By Arielle Sargent,
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State wide receiver Josh McPhearson might not be one to light up the stat sheet Saturday', but what those who don't know him might miss, is that he is the type of teammate who can certainly light up a locker room.
Fresh off of Penn State's first Big Ten Championship since 2008, in the culmination of a resilient season defined by hard work and perseverance, McPhearson could be found all smiles on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium with a colorful bunch of confetti draped around his neck.
"I watched the Big Ten Championship game last year and I watched the confetti come down on the field and I thought man, I want to do that, I hope the confetti comes down this time," McPhearson said. "So we were on the stand, holding up the ball and I heard a pop, pop. I started looking around and the confetti fell to the ground, so I went in and did a few snow angels in it and I put it around my neck."
Confetti and all, McPhearson was living in the moment, as he recalled. A moment he seemingly couldn't quite imagine growing up and one he'll never forget.
Growing up in Columbia, Maryland, Josh McPhearson is one of eight children. With six brothers and one sister, life on team McPhearson is anything but ordinary.
"I'm like the middle child," McPhearson said. "I have four older brothers, two younger brothers and one younger sister."
Along with a half dozen siblings, the McPhearson's are truly a shining example of an extraordinary athletic family. On a normal day, when asked about his family, it takes Josh nearly three full minutes to list off each of his siblings, pausing for just a moment in between to cover their athletic success.
Josh's oldest brother Gerrick Jr. played football at Maryland and was selected by the
New York Giants in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. His second oldest
brother Derrick, played football at Illinois and his third oldest brother
Emmanuel, played football at New Mexico.
Right above Josh in age is Jeremiah, who played football at Indiana (Pa). Younger brother Matthew, was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2013. Four years younger, is Zechariah, a freshman on the Nittany Lion football team with Josh. Then there's his youngest sister Kimberly, who has also committed to play soccer at Bowling Green.
McPhearson's father, Gerrick Sr. also played football at Boston College before playing in the NFL with the New England Patriots. That's not where McPhearson says all the athletic traits hail from though.
In a household of nearly 10, there was always some sort of competition to be had, with plenty of epic holiday football games in the back yard.
"I remember Christmas some years, we would get dressed up as different NFL teams and play with my younger brothers in the back yard when it was snowing," McPhearson said. "It was really competitive. We had a basketball hoop outside of the house too, so really just anything sports related. It was really competitive for us and it was really awesome."
Always the energetic one in the family, McPhearson gives credits his older brothers for helping to bring him out of his shell, pushing and shaping him into the person and teammate that he is today.
"I saw the way they worked, and their work ethic was something that inspired me," McPhearson said. "I learned how to work and push myself through them. A lot of what I do now is because they are a motivation in my life."
The path to Penn State was anything but easy for McPhearson, who had grown up familiar with head coach James Franklin, dating back to the younger Gerrick's days as a football student-athlete at Maryland.
"There were practices at Maryland in the spring and during camp, and my family would actually go to the practices and go on the field," McPhearson said. "I was probably six or seven and I would run around the field, and I used to see coach Franklin doing his laps. He used to do laps around the field."
It would be several years before the McPhearson family would once again reunite with some familiar faces from the Maryland staff though.
McPhearson's journey began at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Union, Virginia, where he played alongside the likes of future teammates Christian Hackenberg and Trevor Williams. Taking a different path, he attended two junior colleges, playing football for one season at Globe Institute of Technology in New York, New York before spending another season at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York on Long Island.
"From Globe I knew that coach Franklin was at Penn State, so I sent him my highlights and things and it actually worked out in my favor," McPhearson said.
Upon meeting with coach Franklin during his visit to Happy Valley, it was a feeling of relief that encompassed McPhearson, knowing he hadn't seen the Nittany Lion head coach in a while and that his dream to play at Penn State might soon become a reality.
For McPhearson, it was the pride and tradition of the Penn State program that fueled his daily dream to continue working toward his goal to one day put on the Blue and White.
"When I look at Penn State I just see a lot of tradition and I see a lot of history and I saw that this program was building and I wanted to be a part of something that was building," McPhearson said.
His hard work paid off, as McPhearson joined the team in the spring of 2015.
From the time he arrived to the time the confetti fell in Indianapolis, it's been widely expressed and noted among teammates and coaches, that team chemistry is at an all-time high.
Following an early season loss to Pittsburgh, it was tight end Mike Gesicki who first spoke to the heart of the team, even in defeat.
"We have more heart in my three years, more than we've ever had," Gesicki said. "We're not going to give up, we're not going to quit."
Months later, with a Big Ten championship secured and Rose Bowl Game a mere few weeks away, McPhearson also noted that the chemistry on the team is right where it needs to be.
"The chemistry on the team has really grown a lot," McPhearson said. "From when I got here in 2015 to this season and last season, the chemistry is two different things. It's clicking now and I knew it was going to come at some point. The guys are really bonding with each other and every guy is playing their role the right way."
Part of being on a team means that everyone has a role and for McPhearson, he has found that role, one that he says, all comes down to lifting his teammates up - creating chemistry, when it's needed the most.
"A lot of times you can't control your situation, but you can control how you look at it and what you do to pick others up"
Of the four core values that Franklin instills in his Nittany Lions, having a positive attitude is the one McPhearson says he holds closest and embraces the most.
"A lot of times you can't control your situation, but you can control how you look at it and what you do to pick others up," McPhearson said. "I think my role to bring the team's chemistry up is to pick others up."
Just one of those Nittany Lions he has picked up along the way, comes among McPhearson's close knit group at the wide receiver unit in sophomore Irvin Charles.
"He had a pretty big year this year," McPhearson said. "He had a play that really transitioned our season against Minnesota. He's one of those guys who I really try to spend a lot of time with to try to push him to be the best because he has so much potential."
Outside of Charles, it's not easy for McPhearson to list off his best friends, because as he'll tell you with a smile, he's friends with the whole team.
One best friend he will list though, is his brother Zech, a true freshman cornerback for the Nittany Lions this year.
"When Zech was going through the recruiting process I just told him to do what you want to do," McPhearson said. "I didn't really want to put any pressure on him to come here but I was also kind of nudging him to come here because I've never really played with him before."
Four years older than his younger brother, Josh never got a chance to play football with Zech prior to Penn State.
"Growing up, we used to play basketball and my dad was the coach and my brothers were on the team and he was always the water boy," McPhearson recalled. "Having an opportunity to play with him is really nice. He is a really funny kid and has a lot of potential."
Whether its Charles or Zech, McPhearson can always be found lifting up his entire team in the locker room though, a place where motivation not only lives, but thrives.
"Going into the second half, guys talk in the locker room and I always try to go around and pick guys head's up and let them know that we have things to do and it's really good for guys to take that in and know that your words really mean something to them, it means a lot," McPhearson said.
For McPhearson, his ability to pick others up around him all goes back to where it first began, with his parents, Kim and Gerrick.
"When I was going through this process to get to Penn State, it was really long and gritty and it was such a grind," McPhearson said. "My mom and dad were really there for me for all the things that I went through, and they really encouraged me to keep going and keep pushing."
Inspired by his family, McPhearson's weaved hard work in with his energetic personality, while remaining focused on seeing every situation in the most positive light possible.
All part of what makes him such a great teammate.
"You never really know what somebody is going through in their life," McPhearson said. "Playing football is one aspect of it, but another aspect of it is to really pick someone up and encourage them when you're playing the game."
McPhearson and the rest of the Nittany Lions will hit the road come next Monday, heading to Pasadena, California for the 103rd Rose Bowl Game.
"In 1,000 years I could never imagine that I would be at Penn State playing in the Rose Bowl and winning a Big Ten Championship," McPhearson said.
A chance for another opportunity forged by the hard work of McPhearson and his teammates."This team worked so hard and I worked so hard myself," McPhearson said. "The feeling of being in the Rose Bowl and winning a championship, I can't even put it into words. There are a lot of guys on the team really embracing their roles and I'm just happy to be one of them."