Redshirt sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall has put Coastal Carolina on the college football map

There are iconic aesthetics in college football that evoke a sense of intimidation: walking into Penn State on the road during a “white out” game; a visitor hearing “Enter Sandman” play on a Thursday night in Blacksburg, Va.; lining up against any LSU player wearing the legendary No. 7.

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers have established their own iconic imagery. It’s a look that, when unified, makes a statement: It cannot be ignored. It makes you wonder what will be in store over the next three hours against a team that has gone 21-3 over the last two seasons.

It’s a mullet.

The frontman for the mullet movement at Coastal is redshirt sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall, although if you look up McCall’s bio on the school’s official website you find a photo of a short-haired, almost baby-faced quarterback probably taken during one of his first days on campus.

“I told them they gotta change that picture,” McCall said in a recent interview with PFF.

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These days, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound McCall looks a bit more rugged with a thick beard and heavy eyeblack accentuating the brown hair flowing from the back. Yet his smooth play has led to the highest PFF passing grade in the FBS. McCall finished one spot ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.

McCall's ascent to the top of college football's passing rankings has been a relatively short trip, and like the biblical tale of Samson and the strength in his long hair, it appears that the longer the mullet grows out of McCall’s helmet the bigger legend both he and the Coastal football program become in the landscape of college football.

From Lightly Rated Recruit to Redshirt Freshman Starter

The 2021 season marks the second consecutive year McCall has been a top-three graded quarterback in PFF's system. That has translated to 11-1 and 10-2 records over the last two seasons.

McCall got the nod to start at quarterback in 2020 as a redshirt freshman. The production that has followed so quickly makes one wonder about his recruitment as just a 2-star recruit from Porter Ridge High School outside Charlotte. McCall couldn’t figure out why his big offers weren’t coming from area schools after he went toe-to-toe with some of the best quarterbacks in his class.

“I would say I felt a little disrespected,” McCall said. “Honestly, not more so by the stars and the ratings. Really, the hardest part for me is that there were a bunch of good guys around my area I grew up playing with and against, like Sam Howell, Garrett Shrader — a bunch of big-time names that are doing really well in college football right now. And just seeing all those guys get the attention and getting the offers, I was getting attention but I really wasn’t getting any offers at all up until my junior year.

“That was hard for me, but at the same time it really gave me the motivation and the extra push and the drive I need that, you know, I can be as good as these guys if not better and I can go do the same thing they’re doing. So, yeah, it was hard but it gave me the drive I really needed, and it worked out.”

Nov 20, 2021; Conway, South Carolina, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall (10) runs the ball in the first half against the Texas State Bobcats at Brooks Stadium. Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

McCall and Howell had quite the middle school and high school rivalry. While Howell was racking up recruiting stars and offers from places like UNC, Alabama and Florida State, McCall stayed stride for stride with him on the scoreboard.

“We had a couple really good games,” McCall said. “I actually started playing against him in eighth grade. I would say our best matchup, our junior year, I had a hard cast on my left arm. I had a broken wrist and our coaches did the foam padding. I had this huge club on it but ended up playing and I remember it went into triple overtime. My coach finally made the decision to go for 2 and we fumbled on the two-point conversion and they won, but yeah, crazy games. Always shootouts against Sam.

“[Sam and I] are friends, and we talk a good bit. We actually train with the same guy when we go back home so we get to catch up.”

McCall was a true dual threat quarterback in high school. He passed for 3,863 yards and 34 touchdowns but also rushed for 3,003 yards and 41 TDs. Unfortunately, some in the recruiting world viewed those stats as a negative, wondering if McCall really had the arm capable of winning games at the D-I level.

“I feel like that was the tough thing for me getting recruited, coaches were seeing those numbers and they’ll think they don’t trust me to throw the ball,” McCall said. “I remember after a game my junior year, a couple Sun Belt schools were coming to watch a kid on the other team. I had a great game on the ground, four or five touchdowns rushing something like that, and coaches came up to me after the game and asked me what I was being recruited as. I had never gotten that question before in my life, and I was like ‘I’m a quarterback, that’s all I play. I’m a quarterback.’”

A Coastal Offense Fit for a Dual-Threat

McCall always saw himself as a QB, and so did his future coach at Coastal Carolina, Jamey Chadwell, who has said that he's never talked to any recruit more than he talked to McCall during that recruiting cycle. That effort — along with what Chadwell was preaching about what he'd be able to do in his offense — were enough to get McCall on board.

“It’s very unique,” McCall said about the Chanticleers offense. “We have a lot of different personnels, but at the same time we have maybe 12 personnel on the field but we have a tight end lined up at the X receiver or something unique. So we do a lot of unique things, run and pass.

“I like it a lot because it gives me the opportunity to drop back and read a defense and dissect them through the air. But at the same time I get to get dirty and run the ball a little bit and do some stuff like that. Our coaches do a great job really making it easy for me to just get the ball into our playmakers hands.”

Oct 7, 2021; Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall (10) passes the ball during the first half against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Centennial Bank Stadium. Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

McCall did just that on a 99-yard touchdown toss to tight end Isaiah Likely against Arkansas State earlier this year.

It was second-and-10 on the Chants' own 1-yard line, with offensive options limited backed up against their own end zone: Calling anything too long could risk a safety, but running straight into the defense on second down wouldn't help much, either. 

Chadwell went into his bag and called a play with multiple elements pre- and post-snap that required a lot of discipline to defend. Essentially, it was a one-read play with two potential throws. Before the snap, motion out of the backfield was going to help tip coverage and likely determine where the ball would go. With the running back motioning to the flat, McCall would read the weak-side safety. If the safety stayed in his deeper zone, McCall could quickly throw the swing pass to the back and hopefully get a good block from the wide receiver on the outside. But if the safety came down to immediately defend that swing pass, McCall knew the play-action element freezing those linebackers would mean the seam throw to his tight end up the middle could be a recipe for a big play. 

Once McCall saw that safety crash, he didn’t hesitate with his eyes or his arm.

“I saw Arkansas State do that on tape all week,” McCall said. “Right when I saw this guy go there and this guy was flying downhill with the run fake and the motion, I knew I was gonna have the tight end in the middle of the field. So, really, it just comes with my preparation, and the better I prepare each week, the faster and more active I’ll be able to play when I’m out there.

“It differentiates from week to week: who we’re playing, what we have. There is a lot on my plate sometimes, but at the same time they allow me to play fast: ‘This guy’s here, we’re gonna run this.’”

Becoming a Leader Took Time — and a Haircut 

McCall's confidence and preparation make him the ideal leader for this group. His 7.7% big-time throw rate is one of the highest in the FBS, and his 26-3 TD-INT ratio shows that he’s not just a reckless gunslinger.

Though he is young, the players know what they’re getting from him: a competitor who will do whatever it takes with his arm or his legs. McCall has total command of the offense from a preparation standpoint, and his teammates know that.

But just because McCall is regarded as that kind of leader now doesn’t mean it was always that way. He still had some convincing to do, even after being named the starter.

“It definitely took some time to grow in that area, especially my freshman year,” McCall said. “Literally got named the starter three, four days before our first game, so obviously building up I’m thinking of all the possible scenarios, I’m trying to be the best possible leader I can. But at the same time, I’m this freshman quarterback that may be the starter, he may not. Why would people want to listen to me?

“So really just making sure I’m doing all the right things on and off the field, because I’m not going to tell someone to do something if I’m not doing it. Just making sure I’m doing all the right things. Really it just took a couple weeks for the older guys to trust me — I gave them their respect and stuff like that. When people see the work you’re putting in and what you would do for the team, the sacrifices you’re making, I think that’s what really the guys bought in to me and gave me the keys and said take us where we need to go. That really gave me the confidence I needed, to know that 120 guys believe in me to take the team wherever we want to go.

“Definitely a process, something I’m still working on every day, but it’s been great.”

As a North Carolina kid playing college football right across the border in South Carolina, McCall has a sense of putting on for his home every time he takes the field.

“Carolinas have been home forever,” McCall said. “I don’t really know anything else. Bouncing back from North and South Carolina, but really just the home feeling.

“Back home, we get the quiet vibes, all alone to ourselves. You can drive 10 minutes and be driving past cornfields and stuff like that in the country, or you can drive 10 minutes the other way and see a beautiful city in downtown Charlotte. Just crazy stuff like that, stuff I really maybe take for granted sometimes, but really love where I’m from and definitely love to tell people where I’m from.

“Truthfully blessed to be where I came from and where I am now. I love it here.”

Th confidence from his teammates, coaches and surroundings has empowered McCall to lead one of winningest teams in college football over the last two years. 

Best College Football Winning Percentage | 2020-2021
School Record Win %
Alabama 25-1 96.2
Cincinnati 22-1 95.7
Louisiana Lafayette 22-2 91.7
BYU 21-3 87.5
Notre Dame 21-3 87.5
Coastal Carolina 21-3 87.5
Georgia 20-3 87.0
Ohio State 17-3 85.0
Oklahoma 19-4 82.6
Clemson 19-5 79.2
Oklahoma State 19-5 79.2

When you prepare with confidence, speak with confidence and play with confidence, you can do anything — even something that seems impossible like rocking a mullet and somehow inspiring others to do the same.

“Three or four days before the Kansas opener I got named the starter and [teammates] Teddy Gallagher and Silas Kelly, those guys that had worn the mullet the previous year, they came up to me and they were like, ‘Dude, if you’re going to be our starting quarterback you’ve got to get a mullet.’ I think it’s a joke, kind of just blow them off. The next day they’re like ‘Dude, we play in three days. Go get your hair cut.’

“So when I first got my hair cut, I said it was a mullet but really it wasn’t, it was a little shorter on the sides. But I let it ride, dude. I actually just got it trimmed recently because it was so long. I’ve had it for over a year now, I feel like it’s me. It’s a brand now. I love it.”

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