Shocker Summer: Prince McJunkins was a generation ahead of his time at QB
06/25/2014 2:30 PM
06/25/2014 2:30 PM
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The Eagle on Aug. 24, 2000.
Prince McJunkins was a pioneer. McJunkins, who played at Wichita State from 1979-82, was one of the first Division I-A quarterbacks who could run and throw, giving defenses fits and lighting up scoreboards.
He was the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and pass for more than 4,000 in a career. Only four others have reached the mark since.
Yet despite that achievement, it took the former Shocker great many years, he said, to feel good about himself and his role in college football.
That’s because McJunkins never fit the scouting standard for a 1980s quarterback. He was about three inches too short and 40 pounds too light. Also, blacks were not considered for the quarterback position as often as today.
“I ran into stereotypes at every level,” said McJunkins, 39, a probation officer in Fort Worth.
“Despite what I could do, I honestly didn’t have a chance. It’s not racist, it’s just being a realist. Steve Young is no taller than me, but he’s been given more opportunity.”
McJunkins said the “black stigma” was difficult to accept, and he’s glad opportunities are now available for blacks. He is proud that he helped open that door.
McJunkins, who has maintained his athletic build by playing softball, tennis and golf, said people ask him if he was a receiver or defensive back in college. When he replies that he was a quarterback, McJunkins said he gets wide-eyed looks.
“It brings a sense of joy because I loved playing quarterback,” McJunkins said. “I’m proof that heart and desire matter. If you did the best you could, and I did, then you win. I can see that now.”
Willie Jeffries, who coached McJunkins at WSU, said the Shockers “were on the leading edge of the trend” for college teams to value two-dimensional quarterbacks. On third and long, McJunkins was a powerful threat to get the first down by passing or scrambling, Jeffries said.
“It took a long time for people to open their eyes and see what impact these guys could bring to the game,” said Jeffries, the first black Division I-A head coach while at WSU. He’s now coach at South Carolina State.
“Race was a factor. Most coaches are conservative, too. They go with the formula that has always worked before. That takes time to change.”
The Shockers, though, seized on McJunkins’ skills. WSU’s scoring increased each season from 1979 through 1982, improving from 105 points when McJunkins was a freshman to 313 points when he was a senior. McJunkins ran for 10 touchdowns and threw for 11 in his senior year. He was the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year in 1979 and the conference’s Player of the Year in 1981 and 1982.
“By my third season the whole offense just blossomed,” McJunkins said, quickly giving credit to his receivers and running backs. “We’d be in the huddle and I’d nod. It was like saying, ‘Check with me at the line of scrimmage and we’ll go from there.’ It was fun.”
Jeffries said the offense was mostly McJunkins’ show.
“Prince had a great ability to read what the defense was going to do, and he exploited it,” Jeffries said. “He had running and passing abilities, but he knew the game, too.
“The opposing team did not know what Prince was going to do and he could do it all. That put a lot of pressure on the defense. Prince could keep the (first-down) sticks moving.”
McJunkins finished close behind Dan Marino and John Elway in total yardage his senior season, but scouts remained skeptical. McJunkins said NFL teams had projected him to be the 10th to 15th receiver – not quarterback - to be drafted. He opted instead to play quarterback for four seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League.
“I’d been a quarterback since junior high. Quarterback was my game, and I didn’t want to give it up just to be in the NFL,” McJunkins said.
He has fond WSU memories, including the Shockers’ 13-10 upset of Kansas in 1982. Wichita State went 8-3 that season, the program’s best record.
Occasionally, McJunkins said he watches the game film from that Sept. 11 game against the Jayhawks in Lawrence. He loves the ending. Trailing 10-6, McJunkins threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Don Dreher with 3:08 remaining.
“They were a bigger school and had bigger players and all that stuff, but we beat them,” McJunkins said. “You can’t measure a person’s heart. We had a lot of heart.”
There are no regrets, he said.
“When you look at everything in a whole mixing bowl, what I’ve been able to attain by the grace of God,” he said. “Man, I’ve been blessed.”