A year ago, Calvin McNairl gladly accepted his new role of wide receiver at Tennessee State.
One season later, he wants to master it. Four practices into fall preseason camp, the former quarterback is ready for his second go-around at the position.
“Now I got acclimated with it,” he said late last week. “I have been in the film room, doing a lot of studying. I am not just saying that. I am actually comfortable with my position.”
The switch came year after McNairl accounted for 51 percent of the Tigers’ offense. In 2009, he threw for 920 yards, rushed for another 628 and scored 14 touchdowns in 10 games.
Rod Reed, was in his first year as the Tigers' coach, decided there were better ways to utilize McNairl’s talents. He wanted to put the two-time All-State performer from Henry County in the open field and let him loose.
And he did get loose -- on several occasions. McNairl ripped off the longest touchdown catch of the season – and an 84-yarder – and finished the season second on the team in receptions (34) and receiving yards (429 yards).
The feeling within the program was that of his potential might not have been tapped given the adjustment to a new position and a new pro-style offense with new offensive coordinator Mike Jones.
“He really didn’t grasp the offense fully the whole season,” Reed said. “But toward the end of the season he started to get it and his numbers were up in the last two or three football games. Now he has a full grasp of the offense and I’m real excited to see where he can go with it.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound McNairl definitely has the athleticism to put together a spectacular final season. In high school, he accumulated 6,544 yards and 64 touchdowns in four years, primarily as a quarterback.
He is the only player at TSU to throw, run and catch for more than 100 yards in three separate games.
“Cal-boy is explosive,” Reed said. “He makes some great catches out here, good runs after catches. So we are really excited. We are going to do what we can to get the ball in his hands and let him highlight his talents.”
McNairl will slide into the No. 1 role after last year’s leading receiver Joseph Hills was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans. Hills, a 6-5, 205-pounder who transferred from South Carolina after the 2008 season, caught 40 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns in 2010.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” McNairl said. “Joe was an incredible player.”
Also helping McNairl’s cause is that quarterback Jeremy Perry also returns for a second year as the starter.
"He has come a long way and is a true leader,” McNairl said. “Our wide receivers trust him that he is going to get us the ball at the right time.”
Of course, McNairl might make an occasional cameos at quarterback from time to time. Last year, he was 3-of-7 passing for 17 yards.
Though he was recruited for a different position – then-coach James Webster called him “the best quarterback in the state of Tennessee” – McNairl said he didn’t object to the change.
“I am an athlete. So it didn’t really bother me,” he said. “I wasn’t that upset about leaving quarterback because I would do whatever to help my team win. If that is what it takes to help our team win, I’m cool with it.”