Leon McQuay III prefers do his talking with his play, and with his music. Both have been on point this year.
“Since the season I haven’t been doing too much, but over the summer I had an internship with Atlantic Records, engineering,” the USC senior defensive back said. “Making beats in my spare time, when I have a little bit of time.”
USC is a great launching pad for McQuay’s musical aspirations. The university’s location in the epicenter of the American entertainment industry makes an internship at Atlantic Records possible, putting him under the same umbrella as artists like Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill and Ty Dolla Sign.
With music mogul Andre Young — better known as Dr. Dre — investing $37 million into the music program at USC, McQuay’s at the right place for fostering a promising music career.
USC also is a great starting point for a young football player with ambitions of playing professionally. McQuay is making strides in that direction, starting his final campaign in cardinal-and-gold with a bang.
He’s broken up a pass, made seven tackles and recorded an interception through two games. In the Trojans’ opener against Alabama, he provided one of the few USC highlights, sandwiching Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Barnett on a safety blitz.
McQuay has two promising paths he can take in the near future with music and football, and that long road from Florida to Southern California began with a promise to his dad.
“He agreed to graduate in three years if I let him come [to USC],” Leon McQuay Jr. said.
The grind of college football, pursuing a degree and chasing a music career isn’t easy with family a continent away. McQuay Jr. said his son’s only been home to the Tampa area twice since relocating to Los Angeles.
That takes sacrifice, both for a young man and his family. To that end, McQuay III’s promise was a two-way street.
“Leon promised he was going to stay on task. He remembered the promise I made him: If he graduated [from high school] with a 5.0 [grade point average] or better, I’d let him go to any school in the country.
“He graduated with a 5.14,” McQuay Jr. said, adding with a laugh: “The night before he committed he was like, ‘Dad, remember you promised?’ He hit me right in the throat with it.”
The younger McQuay grew up in a football family. His dad coaches defense for 7-on-7 program Team Tampa. His older brother, Khiry, “was the best athlete in the house,” McQuay Jr. said, and a prospect out of Florida prep powerhouse Seffner Armwood Senior High School.
Leon McQuay Sr. was a star at the University of Tampa in the early 1970s, and played professionally for seven years in both the NFL and Canadian Football League.
McQuay Jr. instilled lessons in his son that came from McQuay Sr. — though they had nothing to do with football.
“My dad didn’t want me playing football, because he knew the ugly side of it,” McQuay Jr. said. “He needed football to feed him and get out of poverty. He always taught me that I had other things that I could draw from.
“I passed that down to Leon,” McQuay Jr. added. “Academically, he was far advanced. Athletically — to be honest, he wasn’t very good at football.”
Khiry was the football star at an early age, but McQuay III sat back and observed his older brother — quietly, as the most reserved of four siblings is wont to do.
“Out of the four, he’s always been the one that stays to himself,” McQuay Jr. said. “Even in sports, he was always that kid that shared. I look at him now, and he’s pretty much the same way.”
The soft-spoken McQuay III took time to acclimate to the rigors of the game. While McQuay Jr. coached Khiry’s team during McQuay III’s first year of tackle football, the younger sibling got frustrated.
“Once he started actually going and participating in the camps with Khiry, Khiry was like, ‘Wow, my little brother is whipping these older guys,’” McQuay Jr. “He went from crying to making guys cry.”
McQuay III got plenty more opportunities to take it to older competition beyond the camp circuit, making the varsity team as a freshman at Seffner Armwood, and becoming the school’s first frosh starter in more than a decade.
That gave the brothers, Khiry then a senior, the chance to play together as teammates.
McQuay III's stellar prep career at one of the nation’s premier high school programs launched him to 5-star status per 247Sports.com’s recruiting rankings.
At the same time McQuay III improved on the football field, he went to the lab to begin the very early phases of a budding music career.
“It got to where he wasn’t watching film – he was doing music,” McQuay Jr. said. “When I saw he was actually putting a lot of time into it, and he was actually getting serious about it, I said: ‘Hey, if you’re going to do this, go ahead and let’s get you a production company.’ Let’s start looking toward you making money. This could help you out throughout college.”
LM3 Beats first made waves on the music scene with the Under Armour All-America Game, fittingly enough. McQuay III’s production on the Infinite Skillz track “I Will” provided the 2013 game’s soundtrack.
McQuay III has the tutelage in the classroom to nurture his budding musical career, and his new role in the USC defense fosters his NFL chances.
The return of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who oversaw the Trojans defense in McQuay III’s solid freshman campaign, accentuates the cornerback’s abilities.
“He’s a perfect, system fit for what Clancy does, especially in our nickel package with him being that Nickel SAM,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “He has the ability to play man coverage, he has the ability to blitz off the edge, which you’ve seen; he’s a great run-support defender.
“He’s just been a perfect fit for what Clancy’s trying to get done,” Helton added.
McQuay III showed flashes of brilliance in the previous two seasons, including a monster game in the Trojans’ 2014 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska. He lost his spot atop the depth chart early in 2015, but his return in time for the rout of then-undefeated Utah last October helped power the Trojans to their first Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.
Pendergast’s return and reimplementation of the 52-base formation has allowed McQuay III to really showcase his playmaking ability. “I feel great in it,” he said. “I think everybody else feels good. We’re out there playing fast.”
Whether on the gridiron on in the studio, Leon McQuay III is making moves. It’s not his style to say as much, but that’s OK. His action in both worlds speaks volumes.