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.
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).
- 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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.)
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