On a Saturday afternoon in late September, CSU senior MJ McPeek finally got the silent nod he had been waiting to see for years.
The nod came from head football coach Jim McElwain after the two locked eyes on the sideline of Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs. Just seconds before, they watched starting quarterback Garrett Grayson get rocked by two Air Force defensemen, breaking his collarbone.
In his fifth year of college football, McPeek knew his role as backup.
He had never seen playing time at the collegiate level when his entire team, the CSU community and the 38,562 people in attendance looked to him for an answer to what would come next.
“I didn’t even have the time to think about being nervous. It was almost like a breath of fresh air, I got to exhale a little bit and finally get to do what I came to college to do,” McPeek said. “It was an experience that happened so fast that it felt over before I knew it.”
McPeek finished with nearly 300 passing yards and two touchdowns in CSU’s 42-21 loss, but with Grayson down and out, he was appointed the new leader of the offensive huddle.
“I wasn’t surprised one bit to see him step into the game and lead the team down the field into the endzone on the very first possession,” Rangeview High School football coach Dave Gonzalez said. “In my time with him, I always remember him being the general of the offense, he’s always had those leadership skills.”
Following the Air Force game, McPeek went on to start two games for the Rams. He threw for over 500 yards before his time was cut short by a shoulder injury that struck in the second quarter in the game against San Diego State.
“As a parent, that was one of those moments that puts your stomach in a knot,” Toni McPeek, MJ’s mother, said. “All of our kids played sports and the chance of injury is just something that you have to accept and live with.”
With the conclusion of the season, McPeek was left to wonder what was next. In years prior, he spent his offseason preparing for the next, but this one was different. Listed as a redshirt senior, there wasn’t an upcoming football season on the horizon.
So the Aurora native took to his old ways — playing other sports. McPeek can now be found putting on a uniform for CSU baseball, joining the team this spring.
“His biggest impact to the team is his love for sports, he really just loves to be out there. He’s got a contagious attitude of enjoying putting in work out there on the field,” CSU baseball president Colton Duffy said.
Now in the starting pitching rotation for the Rams, McPeek has been able to transfer his arm strength from the football gridiron to the baseball diamond.
“Having a football guy out there is fun because it gives us a unique connection. Sometimes it gives us stuff to joke about but his competitive nature is still there,” Duffy said. “MJ throws a real heavy ball, to the point when you hit or catch it, you can tell there’s something behind it.”
The baseball team, particularly seniors like McPeek and Duffy, plan to go out on top. They share the ultimate goal of playing for the national championship in late May.
After graduation, the future is anything but certain for McPeek. However one part of it holds no doubt — his involvement and passion for sports has no expiration date.
“He’s always been the sports guy. I hope that he continues sports for as long as his body can handle it,” Toni McPeek said. “Even after that, I wouldn’t doubt that he would want to continue coaching or be involved in some way.”
Sports Writer Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.