NEW ORLEANS — No one can accuse Edna Karr High School of false advertising.
Three years after Karr wide receiver Speedy Noil blazed a path to Texas A&M, another Cougars star is on the fast track to the SEC. He is the aptly named Racey McMath, and as one of two wide receivers in LSU’s 2017 signing class he has a chance to make an early impact for the Tigers.
“Their work ethic is very similar,” said Karr coach Brice Brown, who coached both players. “Both excel in the weight room, both are dual-sport athletes with track. Very competitive.
“The contrast is Speedy Noil is a finesse guy, more excitement. Racey is exciting too, but more aggressive. He will use his physical tools against his opponent consistently. Even if he’s blocking or running a slant, he always did excel at that. Speedy was a little more flashier.”
It was Noil who inspired a young McMath to attend Karr.
“I’m not slow,” said McMath, who does not lack for confidence or the ability to prove it’s well-founded. “I’ve been fast since I was young. And Speedy, he saw what I had in me as a freshman. The reason I came to Karr was seeing what Speedy did his junior year. I was like, ‘I’m about to go to Karr and do what he do.’ ”
Racey McMath, shadow racer
You might think that Racey is a nickname placed on McMath, just as “Speedy” was given to Devante Noil.
You’d be wrong.
“That’s my government name,” McMath says.
When McMath’s mother, Pamela, was pregnant with Racey, he kicked so often that she thought he was running a race. And so a unique name was born. Unique enough that it made it easier for McMath to discard letters from certain recruiters when they’d spell it incorrectly.
“I don’t see how people get my name wrong. It’s just Race with a ‘y’ at the end,” he said. “R-a-y-c-e, they’d spell it like that.”
It didn’t take Racey long to live up to the reputation he created in the womb. But he did learn hard lessons about science in the process.
“I was probably about 4 when I realized I was fast,” he said. “I would look down at my shadow and try to race it. But I can’t beat my shadow. I was just running all day against my shadow, thinking I could win. But when my mom explained why I couldn’t, it really did make sense.”
McMath’s struggle to come to grips with what is physically possible for his body to do continues to this day.
“I need to get my hands bigger like Odell Beckham. My hands are strong, but not big like his,” McMath says while glancing at his hands. “I don’t know, I need to pull them or something.”Where others would probably give up on such a seemingly impossible task, McMath thinks there surely has to be a secret he can unlock.
“I’m going to Google it. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Nearly walking away
Racey McMath stands 6-foot-3, weighs 215 pounds and runs a 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds.
And after his sophomore season, he was ready to quit football.
It wasn’t because he shied away from hits. Contact has been part of McMath’s football DNA since he grew up playing at the same playground that produced Noil, former LSU wideout Craig “Buster” Davis and Ole Miss and NFL standout Mike Wallace.
“Park ball was crazy. These dudes [hit] — I had migraines from that,” McMath said. “They got us like that at a young age. I don’t have a problem with contact.”
The problem for McMath was a crisis of confidence after a sub-par sophomore season.
“I wanted to stop playing football,” he said. “I was about to just float through school. It was that moment. I had a tough sophomore year. I dropped a lot of balls. My head was spinning.”
To say the least, Brown was stunned when he met with McMath at the end of the 2014 season.
“I told him I wasn’t really feeling football,” McMath said. “He looked shocked when he heard it. He knew I was serious.”
Brown quickly talked McMath down from the proverbial ledge.
“My coach told me to think about what I was doing, that I could be one of the best receivers in the state,” McMath said. “I had to really stick with it and take it serious because I knew I could get far doing this.
“It had to be the most important conversation I’ve had, because I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
The famous No. 2
McMath’s path to LSU began in earnest with his junior season. He helped lead Karr’s explosive offense to the Class 4A state championship game at the Superdome. As a result of McMath’s role in the offense, Brown awarded him the No. 2, which is a special distinction at the school.
“I don’t think it was pressure [to follow Noil]. It was more an obligation with him and Speedy both wearing the famous No. 2,” Brown said. “It’s a number that has a lot of prestige at our school. It goes to the best offensive player. He saw it as a challenge and a responsibility.”
At first, McMath wasn’t so sure about wearing the number.
“I was denying No. 2 for a long time because I was trying to make my own legacy,” McMath said. “That’s the best player on the team. When you need a play, you’ve got to get it to him. When I realized that, I took control of it. Give me the number, I’ll do what I do.”
Even when he wasn’t getting the ball, opponents knew they had to pay attention to No. 2.
“The best thing I can say about him as a person is his desire to win at anything,” Brown said. “He sprained his ankle the week before we played McDonogh 35. He rehabbed his butt off that week. And in that game he didn’t catch a pass. He was more of a decoy for the other wide receivers because they kind of triple-teamed him.
“We scored 58 points in that game without him scoring a touchdown because he was a team player in knowing that he wasn’t 100 percent. But him at 50 percent is better than 75 percent of the nation’s wide receivers at 100 percent.”
Trucking into the future
McMath’s senior year was a winning one. Karr won the state football title in December. Last week, he was part of the Cougars state champion 4×200-meter relay team.
Now he’s ready to be part of something successful at LSU, and quickly. He’ll be one of five LSU receivers that are 6-foot-3 or taller.
“Coach Canada spreads the ball around,” McMath said, referring to LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “It’s very different from last year. He wants me to play as a true freshman.”
Long-term, McMath certainly seems the logical successor to D.J. Chark in Canada’s beloved speed sweep play.
Short-term, there is one major adjustment McMath will have to make if he wants to get on the field in 2017. He spent his entire high school career playing with one quarterback, Arkansas State signee Aldon Clark.
“That will be very different for him,” Brown said. “He’s used to Aldon putting that ball right where he wanted it.”
Now McMath must develop timing and a repertoire with someone new in a quarterback battle that will be determined in August.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like. They don’t have a starting quarterback right now,” McMath said. “But I’ll try to make the quarterbacks look good.”
That’s not McMath’s only goal in college. He is going to school for business administration, because one day he wants to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and start his own trucking company.
“I want to use football, because I know that won’t last forever, to make the money for that business so I’ll be set forever,” he said. “It can be taken away at any time. People get hurt out of the blue. I don’t want that to be me though. I do want to play football forever. But I can’t.”
LSU beat writer Alex Hickey is traveling the state and region visiting the Tigers’ 2017 signees for SEC Country’s “NextGen” series. Read his past NextGen stories here.