Alex McGough leads Birmingham Stallions into the new USFL

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For Birmingham Stallions quarterback Alex McGough, success is in the cards.

At least, that’s what he hopes.

To learn the Stallions’ playbook, McGough (pronounced muh-GOO) has relied on a sizable deck of flash cards he’s created. He got the idea from his girlfriend, who he says used flash cards to study for nursing school.

“I write down each formation, each play and put the name of the play on the front of the note card and draw it on the back – and I either see the play or I see the routes and I try to tell myself what that is,” McGough told NBC Sports this week. “I have, like, 200 of them, and I usually go through them once a day and just look at them.

“Well, that’s if I get them all right. I have to get them all right, so I can stop.”

He color-codes each play, too.

“It’s an intricate process but it works for me, and it’s helped me learn a lot of things fast,” he continued. “I think this is, like, my fifth or sixth offense in four years, so I’m trying to learn this one as quickly as I can.”

Being a quick study has been essential for McGough and everyone involved in the new United States Football League.

RELATED: Everything you need to know about the 2022 USFL Season – Teams, key dates, TV schedule, how to watch, and more

It’ll be roughly a month from the start of training camp March 21 to the inaugural game Saturday night in Birmingham, Alabama. The first matchup on NBC, Peacock and FOX features McGough and the Stallions (coached by Skip Holtz, son of National Championship-winning coach Lou Holtz) against the New Jersey Generals (coached by Mike Riley, a former NFL head coach with the Chargers).

USFL 2022: New Jersey Generals vs. Birmingham Stallions

  • When: Saturday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
  • Where: Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Live Stream: Peacock

The Stallions, the Generals and the other six USFL teams are all based in Birmingham for this regular season. As a result, the players are constantly around each other – from staying in the same hotel through the standard routine of practice, workouts and film sessions.

Just like learning the playbook, teams have had to bond together fast.

“Coach (Skip) Holtz really preaches on that togetherness – you win games together, you don’t win them separate, you don’t win them alone,” McGough explained. “We’ve done a good job with that. I think the whole team is really playing for each other, and we know that in the three phases of the game, we’re together and we need them all to win.

“We’ve really come together and grown as one team.”

As it seeks to be America’s pre-eminent spring football league, the USFL has attracted a full spectrum of players.

There are the NFL veterans with some game experience under their belts. There are the NFL practice squad regulars who’ve had tantalizing glimpses of the top level. There are younger ones that are years removed from being college standouts but have carried on in other pro leagues (XFL, AAF, Canadian Football League, etc.). And there are hardy souls whose love of the game have taken them to Europe or even the 50-yard “indoor wars.”

McGough is in that second group. After closing his college career as Florida International’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,091) and passing TDs (65), he was a seventh-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s the only quarterback the Seahawks have drafted since they picked future Super Bowl champion, Russell Wilson, in 2012.

After spending the 2018 season on the Seahawks’ practice squad, he joined the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans over the next two years before returning to Seattle in December 2020. He played in two preseason games for the Seahawks last year, but was released before the start of the regular season.

McGough has never played in an NFL regular season game. Even so, he’s grateful for the learning experience he’s had at the top level – particularly lessons on knowing when to stay in the pocket instead of using his feet.

That said, he can run when the situation calls for it. He’s had that “dual threat” capability since his days at Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida, where he was exposed to the triple option and wing-T offense. And while he set passing records at FIU, he also posted a respectable 16 rushing touchdowns in his career there.

RELATED: 2022 USFL Season Week One Schedule: How to watch and live stream this weekend’s spring football games

It may help that McGough’s got some athletic genes. His mother played volleyball and basketball in college, while his father and younger brother were both offensive linemen in college. The latter, brother Shane McGough, played at FIU from 2017-20 (redshirt in 2016) and was Alex’s teammate in 2017.

On the extended side of McGough’s family, there’s also his uncle, Kelly Goodburn. Goodburn was an NFL punter for seven seasons (1987-1993) and won a Super Bowl ring with Washington in the 1991 season (XXVI).

McGough isn’t sure if, while building his own pro career, he asked Goodburn for specific advice. But Goodburn was very much an inspiration.

“It was always kind of like something in the back of my mind: ‘I want to be like Uncle Kelly. I want to be an NFL player. I want to win the Super Bowl,’” McGough said.

“It’s kind of just led me to follow my dream even more. (There’s) some days when you don’t really wanna train or wanna do this, but you remember that you want to be like him, you wanna have a ring, be an NFL player, be a professional football player. It’s been a motivator for me.”

RELATED: 2022 USFL TV Schedule – Dates and times for the 10-week inaugural football season

 That motivation has, in part, helped carry McGough from a childhood filled with everyday practices and weekend games to the NFL – and now, to the USFL.

He received a USFL contract from his agent, then took a few days to think it over before choosing to sign it. Then, two days before February’s USFL Draft, he was summoned to Birmingham to take part.

“I was confused – I was like, ‘Is everyone going?,’” McGough recalled. “Then I found out it was just eight of us. So I was like, ‘OK, what team am I gonna go to?’

“I only spoke to one team on the phone (before the USFL Draft). I cannot remember who it was – I just know it was not Birmingham. But I saw Skip Holtz in the lobby when I was coming in and I was like, ‘Man, I hope I’ll play for him,’ just because I remembered playing (against) him in college and scoring, like, 50 points against us every game.”

McGough got his wish. Now he’ll look to make the most of what he’s learned from those flash cards and lead the Stallions to a championship.

First and 10 with Alex McGough

10 quick questions to get to know the new talent of the USFL

2022 will bring you… What?

“I think it’s just gonna bring me happiness, you know? I think getting back to playing sports, getting back to playing football, enjoying my family, enjoying my time that I have with my girlfriend – being more in the moment. It’s gonna bring me happiness.”

Do you have a pre-game ritual?

“No, I do not.”

Do you have an after-game ritual?

“I usually always go to dinner with my parents and my girlfriend after the game. That’s really it. I don’t have a ‘wind down’ or a mental reflection, but I’ve always been around people that love me and I love.”

Favorite football player?

“Tom Brady was always my hero growing up.”

Favorite movie?

“Step Brothers is a great movie – one of the greatest of all time. Wedding Crashers. The Longest Yard’s a great one. But gosh, what is that movie called… Sunshine? The quarterback, what’s his name, what’s that movie called? (Writer’s Note: He’s referring to Remember The Titans.) Anyway, people call me Sunshine because of my long hair. But that’s a great movie.”

Favorite kind of music?

“I listen to country a lot. Cody Johnson and Morgan Wallen, those two are my favorite.”

Favorite food?

“Chicken wings.” (Writer’s Note: His favorite wing sauce is Buffalo.)

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“Probably very outgoing. Kind of eccentric, almost. I like to wear my expressions on my sleeve. … I’m very outgoing. I’m very weird, kind of in a sense of, I’m just gonna be as me as I can, no matter where I’m at, no matter what I’m doing. I think people love me for it.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

“I don’t even know if I would change anything. I like who I am. I like what I am. I’m good with me, you know?”

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I say this every time, but I play video games a lot. I don’t think a lot of people know that. I don’t think a lot of people would ‘see’ that, that I do that. … It kind of relaxes me. It gives me peace, almost. I have ADHD, and it kind of calms me down and lets me relax my brain for a couple of minutes.” (Writer’s Note: He enjoys playing Call of Duty and NBA 2K.)

RELATED: Everything you need to know about the 2022 USFL Season – Teams, key dates, TV schedule, how to watch, and more

2022 USFL Week One Schedule: How to watch and stream

Saturday, April 16

  • New Jersey Generals at Birmingham Stallions – 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and Fox

Sunday, April 17

  • Houston Gamblers at Michigan Panthers – 12:00 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock
  • Philadelphia Stars vs. New Orleans Breakers – 4:00 p.m. ET on USA Network
  • Tampa Bay Bandits at Pittsburgh Maulers – 8:00 p.m. ET on FS1

Control what you can control: How journey through the fire led Generals RB Darius Victor to the USFL

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“Life feels good when you’re winning,” says one of the men responsible for the Generals’ success last season, running back Darius Victor. “I’m playing the game I love, my team is winning games, and that’s all a man can ask for.”

Victor was named the USFL’s Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with nine rushing touchdowns, ranking third in rushing yards (577), and fourth in yards per game (57.7). At 5’8″ and 209 pounds, with 30-inch quads (yes, you read that right…30 inches), the Generals RB is a wrecking ball on the field.

“Thick thighs save lives,” Victor recalls as he laughs about the Week 5 game-winning play. “I had to put them to use and push him [Perez] over to the endzone.”

With his light-hearted demeanor and self-described goofball personality, it would be hard to fathom the hell Darius Victor has walked through to get to where he is today.

“I’m not even supposed to be here”

Victor, who is one of seven children (4 brothers, and 2 sisters), was born in 1994 in a refugee camp in Africa’s Ivory Coast after his parents, Gary and Patricia, fled the first Liberian Civil War.

“Have you ever seen the movie Blood Diamond?” Victor asks, “That’s the type of environment I was born into.”

Victor and his family literally ran for their lives, hiding and sleeping in bushes for safety when their country was being torn apart by violence and bloodshed. Nearly 250,000 people — men, women, and children — lost their lives in Liberia’s civil war.

“I was too young to remember what happened at the time,” Victor told NBC Sports. “But from the stories my parents have told me about what we were running away from, I’m not even supposed to be here.”

The Victor family moved to the U.S. in 1999 and lived in Manassas, Virginia before moving to Hyattsville, Maryland, in 2002. After leaving everything behind, Gary and Patrica worked tirelessly to provide for their family and while their parents were out just trying to make ends meet, all seven of the Victor siblings Velma, Earl, Kevin, Darius, Leon, Shaka, and Nicole — looked out for one another. Helping with homework, making sure everyone was fed, and involved in activities. For Kevin and Darius in particular, that activity was football.

Sibling Rivalry

“My older brother Kevin was my role model growing up,” Victor recalls. “I used to go with him to football practice and he was pretty good. He was a Boys and Girls Club legend. I had to compete with him in everything and I wanted to be better than him in everything that I did. So I started playing football and tried really hard to be better than him. Having that role model to follow is what really gave me a love for the game.”

The duo, four years apart in age, went on to play football at Northwestern High School, sharpening each other with their competitive nature both on and off the field. But everything changed in December 2011, when Kevin was tragically shot and killed walking home from the local community center after playing basketball with friends — just one block away from his family’s apartment.

“Losing a child and a sibling is crazy,” Victor said. “It was tough but it made us even closer as a family. It made me go even harder because Kevin was always the tough one on me. When we were kids I would always cry on the football field if something didn’t go my way and Kevin would straighten me out.”

“His passing has given me a mindset of toughness and resiliency. I’m always thinking about him and trying to live up to the level of confidence that he had in me.”

In October, just 10 months after Kevin’s passing, Darius was in the midst of a breakout senior season when the Victor family’s apartment burned down.

“The toughest part wasn’t even losing our stuff but it was seeing my Mom and Dad cry again. That was so tough on me.” Darius recalls. “At that point in my life, I had to decide to never question God, believe that everything happens for a reason, and control what I could control.”

Towson Tough

With family at the forefront of his mind, Victor decided to play football at Towson University, where he earned a scholarship, roughly 45 minutes away from his hometown. He earned First-Team All-CAA honors in 2014, rushing for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 250 carries, but says he also a learned new level of toughness from his coaches and teammates that he still keeps in contact with today.

“Coach Reno Ferri really believed in me and that gave me so much confidence,” Victor said. “But there are so many guys there that really spoke into my life including my teammates FB Dreon Johnson, RB Terrance West, and coaches Rob and Jared Ambrose.”

Stay Ready

Victor, who only played in 4 games during his senior year of college due to a toe injury, went undrafted after graduating from Towson in 2017 but had several opportunities with NFL teams. Victor received an invite to the New York Jets rookie minicamp, the New Orleans Saints training camp, and even landed a spot on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad but unfortunately, those opportunities didn’t end the way he wanted them to.

However, the Hyattsville native didn’t let that discourage him.

“I’ve been through so much in life that I’ve grasped the concept of controlling what you control,” the 28-year-old said. “One of my mottos is to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready so doing that and just trusting God made me available mentally and physically for the next opportunity.”

For Victor, that meant showing up to train long hours after working a 9-5 job every day as a Sales Operations Manager at Penske and staying consistent no matter what — even when the CFL signed and cut him a day before he was supposed to leave for Canada (2019) and when the XFL season came to a sudden halt in the midst of a global pandemic (2020).

But when the USFL finally called, selecting him in the 6th round of the Supplemental Draft, he was ready. Victor says his love for his family and his faith in God is what fueled him during the hard times in life.

“Knowing all that my family has been through and the fact that we’re not even supposed to be here, every day I get is a blessing and I just want to make them proud. They are my why, ” says Victor, who is often spotted wearing merchandise with the phrase “Keep God 1st” on his clothing.

“I don’t care if you are a millionaire or dirt poor…life is going to life, but if you put God first everything will work itself out and that’s how I live my life.”

First and 10 with Darius Victor

To what do you attribute the New Jersey Generals’ early success?

“We have great coaching and great leadership. The team is very close and we hold each other accountable because we all have the same goal. We’ve all been through similar experiences. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked to 30 or 38 players who’ve been cut multiple times too and that creates a bond.”

“Also, we have a little chip on our shoulder because in preseason we were projected to finish last in the league due to our ‘talent level’, so shout out to whoever released those preseason polls because it made us hungry.”

If someone were to be a fly on the wall in the locker room, what’s one thing that they’d be surprised to find out about the New Jersey Generals?

“After a win, we do a ‘hip, hip hooray’ chant. Coach Riley goes ‘hip hip’ and the rest of the team goes ‘hooray’. It’s the greatest thing ever.”

What’s your role on the team?

“I’m one of the older guys on the team so I consider myself to be one of the leaders and the ‘special teams captain’. Coach always jokes around and says I’m the heart and soul of the team. I just want to do everything I can to make this team successful.”

How would you describe your style as a running back?

“I think I’m pretty balanced but the thing that separates me the most is my physicality. I don’t think a lot of human beings can run the football like me. If you just watch the tape or just watch the football games, that’s how I stand out.”

Pre-game hype song?

“I have to listen to the song “I’m a dog” by Gucci Mane that puts me in my zone.

Gameday superstitions?

“I have a superman Jesus cut-off shirt that I wear under my pads every game. I wouldn’t really call it a superstition but I wouldn’t feel right without it.”

What’s one thing about yourself that not everyone knows?

“I’m addicted to Candy Crush. I’m on level 4,650.”

Favorite Football player?

John Johnson, he’s the starting safety for the Cleveland Browns and also my best friend”.

Favorite Movie?

“Oh, Forest Gump. Easy.”

Favorite pair of kicks?

“Jordan 1s, I can’t pick one specific pair.”

Just Keep Going: Stallions RB CJ Marable makes a policy of perseverance

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RB CJ Marable was instrumental in helping the Birmingham Stallions become the inaugural USFL champions in 2022. Marable who was named the USFL Week 5 Offensive Player of the Week, was Birmingham’s leading rusher finishing the season with 401 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns.

While his highlight reel was, quite literally, on display this past season, his journey to playing professional football has been far from easy.

A Dream is Born

Torrance Marable Jr., who goes by the nickname CJ, laced up his first set of football pads at the age of 5. Some of his earliest memories include tossing the ball outside with his father, Torrance Marable Sr., who doubled as his all-time quarterback in outdoor pickup games. It was in his hometown backyard in Decatur, Georgia that the elder Marable told his son he was capable of taking it to the next level, instilling in him a new passion for the game.

“He just looked at me one day and said, man, you’ve got it,” CJ recalls. “Just stay focused, stay consistent, and the sky is the limit. And that confirmed everything for me. I fell in love with the game and believed I could be whatever I wanted to be because my Dad said it.”

Marable, a two-star recruit coming out of Towers High School, initially signed with Arkansas State as a grayshirt, but in the weeks leading up to his expected start date, he says the communication with the school just stopped, unexpectedly. Arkansas State wasn’t returning his calls and when they finally called him back, they no longer had a place for him on the team.

Pivoting along the Path

Wanting to keep his football dreams alive, Marable pivoted his focus to playing at the junior college level. But a last-minute offer to play at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina — with a full scholarship — was one he couldn’t refuse. Marable’s 2017 freshman season was explosive: the Georgia native started all 11 games and led the Big South with 1,038 rushing yards only to find out that the school was pulling back on its football team and would become a non-scholarship program by 2020.

With his dreams once again the line, it was a familiar time for Marable – time to pivot. He transferred to Coastal Carolina, a place he says shaped him into a better person on and off the field.

“We had this acronym B.A.M., which stood for Be a Man,” Marable told NBC Sports. “Coach Jamey Chadwell taught us to be accountable for whatever we do and to stand on our own two feet. He told us that if you quit on football and can’t go through the hard times here, then there’s no way that you’ll be able to deal with the hard times in life.”

Deferred but not Denied

Marable finished his collegiate career with a streak of 32 straight games with at least one reception. In his three years at Coastal Carolina (2018-2020), he rushed for 2,691 yards with 41 total touchdowns, assembling impressive enough stats and film to sign as an undrafted free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in 2021. But once again, things didn’t go as planned and Marable was released before the start of the regular season.

“I wasn’t comfortable where I was because I felt like I should have been drafted,” he said. “I felt like I had a point to prove. I did what I was supposed to do but it just wasn’t in my favor at the time. I never wanted to question God so I just had to stay consistent, stay focused, and continue to grind to get to where I wanted to be.”

It was in this period, dialed in on training and staying pro-ready with tunnel vision focus, that he heard about the USFL, not just once but on three separate occasions. First, the idea came from his manager, who he calls “Hood”, who thought it would be a good opportunity for the running back. His trainer for the NFL combine agreed. But Marable brushed the idea off both times, wanting to stay focused on that potential NFL opportunity. It wasn’t until his girlfriend’s father brought it up again that Marable took it as a sign to do his own research and take the USFL seriously as a path forward in professional football.

Just Keep Going

Looking back, Marable credits his strong support system, specifically his Mother, Sabrina Sims, for helping him stay positive in periods of disappointment and uncertainty.  “She reminded me that every storm I’ve been in, I’ve got out of.”

“Life is going to hit you,” the 25-year-old said. “Nothing is going to go as planned but never give up. If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice it would be these two simple words: keep going. God’s got you, never give up.”

Leading by Example

Marable, who welcomed a baby boy in March with girlfriend Bayley Randall, says he wants to instill that lesson in his son Trae (Torrance Christopher Marable III).

“When he grows up I want to be that example and show him that Dad never gave up. Even though I failed at times the difference between me and anybody else is that I just never gave up.”

The Stallions running back is currently working towards a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology. He wants to help other athletes develop when his football career is over — which, at the rate he’s playing, doesn’t look like it’ll be anytime soon.

First and 10 with CJ Marable

Pregame ritual?

“I love to listen to music, my favorite artist is Future so that’s all I play. But my go-to hype-up album is “Thug Motivation” by Young Jeezy.

What is your role on the team?

To get the offense rolling. My strengths include blocking the ball out the backfield, my vision, and my speed.

To what do you attribute the Birmingham Stallions’ early success?

“I’m really impressed with how well we get along with each other. We laugh with each other. We joke with each other. We are a family. We spend our off days and downtime together. The offensive linemen and the running backs go out to eat every Thursday or Friday depending on the week.”

“Honestly, it feels great when everything you work for is paying off. But in the back of our minds, we know that we have to stay consistent. We have a bullseye on our chest. Everybody wants to beat the Birmingham Stallions.”

What is it like being the only USFL team to play in front of a home crowd?

“I feel like the fans are really coming out there and doing their job and it’s helped us a lot, especially on third downs you can just hear them yelling ‘defense, defense’. We’re the first professional football team for Alabama so it feels great to be able to just go out there and put on for the city of Birmingham.”

Favorite Running Back?

Reggie Bush. When I was at Carolina, we played against BYU on “College GameDay”, and I had a great game. Later during the week, I got interviewed by Reggie Bush so that was a cool experience.”

Favorite Food?

“Wings. All flats.”

Favorite Movie?

“Friday”

Favorite Vacation Spot?

Hawaii

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I’m a driven person and I won’t let anything stop me from getting to where I want to be in life. I’m also funny and outgoing.

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I enjoy fishing.”

RELATED: Control what you can control – How journey through the fire led Generals RB Darius Victor to the USFL