Nov. 8, 2011
By Mitch Lex, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Sitting in English class during his senior year at Powell High School in eastern Tennessee, Jared McGaha received some interesting news.
Having been highly recruited during his high school years, McGaha was finally ready to make his decision on where to continue his football career at the collegiate level. After meeting with Mark Dantonio and the rest of his football staff, he was prepared to commit, but not to be a Spartan. Yet the news he received that day would change the course of his career - and his life - forever.
"Coach Dantonio and his staff recruited me to play at Cincinnati," McGaha said. "I was going to commit that weekend. When I got a call from Coach (Mark) Staten in the middle of English class that Coach D had gotten the job at Michigan State, I didn't know what to do."
But his uncertainty didn't last long. As Dantonio had done with many recruits, he honored McGaha's scholarship offer and invited him up for a visit to East Lansing. And the decision was made that weekend.
"Visiting East Lansing was a very eye-opening experience," said McGaha. "Seeing the campus and the environment for the first time is one of my best memories from the past five years. I got an offer from Michigan and took a visit that next weekend, but it just didn't have the same feel and sense of family that I experienced in East Lansing."
McGaha started playing on a regular basis as a sophomore in 2009, where he saw action in all 13 games and made his first career start against Montana State. A versatile player who can play either tackle or guard on the offensive line, McGaha has four career starts to his credit and has played in 28 games. But whether McGaha was on the field or not, his family has always played an integral part in his career.
"My parents have always been there for me and pushed me to be better," McGaha said. "My grandparents have been to every ball game since my redshirt year, even when I wasn't even playing. I'm so thankful for them."
Entering the 2011 season, the biggest question surrounding the success of the Spartans was how to replace an experienced offensive line from last year. While the media and public expected this to be a weak point in the Spartan offense, McGaha thought the exact opposite.
"We answer the questions of the doubters game after game," he said. "Going out and being the most physical and dominant unit on the field each and every week has been our biggest focus. I feel like we've been doing that so far and as long as we keep that going I think we can be one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten."
And while the offensive line has certainly performed well this season, McGaha has noticed the disparity between the more seasoned core of players of last year and the youth of this season's squad.
"It's definitely different," he said. "There's a learning curve that the young guys have to catch up to - whether it's playing in the bigger games or learning to keep up with the older guys in practice every day. But they've done very well up to this point. And our veterans have done a great job in moving these guys forward."
One of the most important keys to success for any offensive line is having a bond outside of the practice field. Having each other's back and consistently playing as a team instead of individuals is something at which the Spartans exceed. Always being there for his teammates is one of McGaha's primary goals.
"We're a really close group," he said. "I hang out with these guys every day and we love each other and play for each other. As an O-line it is our duty to protect our brothers behind us.
"Also, as a leader, I'm here to help these guys to keep getting better. We're all here working for the same thing, whether getting to Pasadena or another postseason opportunity. No doubt we're all going to be hurting at the end of the season but we can be tougher than all of our opponents if we stay together as a unit."
McGaha has certainly experienced his fair share of triumphs with his fellow linemen throughout his career, with victories over Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and most notably, a perfect 4-0 record over the University of Michigan.
McGaha's two victories in the Big House are something he will never forget.
"Being in the Big House and hearing nothing but `Go Green, Go White' is something that I will never forget," McGaha recalled. "It's been the highlight of my career. And it's going to mean a lot being able to tell my kids that I never lost to the most successful program in college football history."
He's confident his victories against Michigan will leave a permanent mark on this program. And from the first day he stepped on campus, that was his goal.
"That's why I came here," said McGaha. "I came here to establish a foundation with Coach Dantonio, Joel Foreman, Kirk Cousins and the rest of the seniors - to be that Big Ten powerhouse and bring MSU football back to what it was."
While McGaha's original idea of a collegiate career was nowhere near East Lansing, his decision will never be something he regrets.
"When I took my visit to State I knew there was something about this place that had potential," he said. "When I saw what Coach D did with Cincinnati and found out that he was going to the Big Ten, there was no reason why I wouldn't have wanted to come here. Now I'm a Spartan for life and I couldn't be more proud."
GETTING TO KNOW Jared McGaha
First concert: Garth Brooks
Lead role in a movie about your life: Billy Bob from "Varsity Blues" (Ron Lester)
Role model: "Michael Oher. Being from Tennessee and what he came through is incredible. He achieved what no one thought was possible and made the most out of his opportunity."
First car: "1988 Pontiac Grand Am. I felt like Fred Flintstone driving that thing, it was like a matchbox car."
This feature was originally published in the Nov. 5, 2011, edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.