Antonio McGhee listened as a sophomore for the Parkway Panthers. He listened to teammates like cornerback Robert “Mike Mike” Kelly and defensive end Kenny Wayne Johnson. They were seniors. He did what they said and worked how they worked.
“They showed me the ropes,” McGhee said.
Now, two years later, McGhee is the center of attention. The defensive end is the guy teammates follow. Their work habits, their demeanor, their drive — McGhee sets the precedent.
“I embraced the role once the seniors from last year left,” said McGhee, a third-year starter. “I put it on myself to lead to the best of my ability and lead by example. I try to do it for the young kids now.”
According to Parkway head coach David Feaster, there will be plenty for the younger kids to emulate. McGhee will “anchor” the Panthers’ defensive line and command the locker room.
“When we play passing teams he can apply pressure,” Feaster said. “When we play running teams he can control the line of scrimmage. Antonio has the strength and the speed to play every aspect on the defensive line.”
McGhee loves to rush the passer, and although size isn’t his calling card — he’s 5-foot-10 and 270 pounds — he believes his competitive drive helps get the job done.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” McGhee said. “Just because I’m smaller doesn’t mean you’re going to dominate me.”
McGhee’s play has helped him draw plenty of attention from Division I football programs. While the number of offers has reached double digits, he’s currently a verbal commitment to Tulane.
“God just blessed me, so I take it day by day,” McGhee said of the process of picking a college. “It can be hectic at times, but I just have to sit down sometimes and think about the decisions I need to make. It’s fun.”
McGhee has never been west of Texas, but that will soon change. He’ll soon take his official visit to Oregon State.
When schools come calling regarding McGhee, a recommendation from Feaster is a slam dunk.
“When teams did start recruiting him last spring, it was easy for me to say, ‘Just look at the film and see if he’s good enough to play because all the intangibles are there,'” Feaster said.
“He’s a hard worker, he’ll be there every day and he’ll be everybody’s favorite guy in the locker room.”
With just four starters returning on defense, McGhee’s talent and leadership are going to be tested, and needed.
“We hope to improve in every aspect of the game, but defense is where is going to start,” said Feaster, whose team allowed 52 points to Byrd, 45 to Haughton and 38 in a double-overtime playoff loss to Mandeville last season.
Despite the inexperience, McGhee liked what he saw in Friday’s scrimmage against Calvary.
“Our defense looked better than the past two years, so the sky is the limit — we’re going to do big things,” he said. “We’re looking to go deep in the playoffs, at least past the second round where we’ve had trouble. We can reach the Dome as long as everyone is on the same page.”
Connect with Roy Lang III on Twitter at @RoyLangIII.