Every time I see McKade on the sideline, he's bleeding from somewhere. It's not a game if he's not bleeding. —USU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda
LOGAN — One of the worst experiences an athlete can face is being stuck on the sidelines, helplessly watching but knowing their contribution could make the difference between a win and a loss.
A year ago in Provo that was the situation facing Utah State’s McKade Brady. The junior was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet collision in the end zone early in the game, a frustrating decision for the safety, especially when he saw the tape the next day and there was no helmet-to-helmet contact.
“There’s nothing you can do about those situations. Sometimes the refs make good calls and sometimes they make bad calls,” Brady said. “I just had to do my best as a coach on the sideline and try and help the guys out.”
It was a double-whammy for the Aggies. The penalty kept a BYU drive alive, eventually ending in a Cougar touchdown. The bigger issue for Utah State was losing its starting safety for the rest of the game. The fourth quarter saw the Aggie secondary get shredded through the air, ending with a game-winning BYU touchdown in the final seconds.
“I wish I was out there with my guys to help them,” Brady said. “A couple balls were in the air for a long time, and I wish I would have had the chance to break on those, maybe knock one down and change the game.”
While much of the pregame hype for this year’s BYU-Utah State showdown will surround Riley Nelson, the former Utah State quarterback now playing for the Cougars, it will also be a homecoming of sorts for Brady.
Despite Brady being first-team all-state and the Region 5 defensive player of the year at Sky View High in Smithfield, Utah, the only school in the country that offered him a scholarship for football was Navy, and a seven-year commitment with a move across the country didn’t seem so appealing. So instead of continuing his career on the gridiron, Brady went to BYU to compete on the Cougar track and field team. A hamstring injury limited his participation, but he did help set a BYU school-record time in the 4x400m relay at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and was academic All-Mountain West in 2009.
Competiting in track and field and living in Provo was nice, but his love for football remained. When an opportunity opened to walk-on the football team at Utah State, the hometown team he grew up watching, he jumped at the chance and never looked back.
“Best decision I’ve ever made,” Brady said. “I didn’t want to be 10 years down the road and be kicking myself wishing I had tried to play football.”
The decision quickly paid off. He appeared in every game in 2010 and earned a scholarship in 2011, quickly becoming the heart of the secondary from the safety position.
This season Brady has become not just a leader in the secondary, but on the defense as a whole, leading the Aggies with 39 tackles. When a safety leads the team in tackles, it can be the sign of a porous defense, but with Brady it’s not something defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is concerned about. Instead he worries how a safety that seems to be involved in every play will make it through the game.
“Every time I see McKade on the sideline, he’s bleeding from somewhere. It’s not a game if he’s not bleeding,” Aranda said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s very smart. He hustles every snap and gives you everything he’s got. You can’t ask anything more from him.”
On Friday, thanks to the quirks of Utah State’s two-for-one agreement with BYU, Brady gets a second chance to lead the Aggies against his former school in Provo. Only this time he hopes to celebrate a victory on the field instead of being forced to commiserate on the sidelines with team members after a loss. A win would not only be redemptive for Brady, but would place the Aggies at the top of Utah’s collegiate football pecking order for the first time in decades.
“I want to go out and do the best I can for Utah State and get us to where I think we should be, which is going out and winning each game we go into,” Brady said. “I just want to do my best to do my part for the team.”
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.