Updated: Feb 23, 2021
This week's guest on real talk has played all around the country and even in Canada! We sat down with Professional QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, he has played in numerous professional leagues including the NFL. McLeod most recently was the starting QB for Aviators of the spring league, and before that has played for 5 different NFL teams, 2 CFL teams and one team in both the Arena Football League and the United Football League.
McLeod tape doesn't lie, he is a very talented QB and we are looking forward to seeing him in action again when other professional leagues return to play. He spins the football like the greats and is looking forward to rejoin a NFL team in the coming years.
He gives his insight on to what young QBs should be doing even with the pandemic, a little about his story as a Journeyman and some tips for young athletes deciding what school to go to after college.
How was your most recent experience in the Spring league ?
“ A lot of things happened, I’ll speak about some and won’t speak about others but the biggest takeaway that I had was there’s a lot of really good football players and a lot of really good football coaches. And there’s a huge market and a huge need for a developmental league in the US. If there can be a sustainable football league or developmental league, it will make the CFL better, it will make the NFL better."
"A lot of guys step on the field on sundays in the NFL and not perform. There’s a huge difference between established vets to the next their of talent whether it’s QB or another position. They just don’t have the experience or the tools to perform at that level and college can only prepare you so much. So I learned that there’s a lot of good players that need that development, can use that time at taking snaps or spending time at every position and it will make the NFL better. There’s players out there and I hope there is a league that can be sustained.”
What have you been doing to stay in shape or stay ready?
“Everything in every way, I gone through all types of training, from heavy lifting, light lifting, to not as much lifting, to band work all of it. I try incorporate all different prices to what I do and how I train, and keep adding things to my game to get better. I think the best form of QB training is just going to a park and throwing a ball. I don’t there is any substitute for it."
"Throwing it over and over again, no matter if it’s to another person or a stationary target. There’s always something to work on, whether it’s the spin off the fingers. It’s like a golfer you know when the shot feels right and you're constantly chasing that. I go to the park a couple times a week and I toss the rock."
"Then I do different types of agility training or adding this to me my game, I just study trainers and performance experts l, there’s always something to add. I think the QB position is trying to find out who you are as a QB and finding what works with you. You have to do what works with you.”
What can QBs be doing now even with all the restrictions in place?
“It’s definitely hard but like I said the most beneficial stuff is the simple stuff. So if you do have a friend you can go to the park with and socially distance and throw a ball back and forth there is nothing better. If you don’t have a friend you can go to the park with, one of my favorite drills is laying on my back and grabbing the football and throwing it straight up in the air and feeling what it feels like coming off your fingers."
"Spin it up into the air and try to have it hit your face. next take your right elbow and touch it to the ground and then try to spin it off like that. That simple feeling of rolling off your fingers, that can be worked on by yourself in your backyard. Working on moving your hips, throwing weighted balls keeping that motion strong. Between that flick of the wrist and a strong core those will definitely help you become better.
What was the 2019 season like in the CFL what helped lead to your success?
“What a crazy season, it was a dollar coster of events in so many ways but I look at my CFL experience in three years. All three of the years I spent up there, going up there my first year and riding the Journey of a good club championship and then having two struggling seasons back to back years after. I kinda touched on it a little bit of what it takes to play QB from a physical, mental and spiritual level."
"Those three years in Canada tested me In those three areas. I had some really high highs and some really low lows. It taught me or refused me on myself, I can’t control a lot of things around me, but what I can control is who I am and how I wake up every morning and prepare myself. I’m really proud of the fact through all that emotional and stressful situation I improved as a football player. I found a way to get better, we all have a little voice in our head and it’s a negative I basically call it your inner b**ch."
"Everyday you have this voice that saying you can’t do something or what will happen if you fail. When you can defeat that voice and and attack the day with a clear head. It took me three years and I had ups and downs but I really did play a lot of good football and a lot of bad football. But I was proud of the way I fought through it, stats don’t lie, you know go back and watch the film. I’d put that tape against any body good and bad."
"I pride myself on being able to spin the football and I think I’m learning how to play the QB position better and better each year. I don’t know if I even answered the question but those were 3 crazy years and last year was a dollar coster. And In 10 years I’ll be writing a movie about that year and it will be better than any Hard Knox. It’s going to be the ins and out, the happy, sad, ugly, everything."
How was the transfer process for you?? Going from UCLA to Sacramento state?
“Man what a big question, but I think you have to go back before that to really know me and understand it. I loved football since I was about 6 years old, I grew up in the Bay Area of San Francisco and I went down down to watch my two older cousins play football down in Long Beach and Southern California football was no joke. I went to see a playoff game and I remember it vividly 20,000 people, under the lights it was something special. Plus my big cousins were my hero’s and I realized that’s what I wanted to do. Football is king."
"So from that point on I wanted to play football and my parents wouldn’t let me play. I kept begging them and her plan was for me to walk on in college. City college in San Francisco has a really good Junior program and she wanted to wait till I was fully grown then play. I had to tell her that’s not how it works, so finally when I was a sophomore in high school I started playing tackle football and transferee high schools to a school who had football. So after a bunch of crazy events I ended up starting for varsity as a sophomore and it was my first year ever playing football."
"I was just dropped in and he was basically like here kid learn this. It was crazy, there were so many Ups and downs and finally halfway through my Junior year I felt like I finally figured out how to play QB. I was kinda a big fish in a small pound after my senior year, and my recruiting process was all over the place and had the chance to play for UCLA. Meanwhile this is very Bad news bears kind of football, I remember on JV they would have kids run off the field and give their helmets to another kid. That’s the level of football we were at, we had great talent, great coaches but it was under funded."
"Then when I got to UCLA it was something out of a dream, I got two helmets, 3 pairs of pads, like 16 different pairs of cleats this was crazy. Again I was dropped into this environment where it was like sink or swim. I went from Bad news bears football to PAC 12 football who has every resource imaginable. Since I was use to being uncomfortable I was ready, I redshirted my first year and then again was dropped in and ended up starting 6 games for them. Football always seemed uncomfortable to me so playing in the PAC 12 wasn’t a huge shock just different."
"Then the coach at UCLA Got fired so I ended up transferring, one of my coaches from back home put me into contact with Sacramento State, the coach reaches out to me and said he can get me to the NFL, he has seen the work that needs to be done. He told me to give him 3 years and he will get me where I want to be. That was really attractive to me, someone who wanted me to play, someone who saw my talent. Unfortunately he ended up being and mentally and physically abusive Coach and it was a really hard year. Again all these things were happening but I wouldn’t change it."
"Finding yourself in all these high and lows, finding out how you work, conquering that inner demon that’s holding you back. And that has been kinda a theme throughout my whole career. Then for anyone transferring I wouldn’t never second guess your choice or belittle them because of it but I would just encourage them to lay down your goals. Like what is your goal for transferring, what is your goal for playing college football."
"What ownership are you taking over your game, are you just looking for greener grass, it’s always greener on the other side until you get there. But most importantly conquer yourself, fight those inner fears and find the strength to take the hard path and not just look for a easy way out because you are scared of failure. Fail forward don’t run away from fear, that’s not what the greats do. They gave it head on and get right back up after it.”
What are some things that put you on the radar for those professional teams.
"This journey you start digging and it gets weirder, weirder and weirder and by the end of this thing your like how did this guy survive. I torn my ACL my Sophomore year I came back my junior year I played well had some good hype going into my senior year. There's a bunch of crazier stories involved in that and we don’t have time to go into that but those three years were the most biazar years of my life."
"Played good junior year had some scouts come around my senior year and I was the guy I saw the NFL scouts I saw something maybe it's their. First game my senior year I blow out my ankle against Stanford my coach blocked my medical redshirt because he was trying to get the graduation rates up, blocked my medical redshirt and cancelled my pro day that spring because he didn’t want any guys getting looks I don’t know what the deal was."
"I was like man what to I want to do, there is no reason for me to believe I have a pro career ahead of me and there is nothing else I want to do and i'm really thankful to have a really strong support network and loving parents sisters brothers that are there to guide me. My parents took me aside and said what are you going to do? I said I really want to play football that’s all I have ever wanted to do."
"They said well take 6 months, we will support you for 6 months we will see what happens take 6 months attack look at all the options, grind put the work in, see what's on the other side of it and after 6 months if there is nothing you have to get a job that was kind of the deal. So within 6 months I left school I graduated in December I left school in January and I just started driving and there was this arena team in San Jose called the San Jose Sabercats and luckily I had a connection through Sacramento state Aaron Garcia one of the greats played in the arena league along time."
"I competed with him and you put me on the field with anyone I can out throw anybody that includes NFL pretty much anybody I take a lot of pride in how I spin the football. So he was like wow there's a look go check it out. So I drive everyday from Sacramento to San Jose which is about 2 and a half to 3 hours depending on traffic about 3 or 4 times a week and I just kept showing up and ended up getting invited to training camp that spring and making the team beat out a couple other Quarterbacks and made the team to back up Mark Reed."
"Who is another Arena league legend he played 16 years in the league won multiple championships threw for 70,000 something yards just crazy career. He really taught me how to be a professional, and how to approach the game, how to approach your teammates, and how to show up everyday with a matter of respect and hold your teammates accountable to a level of excellence but also be genuine be yourself. I am really appreciative of Mark and what he taught me."
"I played a couple games as he got beat up that year so I got to play some games I did pretty well. So, from there Jim Harbaugh who recruited me when I was in high school when he was at University of San Diego had just got the 49ers job so he brought me into camp as a camp arm and that was a huge step up huge foot in the door and from there the NFL/ Professional journey continued and that was kind of the lift up I needed."
How was being a journeyman in the NFL?
"Really good and really bad. It was crazy from there I went to the UFL and played for the Mountain Lions then I went to the Dolphins then the Vikings and then kind of bounced around everywhere. So at the beginning it was such a great adventure it was like a new city a new challenge a new something to work on something to add to my game and I was a little wide eyed a little overwhelmed i'm just so excited to be here how can I get better."
"Once I established myself in Minnesota and I worked up to be the back up I was in the realm I was in the running and at that point I felt like an established NFL Quarterback. I kind of got mixed around with that point but my mentality had switched I felt like I had belonged, I felt like I was owed something I felt like I had made it and I needed to push on and I think as those cuts and changes because you can get cut for no reason at all."
"Some people get cut and be like your just not good enough I was never told I was not good enough it was always about wrong time wrong place wrong situation. So, I felt like my mentality had switched to I felt I was owed something and then the cuts kind of lost me the story the competitive edge I lost the fact that I was learning something new and it became easy for me."
"I became a little bit complacent and the cuts I started distancing myself from it like man I'm going to get cut again and expecting it and more involved in it almost to much in some ways. So, then I started performing like I was going to get cut because I knew it was going to happen anyways. I think some of the good bouncing around and the fun part was beneficial because I got to see the world but then I started to internalize it and I started to have cuts define me as a person."
What’s it like being a backup QB and being on NFL practice squads?
"Yeah and this goes back to our beginning point why there needs to be a developmental league for the NFL. The starter gets 90-95 reps during the week because there is only so many reps so they need to get him ready the backup runs the scout team and runs the opposing team so he gets a considerable amount of football not necessarily the plays your going to be running that Sunday but gets competitive football against a professional defense which keeps him crisp keeps his timing on point."
"The third guy doesn’t do anything maybe throws balls on air, some drills he can work in during all the individual stuff but they don’t do anything else and it's really why you see this guys come out on Sunday and perform really poorly sometimes and they are in a competitive environment and they haven’t experience that timing enough."
"It's hard to get that second job there is only 32 starters and 64 if you include the backups outside of that It gets real shaky in terms of experience in terms of seeing what that is and that jump is really huge I never quite established myself in that 64 this may sound arrogant but i'm better than some starters in the NFL if you line me up and throw the ball and i'm better than a lot of backups but that 64 is very political its very right time right place coach has to trust you get comfortable with you coach needs to know who you are how you move in the world be comfortable with you coming in because you aren’t going to get a lot of reps."
"So, they have to know on Sunday they are going to put the product out there the starter goes down you jump in, you as a quarterback are going to make them look good so that they keep their job. So that job from 3 to 2 I was never in a situation long enough or perform well at the right time to make that jump. At times I was the backup in Minnesota I was the 2 for a playoff game. As a whole if you took that third spot and fourth spot that’s not even on the roster a lot of the times and put them in games and got them playing you would see a lot better product and a lot of quarterbacks rise and improve out of college."
"You saw it when we had NFL Europe you saw Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger, Jake Delhomme all these guys that won championships they all played in NFL Europe they all got that experience you see it now with PJ Walker in Carolina. A guy who came in and looked comfortable because he just played 6 games at a professional level. So that jump is really huge 3 from 2 and I think the developmental league can be really beneficial for that jump."
Favorite passing concept?
"Oh man Four verts with a check down ballon there's nothing that can stop that you run it out of a 3 by 1 or 2 by 2. You run four verts and I'll tell you what as a Quarterback this is what a lot of younger quarterbacks don’t do but should just look down the field at the four verts and throw the balloon to the running back."
"90 percent of coverages you just take a three step drop look down the field and just find the running back you know you will find a completion 80 percent of the time and you'll get 7-8 yards maybe break it for 20. You can probably run that a majority of the game but the fun part is throwing the verts so give me four verts. I was actually in Miami and the coaches asked Dan Marino who was in our meeting rooms a bunch and Dan's an awesome guy and he said oh four verts of course! So i'll take what Dan says and copy that."
What's your favorite drill?
I'll say one that I’m doing right now this is something that I just have started the passed two months or so that I really enjoy. There are two things that I start every warm up with. So the first thing is I start with 50-60 throws with no laces you should be really comfortable without them. While you are warming up you aren’t going to the ball as hard as possible anyways why are you grabbing the laces why are you getting a perfect grip on the ball."
"So I would say the first 30 throws of the day should be no laces and the I work into doing 10 on my left foot and 10 throws on my right foot im on one foot balanced on one foot and i'm just working on rotations and if that right leg swings or doesn’t swing or if its stationary whatever it takes for me to step that left foot in the ground its really good for proprioception its really good for ankle balance which all quarterbacks should be Fanatical about is being comfortable and gripping your toes in the ground huge proprioception."
"So I do 10 throws and not let my foot touch the guy and then switch. As you get more comfortable you are able to swing your leg bigger that swing can get bigger because you have more attachment to the ground there and you can spin the ball farther. I would challenge all young quarterbacks to do that I bet 90 percent of them cant and not touch the ground. So those two things first 30 throws no laces and then 10 throws each leg balanced and catching it to staying on one foot it really works on your balance."
Who is your favorite teammates or teammate?
"There is really to many to name one and by naming one I feel like i'm doing disservice to all of them. Somebody that I played with that I have a lot of respect for that I haven’t seen in a long time well there is two. Josh Mccown is one of the greatest humans that you could cross and he's just an awesome person genuine from the inside out and just a pure sole that really loves giving knowledge and sharing knowledge a really powerful person."
"Him and Alex Smith are two of the best humans that you can be around they are great people great football players great quarterbacks but above all else they are great humans. So those two guys I would do a shout out to those two and then I would want to pick out two running backs too because those guys are characters. There is a lot of good ones but Frank Gore loves football more than anyone else in the world and what a great character."
"We were coming back from a playoff game and I heard him do a freestyle on the plane and he's from Miami and he freestyled for about 30 seconds long and I promise you I didn’t hear one word I didn’t hear a the an A and out of all people he turns to me and goes how was that? I go that was great don’t know what you said but It was great. He's an awesome human and another Florida guy James Wilders out of Florida State who I played with in Toronto he's from Tampa Bay just a magnetic human powerful person powerful figure and again loves football so Wilder and Gore are two running backs I would give shout outs to them."
Any advice for high school Quarterbacks?
"I would sit him down and run a defense and say tell me everything you can about this defense see where he is at. I would want somebody to tell me you know under front some sort of three you know what i'm saying really talk to them understand it its something I didn’t get at all. I think there is a balance you don’t want to make a robot who is so strict on lines sometimes you just got to throw to the open guy."