June 30, 2024   7 MIN READ

‘Nothing Guaranteed’

Zech McPhearson Ready To Battle Everyone


VOORHEES, N.J. – Bearing a wide grin and fixated on simultaneous 7-on-7 competitions taking place on opposite ends of Eastern Junior Vikings Field on Friday evening, Zech McPhearson would occasionally wander from his post at the 50-yard line for a closer look at the action.

The Eagles cornerback, along with Eagles defensive tackle Milton Williams, were hosting their second annual “7-on-7 Summer Classic” in South Jersey, amid weather conditions closely resembling a September evening.

The event furnishes the community with an uplifting, inspiring evening and an up-close look at professional athletes while also providing a spirited round-robin series of competitive football between four New Jersey high schools.

ITB PHOTO: Eagles CB Zech McPhearson is 100 percent recovered from his Achilles tear, ready to compete among a crowded house at his position.

The winning program is awarded a $5,000 grand prize.

The participating schools – Millville, Pleasantville, Eastside and Camden Catholic – each provided their share of acrobatic catches and pinpoint dart throws over the two-hour event.

There was a distinct energy in the air and an overflow of competitive juices.

As the sun set over Eastern Junior Vikings Field, the final showdown unfolded between Millville and Pleasantville, with the Millville Thunderbolts coming away with the grand prize.

“This is me and Milton’s second year doing this,” McPhearson said. “First year we did it, we were like, ‘Hey, let’s do something else for the community, for the high school teams. Let’s get four teams, come out here and do a 7-on-7 tournament.’ And have them have the opportunity to compete for a grand prize to help them with, whether it’s jerseys, cleats, helmets, whatever it may be.

“So, we did the first year and had a great outcome. The second year is even better, man. It’s so fun watching these kids compete. It brings back so many memories. It gives you chills.”

For McPhearson, who’s returning from an Achilles injury that deprived him of the entirety of his third season, his thirst for football was apparent.

His eyes lit up when discussing his clean bill of health and impending return.

There might be no player more eager, more grateful, for training camp in July than McPhearson.

He said he hasn’t even given any thought to his emotional state when he finally runs through the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field this summer.

He’s instead fixated on putting on the pads and helmet for the first time following an extended layoff, and on lining up on the first day of training camp.

He barely had an opportunity to prove himself last year, as he was without football for the first time in his career because of a fateful play last summer in a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns that resulted in him carted off the field.

There was considerable buzz at the time surrounding McPhearson, who was getting a look at nickelback after two years of primarily serving as a backup to starters Darius Slay and James Bradberry on the outside.

Though McPhearson was forced to time watch time march on without him, the 26-year-old attacked the rehab process and remained positive, positioning himself for a comeback.

“I’m 100 percent, man,” he said. “It’s been a long road to recovery, but I’m so thankful. Sitting out this year has just taught me so much, especially on the mental side of the game, allowing me to see the game from a different perspective.

“But I’m just glad to be back. My body’s feeling good, I’m feeling good. I just wanna go out there and compete. I got so much built up inside me. I got a chip on my shoulder. It’s a lot going on outside, but I block out all that noise.”

Like most traumatic experiences, this one required time to find the right coping strategy.

McPhearson, who had appeared in 33 of a possible 34 regular-season games (and all four playoff games) prior to the injury, eventually identified a means in which he could make an impact.

Watching from the coaches box on game days, McPhearson saw the game from a bird’s eye view, better understanding the subtleties and nuances of details and where the help is on specific coverages.

When he’d come down at half time, McPhearson would reconvene with the defensive backs to provide insight on what he was seeing from above, how teams were executing, and what adjustments would be required.

He also leaned on his wide-ranging support system to navigate the injury, particularly Slay, with whom he has a close rapport.

The veteran cornerback, who has an open dialogue with McPhearson, knew how to press the right buttons.

“Just in terms of being a big brother,” McPhearson said. “That’s how I look at him. Taking my mind off the reality of what I was going through. And just taking me to a different place in terms of giving me comfort.

“I trust Slay with a lot, he keeps it real with me, I keep it real with him. He tells me what I need to do. He’s like, ‘Hey, you gotta come back and get healthy for camp. First thing, you gotta make sure you’re in shape. If you’re not in shape, you should be damned on yourself.’

“That’s why I appreciate him so much. We’ve got such a great relationship, him, Avonte [Maddox], James [Bradberry]. They’re just such a great group of guys to be around and I can’t be more thankful.”

McPhearson began rounding into form around late January and has since been ramping back up.

While he didn’t participate in spring practices, he said it was all part of the strategic ramp-up regimen. No need to rush or expedite the process.

McPhearson was adamant he’d be full-go when camp opens in late July.

The talent around him has been bolstered, and McPhearson is well aware he’ll be vying for a role among a crowded house, but he insisted that competition wouldn’t deter his confidence and that the chip on his shoulder is only growing bigger.

It’s worth noting that McPhearson not only provides inside-outside value at his position of trade; he’s also a core special teams performer and unit leader who should conceivably see his stock elevate due to the new kickoff rule, which should benefit both the coverage and return units.

“Me, personally, I’m excited, especially on kickoff,” he said. “I feel like it’s more opportunity to make a lot more tackles.”

Spending nearly a year away from the game has given McPhearson a new perspective, though he isn’t dwelling on misfortune or harboring resentment.

McPhearson is instead intent on seizing the opportunity, endearing to a new coaching staff, and being given a clean slate.

Just before he wrapped up the event in South Jersey, McPhearson made sure to let the passion in his voice be heard about his mentality entering his fourth training camp.

“Well, you know I’m gonna kill it on special teams,” he said. “That’s my bread and butter. I’m a dog on that. I don’t think nobody’s better than me at that.

“And then come defense, be what I am. My first two years in the league, behind Slay and behind JB – two healthy corners going in – I’m thankful for that. But I just stepped up when the time was called. They go down, I get in the game. Just execute the plays and do what I was called to do. And be there, be ready.

“But now, I’m trying to compete for a job. There’s some positions open. I know they brought in a lot of people, but ain’t nothing guaranteed. And that’s how I look at it. I don’t care who you are.”

Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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