Growing up in Tampa, Alex McGough always had a ball in his hands. His younger brother, Shane McGough, always had a knife.
The two brothers, who are extremely close but opposites in various ways, are FIU students and football players.
Alex, a 6-3, 215-pounder, is the only fourth-year starting quarterback in Conference USA and possibly a future coach. He is set to officially begin his senior year – and his first under coach Butch Davis – on Sept. 2 at Central Florida.
Shane, a 6-2, 280-pound redshirt freshman, is a second-string center and avid fisherman and hunter. His future is likely in law enforcement or the military.
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The McGoughs played one year of varsity together at Tampa Gaither. Alex was a senior and third-year starter at quarterback. Shane was a sophomore and a first-year starter at left tackle.
Even then, their focus was different.
“Shane would always go fishing after practice - he would put on his big boots and camouflage shorts and top and go with his buddies,” said Jason Stokes, who coached the boys at Tampa Gaither.
“After practice, Alex was always going to another workout – speed training, lifting weights – anything to improve.”
Stokes tried to get a McGough-to-McGough (pronounced McGoo) pass connection but was unsuccessful. Stokes lined up Shane at tight end, but the first pass was deflected and incomplete.
On the second one, Shane was wide open but the ball hit him in the chest and was dropped.
“Shane has stone hands,” joked his father, Francis, who runs a lawn maintenance service.
Apparently, Shane got those stone hands from his father, who was an offensive lineman at an NAIA school, Missouri Valley College.
Raylee, the boys’ mother and Francis’ wife, was a volleyball player at Division II Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.
“Alex got his skill from me,” joked Raylee, a legal assistant.
Raylee may have a point about the skill on her side of the family. Her mother was a pro basketball player. Her brother, Kelly Goodburn, was Mr. Iowa Football as a quarterback and punter.
Goodburn became a full-time punter in college, made the Kansas City Chiefs in the strike year of 1987 and punted for the Washington Redskins when they won the Super Bowl in the 1991-92 season.
Raylee was in college at the time, and, two weeks later, she met Francis. Her future husband, after blowing his knees out at Missouri Valley, was a student athletic trainer for one of her rival schools, Nebraska-Omaha.
“They gave me the choice of being the athletic trainer for football players in tight pants or for women’s volleyball players in bun-hungers,” Francis said. “I chose the bun-hungers.”
Francis and Raylee married soon after that and had three children, including their oldest child and only daughter, Kelsey.
When Alex was an infant, his first word became his obsession.
“He would stand in the crib and say, ‘Ball, ball, ball,’ “ Raylee said. “He would throw a ball 24-7.”
The McGoughs didn’t let Alex football until age 10. But by age four, he got X-Box Madden and would memorize all the plays.
By age seven, he played soccer and baseball, and Francis noticed he had a much stronger arm than the other boys in Little League.
Alex didn’t put up big numbers in high school, passing for 1,727 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior and 1,258 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.
But there were extenuating circumstances.
“Our offensive line struggled, and I can’t tell you how many dropped balls we had,” Stokes said. “God knows we took him to every (college) camp we could, but sometimes coaches were stuck on other guys.”
Alex got some interest from Colgate, but when coach Ron Turner and his staff made an offer, McGough jumped at the chance to play just four hours from his hometown.
McGough started 11 games as a freshman, 12 as a sophomore and nine last year when he suffered a broken left wrist.
But it hasn’t been easy being a quarterback for an FIU squad that has a cumulative 13-23 record the past three years.
Turner was fired after a 0-4 start to 2016 but not before he briefly benched McGough.
Francis and Raylee, who have never missed one of Alex’s games, were driving home from Miami after watching UCF beat FIU 53-14 when they started noticing news on Twitter.
Turner had been fired.
“We were on Alligator Alley when we found out,” Francis said.
The McGough family had mixed feelings. On one hand, Turner had benched Alex. On the other, Turner had given their son an opportunity to play Division I football.
Furthermore, the prospect of a new coach brought uncertainty. They had no idea if the eventual new coach would want an option-type quarterback or a passer such as McGough.
As it turned out, the McGoughs had nothing to worry about. Davis almost immediately announced McGough as his starter.
And even though McGough is learning a new offensive system, he is not concerned.
“I’m a smart kid,” McGough said. “I study my tail off. I’m in there watching film and studying my playbook every day.”
Francis and Raylee said they can’t wait for the 2017 season to begin.
“Alex has had ups and downs,” Francis said. “The coaching staff fighting amongst themselves for two years didn’t help. His injury didn’t help.
“But I think Alex has all the talent in the world. It just has to get synced up with all the talent they have at FIU.”
Alex has 48 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions in his FIU career. But his parents would love nothing better than one particular connection in this his senior year – a center exchange between Alex and Shane.
Francis said he would never say Shane is as good yet as starting center Neal Mars.
But Raylee has an idea:
“Hopefully,” she said, “Neal’s shoes come untied for at least one play.”