Sophomore wide receiver Jaevon McQuitty met with reporters on Wednesday while sporting a Battle High School T-shirt.
McQuitty starred for the Battle Spartans in Columbia, Missouri, from 2013 to 2017, leaving with most of the school’s receiving records. He was rated as a 4-star recruit and earned offers from the likes of Michigan, Iowa and Iowa State before committing to Mike Riley’s Huskers.
Husker fans haven’t gotten to see that version of McQuitty thus far in his career thanks to multiple injuries that derailed his career before it even really started. However, McQuitty said he finally feels like himself again and his coaches are taking notice.
The 6-foot receiver enrolled for the spring semester in 2017, getting a head start to his college career. However, a shoulder injury limited him during spring ball, and then he tore his ACL 10 practices into fall camp.
Suddenly, a guy who looked like he had a chance to play right away was on the shelf for his entire freshman season. He recovered in time to take part in spring ball last year but got buried on the depth chart, appearing in six games without recording a reception. He’s been a different guy this camp, however.
"He's all the way back,” offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Troy Walters said after Wednesday’s practice. “He's playing full speed. He's not scared of injury or anything like that. He's made some splash plays out there in camp so he just has to continue to get better and he'll find himself in that rotation.”
Walters brought up McQuitty unprompted last week, remarking on his improved understanding of the offense and his confidence, and he echoed those thoughts on Wednesday as well.
"He struggled a little bit last year and in the spring, but he had a good summer and you can tell he dedicated himself to the weight room and really studying the playbook and learning the system,” Walters said. “When you know the system you can play fast and that shows with McQuitty this year.”
The impact of a serious injury often extends well beyond the physical recovery timetable, and that was certainly the case for McQuitty who experienced multiple injuries before ever getting to set foot on the field at Memorial Stadium.
“It definitely messed with my mindset and my confidence and just who I was and how I felt,” McQuitty said. “Once I just talked to God and my mom and dad, I just realized I needed to get right, I needed to get back to the old me, I needed to get back to who I used to be, not worry about my knee or not worry about my shoulder or not worry about this play. Just go out and play fast and catch the ball.”
McQuitty said his faith played a big part in him sticking it out and not getting too down on himself.
“I had to just fight through adversity because that’s the type of guy I am,” McQuitty said. “I’m not a quitter. I’m going to just keep fighting until I can’t any more and if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, but I always fought. I’m never going to quit.”
It’s been a long road for McQuitty to get to this point where the injury is out of his mind and he’s focusing fully on football.
“It just took a while,” McQuitty said. “It was hard. I had to constantly have battles with myself. That’s what it really was, just my mindset. I had to change my mindset, just get myself right and stop feeling sorry for myself. I was tired of my situation and I just wanted to change where I was at … I just wanted my family to see me play. I didn’t want to just be a guy that people forget about. I just wanted to contribute to my team.”
In addition to his position coach and his teammates, McQuitty mentioned tight ends coach Sean Beckton as someone who helped him through his struggles.
“I try to communicate with all the kids on the football team,” Beckton said. “That’s one of my roles as a coach. I’ve always been that way with guys on the football team. I want those guys to feel comfortable with me, to come talk with me with anything outside of football and also football. That’s a relationship we have as coaches; Coach Walters doesn’t mind me communicating with his guys, Coach Austin doesn’t mind me communicating with his offensive line. That’s the way we all are, we’re built that way. There’s no selfishness on this staff.
“Jaevon is a guy that really, really has some tools but a lot of times mentally, his head’s not where it needs to be. I’m really trying to work on keeping him focused and locked in more. When he’s not in, seeing the signal, seeing what’s going on in front of him as a coverage and taking that mental rep every single play. I think it’s helping him; his game has really picked up.”
McQuitty mentioned focus as an area in which he’s really improved since his arrival in Lincoln; he’s handling himself as a professional. Beckton said he’s seen a difference in McQuitty throughout camp.
“It seemed like since the first day he’s made plays,” Beckton said. “By the fifth, sixth day, Coach Frost came over and said Jaevon McQuitty’s really playing; I heard him talk to Coach Walters about it. The biggest thing for him is being consistent and keeping the focus up and the mental focus up. He’s going to really help this football team this year.”
Nebraska has added four new freshmen to that wide receiver room in Wan’Dale Robinson, Jamie Nance, Darien Chase and Demariyon “Peanut” Houston, but McQuitty wasn’t thinking about potentially getting passed up by the newcomers. As Stanley Morgan Jr. did for him before, McQuitty has embraced his new teammates and isn’t worried about the competition for playing time.
“I just saw it as when Stan saw us — it’s time to just mentor the younger people,” McQuitty said. “That’s how I saw it, not as competition, I saw it as it’s time to show the young guys the ropes and how things are supposed to be done. I never see it as competition because we’re all on the team. It’s a long season and everybody’s going to contribute and play.”
Even so, Walters mentioned he’s seen a handful of the returners — McQuitty included — step their games up to hold the freshmen at bay for the time being.
"What I'm pleased and excited with are some of the other guys that have stepped up,” Walters said. “They've made it harder for those freshmen . . . They've kind of over-shined the freshman. They've done a good job. A lot of the other guys, McQuitty, Mike Williams, Andre Hunt, you know, they've stepped up their game and are doing well so the freshmen have a battle on their hands.”
The most important thing for McQuitty, though, is that he isn’t carrying that burden of doubt in practice anymore. He’s playing free and having fun again.
“When I was struggling with my confidence, practice was whatever,” he said. Now that I feel more confident, I feel back to myself, I look forward it every day. Not that I never did look forward to it, because I love football, but now I’m just looking forward to seeing everybody’s faces, I’m ready to make plays, I’m ready to help my teammates, I’m ready to spring blocks, I’m ready to talk during practice, just have good energy and a good vibe. That’s what I’m looking forward to now.”
Now that Jaevon McQuitty has found himself again, he’s ready to reintroduce himself to Husker fans as the 2019 season draws near.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.