Max McGuinn is two positions rolled into one.
No, the University of Puget Sound isn’t debuting a super-hybrid position new to football in its offensive backfield this season. It’s just that McGuinn, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior, views himself as a “quarterback playing running back.”
That is exactly what he is.
Seeing an opportunity to get on the field sooner two seasons ago, McGuinn, who was brought in as a quarterback, conceded the “handing off” chores to teammate Hans Fortune in favor of the “taking handoffs” portion of the Loggers’ offense.
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And with wavy hair, chiseled arms and bulging calves, the man now wearing No. 47 looks the part.
“He is team first, team second,” UPS football coach Jeff Thomas said. “He has no care in the world for personal statistics.”
Huh? Now, that doesn’t sound like a quarterback.
Growing up in Bellingham, because of his stout size, McGuinn played a little bit of everything.
“I went from defensive end to the offensive line … because I was one of the tall guys,” McGuinn said. “In fifth grade, I did play some running back — when I was moved from tight end.”
McGuinn thought he had settled on one position in seventh grade — quarterback. In fact, when he became the starter for Meridian High School under legendary coach Bob Ames, he passed for 3,227 yards and 31 touchdowns in two seasons (2011-12).
He turned down an offer to play linebacker at Simon Fraser University to play quarterback at UPS.
With Braden Foley entrenched as the starting quarterback, McGuinn was used as a change-up quarterback running “Wildcat” plays.
It was in 2014, when a pair of injuries to Foley (shoulder) and starting running back Austin Wagner (knee), spun the wheel of McGuinn’s career.
Since Fortune’s drop-back passing style was most similar to Foley, Thomas inserted the Kenmore product as the new starter. Wagner’s injury opened the door for a position switch for McGuinn.
“I talked to (wide receiver) Brennan Schon about the idea after a game in the dorms, and he kind of laughed at it,” McGuinn said. “But I didn’t think it was too far of a stretch. I was on board with (the switch).”
After spending much of his sophomore season getting acclimated to his new role, McGuinn became the starting running back in 2015 — with his first start being against Claremont College.
“I took hard hits in high school, but it was nothing compared to the multitude of hits I took in that game,” McGuinn said. “I was much more sore after the game than I had ever been in my life.”
And yet, as the season wore on, the hits became less and less bothersome.
“I thought it would break me down,” McGuinn said. “But honestly, I felt better and better.”
Thomas said around midseason, McGuinn started playing the position full tilt. He had a 141-yard rushing game at Lewis & Clark.
“We knew he had the physicality in him to do it,” Thomas said. “It just took him a while to get used to carrying the ball, and having a purposeful approach to it.”
McGuinn finished the season with 73 carries for 322 yards — not bad numbers considering the Loggers were one of the top NCAA Division III passing programs in the country last season.
Even with Wagner back, and the presence of promising freshman Paul Thomas, Jeff Thomas expects McGuinn’s workload to increase to around 100 carries, and be more involved as a pass catcher.
So what does Fortune see when he looks behind him and sees his former quarterback-in-training partner playing running back?
“That he does everything,” Fortune said.
Puget Sound Loggers
Coach: Jeff Thomas, seventh year (13-41 record).
2015 record: 6-3, 5-2 in NWC (third place).
2016 preseason coaches pick: Fifth.
Offense: Coordinator (base scheme) — Rob Clements/Taylor Chapatte (spread). Returning starters (7) — LT Johnny Yacovelle, 6-4, 230, sr.; LG Zach Losack, 6-0, 239, so.; RT Jared Polonitza, 6-5, 272, jr.; RG Reid Hartmann, 6-2, 245, sr.; QB Hans Fortune, 6-6, 220, sr.; RB Max McGuinn, 6-2, 200, sr.; WR Brennan Schon, 6-0, 190, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (base scheme) — Jeff Thomas (3-4). Returning starters (5) — OLB William Geary, 5-7, 212, sr.; ILB Brett Pilling, 5-11, 222, sr.; CB Zackary Teats, 6-0, 193, so.; CB Cooper Zurfluh, 6-0, 155, sr.; FS Jacob Wuesthoff, 6-1, 185, sr.
Special teams: Coordinator — Jeff Thomas. Returning starters — None.
Outlook: Under Thomas, the Loggers finally climbed the mountain to their first winning season since 2007. Can do they do it again? This season, the climb might be steeper. For starters, their road schedule (at Whitworth, George Fox, PLU and Pacific) is much more daunting than last year. And the program has undergone some change with defensive coordinator Jeff Ramsey departing for Wabash College in Ohio, and Thomas switching to take on those duties. That opens the door for Chapatte, a former Redlands wide receiver, to call the plays on offense. Thomas thinks Chapatte is one of the up-and-coming bright minds in college football. Of course, Fortune’s number will be called often as the Loggers finished last season ranked No. 7 in passing offense (347.1 yards per game). The Fortune-to-Schon deep connection should continue to provide plenty of fireworks. On defense, expect more disguised pressure under Thomas, led by the inside linebacker tandem of Pilling and Austin Moore, and Wuesthoff — arguably the top returning safety in the NWC.
2016 schedule: Saturday vs. La Verne (Calif.), 1 p.m.; Sept. 10 at Occidental (Calif.), 7 p.m.; Oct. 1 vs. Willamette (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Oct. 8 at Whitworth, 1 p.m.; Oct. 15 at George Fox (Ore.), 7 p.m.; Oct. 22 vs. Lewis & Clark, 1 p.m.; Oct. 29 at Pacific Lutheran, 1 p.m.; Nov. 5 vs. Linfield (Ore.); Nov. 12 at Pacific (Ore.).
LA VERNE AT PUGET SOUND
1 p.m. Saturday, Baker Stadium, Tacoma
The series: UPS leads, 3-1. The two schools played for four consecutive seasons (2004-07), with the Loggers winning both games in Tacoma (34-14 in 2004, and 21-7 in 2007).
What to watch for: As the SCIAC champions, the Leopards were in the NCAA Division III playoffs last season, losing to St. Thomas of Minnesota in the opening round. They feature a spread attack, but want to run the football out of it with senior tailback Dallas Parent, a first-year starter. They averaged 255.1 yards per game on the ground in 2015. … UPS will spread this La Verne defense out, too, but pass it plenty behind quarterback Hans Fortune (224 of 371, 2,878 yards, 25 TDs in 2015), who could leave the school with many of the all-time passing records by the end of the season.
What’s at stake: UPS did not opt for a light schedule coming off its first winning season since 2006, and the Leopards are a big, physical test right out of the gate.
TNT pick: La Verne, 27-24.