Texas Tech football: Penn St. transfer Zech McPhearson turning heads

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Kyler Neal #25 of the Georgia State Panthers rushes against Zech McPhearson #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium on September 16, 2017 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Kyler Neal #25 of the Georgia State Panthers rushes against Zech McPhearson #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium on September 16, 2017 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

After the first two weeks of fall camp, junior defensive back Zech McPhearson has been one of the biggest revelations for the Texas Tech football team.

Relying too heavily on graduate transfers in college football is never a sure-fire strategy.  After all, there’s a reason the top programs in the nation, like Clemson and Alabama, rarely have to go that route to supplement their rosters.  But in 2019, the Texas Tech football program is relying on as many as four graduate transfers to play significant roles as Matt Wells attempts to put a patch on the roster until he can find more long-term replacements.

One of the most exciting of those players is Penn State transfer Zech McPhearson, who still has two years of eligibility remaining.  In fact, he is proving to be one of the stars of fall training camp.

"“It’s like he’s been here for about five years,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said.  “Very impressive young man.  He’s mature, he’s athletic, he’s strong.  He’s everything you look for in a corner.  If he stays healthy [he’s] gonna have a tremendous season.”"

The emergence of the 5-foot-11, 195-pound native of Maryland has given Tech the flexibility to move two solid corners, senior Douglas Coleman and sophomore Adrian Frye, to safety to fill what was the biggest hole on that side of the ball headed into this offseason.  Now, Tech will have the benefit of fielding a secondary comprised of talented veterans across the board as McPhearson will be joined by senior Des Smith and junior Damarcus Fields to man the top three corner spots this fall.

But though the former Penn State Nittany Lion is a veteran, he’s not a player that we would characterize as experienced.  While in Happy Valley, McPhearson appeared in 13 games as a corner (though he did see action as a key special teams contributor in both his freshman and sophomore seasons).  In that time, he made just 16 total tackles while being credited with three pass defenses.  And he is still looking for his first career interception.

That’s rather surprising given the fact that he was a 4-star recruit out of high school in 2016 who had offers from such programs as Bama, Clemson, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.  What’s more, in the 2018 offseason, it looked like McPhearson was about to break out.

Coming out of last year’s Penn State spring game, McPhearson was being lauded by his Nittany Lion coaching staff.  In fact, the comments from his former head coach, James Franklin, are rather similar to the type of praise he’s earned from his Red Raider coaches.

"“I thought the guy that kind of stood out to me was Zechariah McPhearson,” Franklin said. “I thought he made a bunch of plays, played with a lot of confidence, and it was great to see that.”"

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But the talent Franklin has brought into his program in the secondary in recent years has been tremendous making it tough for McPhearson to crack the starting lineup.  Since 2017, when McPhearson a redshirt freshman, Penn State has brought in six four-star and one five-star defensive backs so McPhearson decided to seek more playing time in Lubbock.

Now, it appears that he has earned the type of significant role with the Red Raiders that eluded him at Penn State.  And his play has even drawn the attention of Texas Tech offensive coordinator David Yost.

"“He’s hard to throw on,” Yost said.  “He stands out every day.  I don’t know any of [the defensive players] names with their numbers, so I’ll just be like ‘Hey, who’s eight?’ and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s McPherson.’  You say that four or five days in a row and it kinda sticks.  I know his name now.”"

Any time a defensive player makes his offensive coordinator learn his name after just two weeks in the program, it is a sign that he’s putting his stamp on the team and that’s what this exciting grad transfer has done thus far.

But this isn’t the first time McPhearson has earned praise from a prominent member of his team’s offense.  After the 2018 PSU Spring scrimmage, Nittany Lion QB Trace McSorley’s remarks about the then-sophomore DB were quite similar to Yosts’ comments from earlier this week.

"“Zech is a really tough corner to throw against,” McSorley said. “He’s extremely long. He’s got great make-up speed and can recover really well. The length of his arms and how aggressive he is, he’s able to jump routes and make windows a lot smaller.”"

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That’s the type of player the Red Raiders need to see in the regular season too though.  After another strong offseason, if McPhearson can finally put together the type of showings on Saturdays that he’s had in fall camp, the Texas Tech secondary will be one of the more surprising units in the Big 12.