Q&A: Former DVC football standout Na’im McGee shares experience playing at San Diego State

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Photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson/ SDSU Media Relations

Na'im McGee at a press conference after winning the Mountain West Championship Defensive MVP in 2015.

Aaron Tolentino, Sports editor

Former Diablo Valley College defensive back Na’im McGee visited head coach Mike Darr’s office last Friday. McGee spoke to the Inquirer about his experiences at DVC and how it prepared him to play three years of Division I football at San Diego State University.

Coach Darr has been known for having one of the most complex defensive schemes at the community college level in the state, how has he prepared you for another complex defensive scheme under SDSU head coach Rocky Long?

McGee: “It was a big jump. Coach Darr definitely prepared me, especially as a DB. From being (at DVC), all the different stuff we used to run, we ran so many coverages here, did so many schemes and disguises. I think that was the biggest thing. One of the biggest things that prepared me for San Diego State was competition. Like here was just so competitive, I remember when I first got here, it was like 30 DBs, I’m like man I’m never about to get on the field. I remember feeling like that the first day. By the time I got to San Diego State, competition was second nature.”

How do you think Darr and DVC football as a whole prepared you for the physicality of the Division 1 level? Obviously, guys will be bigger, hit harder and hit you faster.

McGee: “‘I think coach Darr prepared us… not just from lifting (weights) but just being able to compete in every drill and in everything that we do. So that ends up being mindset. You might not feel you’re necessarily bigger or stronger as someone, but you’re not going in, like, soft about it. You go in trying to win, that’s half the battle right there. And then our (DVC) defense was big that year (2013). I feel like my defense was bigger at DVC than it was at San Diego State. It’s not like I was here and everyone was small then I go to D1 “aw these guys are giants.” My junior college team, my defense was like giants.”‘

Coming from a defensive-minded coach like Darr, was also having a defensive-minded coach like Rocky Long at SDSU why you chose to go there?

McGee: “I really just liked San Diego State when I took my visit. I really liked the team, the coaches, being in San Diego. I wanted to be done in one semester (at DVC) so I can have the full college experience to be able to play in a Division I defense for three years. Being in San Diego, just the visit sold me, the type of defense they run. I like the Aztec tradition.”

In 2015, your junior year, you guys played at Penn State against now potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Saquon Barkley, did you see this guy being as good as he is today three years ago? Was your entire gameplan centered around stopping him?

McGee: “It wasn’t to stop him. Our focus was more on stopping the quarterback, (Christian) Hackenberg, he stayed that extra year, but before, he was supposed to be a first-round pick and Saquon, that was his freshman year. There was a senior (running back) where they split time and there was a true freshman so it was like this guy’s big and this guy’s a senior so we were more just focused on the run game in general. After the game, I found out that (Barkley) was the freshman, I thought he was the senior the whole time. He was definitely big, definitely physical, fast. He had one unbelievable run against us.”

But you brought him down though, right?

McGee: Yeah I tackled him and stuff, you know you do your job. At the end of the day, you don’t care who you playing, you still got to make the tackle.

Was Saquon Barkley just a freak of nature as a running back and an overall athlete?

McGee: ‘”He was definitely, just looking back, one of the most physical backs I’ve played against. After the game, I was like “oh, he’s going to be good; he’s got three years left; this guy’s about to be real.” He hurt his knee against us, I go back, it’s like May or June, I see him on SportsCenter power clinging 395 I was like “what, he blew out his knee, how do you do that?”’

Any big SDSU football fan would say that big moments in recent memory were winning the conference, going undefeated in the Mountain West in 2015 and winning the Las Vegas Bowl in 2016, what was the biggest moment for you at San Diego State?

McGee: “The championship game my junior year against Air Force when I won the defensive MVP. That was a good game not only because it was physical, going back and forth. They’re physical, we’re physical, it was a run game the whole time. It was Air Force so it’s kinda frustrating at times. That’s the offense you got to be physical against, there’s no hiding. The only way you can stop that offense is from being physical. That was a good game for me, plus I won the MVP.”

You were teammates with the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history, Donnel Pumphrey, for three years, did you see NFL and record-breaking numbers from this undersized running back?

McGee: “Anybody that plays with DJ, definitely knows how hard he worked, especially against our defense because you know Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 (defense), he practiced against our defense every day, so that’s definitely going to make you better. Three years I was there, we were top five in run (defense), so it’s just like he definitely works hard and I definitely knew that he’d be drafted or at least get a shot.”