Matt McGloin has made a career out of exceeding other people’s expectations.
The player who had no scholarship offers coming out of high school walked on at Penn State and became the school’s career leader in touchdown passes.
The player who sent a letter and video to NFL teams pleading for a chance after getting passed over for the combine went undrafted before finally getting a chance as a camp arm with the Raiders.
The player who entered training camp as a fourth-stringer managed to beat out fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson for a roster spot and moved up to second string when Matt Flynn was released last month.
As surprising as all of those accomplishments may have been, it was his performance in his first NFL start last week in Houston that really opened up eyes. McGloin became the fourth quarterback since the 1970 NFL merger to throw three touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first career start in place of the injured Terrelle Pryor to earn himself a longer-term look as the starter in Oakland.
“I never took a backseat to anybody,” McGloin said. “I didn’t put myself in a position that I’m buried behind all these guys. I really don’t look at who is ahead of me on the depth chart or who’s behind me on the depth chart. Each day is a better way to get better, improve as a leader, improve as a person.”
McGloin will make his second start on Sunday against Tennessee (4-6) as Pryor still is dealing with a right knee injury and the Raiders (4-6) want to see if he can repeat that performance.
“This is a production business,” coach Dennis Allen said. “If you go out and you perform and you make plays, you get opportunities to continue to go out and perform and make plays. Matt did that last week. He’s going to get another opportunity this week. We’ll see how it goes.”
McGloin’s ascension from undrafted quarterback to starter is not unique as players such as Kurt Warner, Tony Romo and Jeff Garcia also took that route. But those players came from much lower-profile colleges than Penn State, where scouts had ample opportunity to watch McGloin play against NFL-caliber opposition, and took longer to reach their NFL success.
They all spent time either in the Arena Football League, NFL Europe, Canada or an NFL bench before getting a chance to start in the NFL.
“I think some guys weren’t born or blessed with great athleticism, size or speed or strength, all those things you can measure,” Allen said. “You can’t measure what’s in their head or their heart. This guy has overcome a lot of challenges.”
It started when he got no scholarship offers coming out of high school in Scranton, Pa., and decided to walk on at Penn State. One reason McGloin didn’t get a scholarship was because Penn State was waiting to see if Pryor would come to State College.
But even being at the same school as the top quarterback recruit in the country couldn’t scare the confident McGloin.
“I remember asking him, ‘What happens if Terrelle goes to Penn State,’” McGloin’s father, Paul, said. “He said, ‘Dad, I don’t care. I’ll go there and beat whoever is there.”
Pryor went to Ohio State and McGloin spent much of his time in college fighting off more heralded recruits like Rob Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome before earning his chance.
He became the starter midway through his sophomore season in 2010 before throwing five interceptions in a loss to Florida at the Outback Bowl.
McGloin began the 2011 season as the backup to Bolden before becoming the starter just weeks before the Jerry Sandusky scandal went public at Penn State, throwing the program in disarray.
That eventually led to the firing of longtime coach Joe Paterno and crippling sanctions but McGloin decided to stick it out for his senior season under new coach Bill O’Brien, who had previously been offensive coordinator for Tom Brady in New England.
“Not too many kids go through something like that,” he said. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve overcome many different types of adversity. In a way it has helped me at this level.”
McGloin had his best year under O’Brien, throwing for 3,266 yards and 24 touchdowns with only five interceptions in leading the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record.
“He’s a smart guy,” O’Brien said. “Smart guys that work hard, that have some talent, they really thrive in that league. They really do. I think he’ll thrive in that league.”
McGloin cited his upbringing in Scranton, Pa., and experience at Penn State, where he started out as a walk-on, as reasons why he should get a chance in the NFL. That came to fruition in May when he worked out for the Raiders and earned a contract.
“My entire life has been defined by the words ‘You’ll never make it,’” McGloin said. “So hard work is not new to me.”