Herb McGee was a 7-year-old kid the last time he played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
He remembers his Susan Park team winning that parkball game that day.
McGee, now a do-it-all senior for Riverside Academy, knows things will be a lot different at 1:30 p.m. Friday, when he and the Rebels take on Notre Dame for the Division III state championship.
The stakes will be higher.
“I am going to try not to cry,” McGee said. “Knowing this is my last game playing with those guys, it will be a lot of emotion. The biggest thing is not to get too high and too low. Just stay the course and do all the little things right.”
And that’s pretty much what McGee has done throughout his 18-year-old life.
Stayed the course. And tried to do the little things right.
So shortly before kickoff Friday, Herb McGee Jr. will do what he does before every game.
He’ll say a prayer and acknowledge Herb McGee Sr.
“I’ll tell him ‘this one is for you,’ ” McGee said. “Every time I score a touchdown, I point to the sky in remembrance of him.”
Herb McGee was at a friend’s house that day in 2010 when he found out his dad had been stabbed and killed.
“It affected me,” he said. “I closed people off. I wasn’t open like I was before. But it fueled my fire. After big games, it kind of hurts because you want your dad there physically watching you to give you a hug after a game. But I just keep in mind that God does everything for a reason. I don’t know if the reason was to help me become a man or if it’s for something he has for me later in life or to just get me closer to my mom.”
McGee had dealt with a loss before.
He lost his sister, Ireonne Wright, a few years before that.
Wright was 16 and died of dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition.
She was not only his sister but also his best friend.
“She and my dad are always in the back of my mind,” McGee said. “I try to do right for them and play for them.”
You can bet both are smiling down on McGee.
He had to move from receiver to quarterback some during this season when the Rebels’ two quarterbacks suffered injuries.
He completed right at 60 percent of his passes and threw for 724 yards and seven touchdowns while filling in.
He has also rushed for 405 yards and has another 301 receiving yards.
“He came in and switched to quarterback and got us through those first four games,” Riverside coach Bill Stubbs said. “It’s been nice to chart his growth the last four years. We butted heads big time at first. But he has matured. Herb is a natural born leader. His work ethic is good. This year, especially has been a total transformation. It’s amazing to say the least.”
McGee has been just as successful in basketball, where he has already helped Riverside when three consecutive state championships.
He laughed at first when asked which one he would choose if he could only pick one of the following: a fourth straight basketball championship in the spring or a football state title Friday.
“I want both,” he said. “I don’t want to lose in any sport. I hate losing. I’m very competitive. If it came down to a life or death though, I would take the football because it feels so special. I’ve won three basketball already, so to win a football one would be great.”
He’ll look to do that in the Dome before what will likely be a large contingency of Riverside fans. His No. 1 fan, his mom Coretta Brown, will be amongst the crowd.
McGee says she’ll be easy for him to find.
He never has to look for her. He can just listen.
“She’ll be the loudest one out there,” he said. “Louder than the bells and the airhorns. But I appreciate that. Without her, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. She’s the biggest inspiration in my life.”
He credits her for pushing him in the classroom. He sports a 3.8 grade-point average and wants to study pre-med in college. He has a long list of football scholarship offers from the likes of LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Utah, and Cincinnati. His basketball offers include South Alabama, Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, UTEP and Richmond.
He is undecided if he’ll try to continue playing both sports in college or just focus on one. He plans to narrow his list down around Christmas time.
But first things first. He wants to help deliver Riverside its first football title.
He’ll do his best to give his mom something to scream about in the stands. And he’ll do his best to make sure Herb McGee Sr. and Ireonne Wright are smiling down on him as well.
“I know they would be proud of the things I have done so far,” McGee said. “But I know I have a long way to go. They wouldn’t want me to just settle for what I have so far and to be complacent. I’m happy with where I am, but I know I have more in the tank.”