win the game because that’s how much he loves his team and playing football.”
Playing time should be available come the fall, and Tyler fully expects to see his best friend on the field every Saturday,
“I’m confident (he’ll play),” Tyler said. “I already told him get me a jersey; I’m throwing the name on the back of it and everything. I’m excited to watch him play and see how he grows, especially at the next level. I know he’s kind of nervous, but he’s confident at the same time and I’m confident that he’s going to do well.”