“I have four brothers and he’s the one I’ve pretty much grown up with my entire life,” McGill said Thursday about his late brother, Rufus Arthur McGill II. “He taught me how to ride a bicycle.”
With the love, there was loss last October, when Sonny was injured in a car accident in Virginia. He spent several weeks in a coma before passing away Nov. 1. It was loss that Mac refused to let affect him in a negative way. If anything, it served as inspiration.
“He never got to see one of my senior games, and I know he wanted to see one of those. Without him being able to be there, it helped me to play better, just because I knew he was able to watch every one of my games,” Mac said.
It’s a type of adversity McGill has had to overcome multiple times in his career, including when a Lumberton football player passed away prior to his sophomore season. McGill’s “heart,” as referred to by retired Pirates coach Mike Brill, along with strong academic performance and success in as both a football player and swimmer, are among the reasons he was chosen as February’s Mountaire Farms/Civitas Media Scholar-Athlete of the Month.
The program’s mission is to highlight male and female senior student-athletes within Robeson, Scotland and Bladen counties who carry a 3.0 GPA or higher. Nominees need to also be recognized by their coaches for outstanding sportsmanship and perform with superior ability in athletic competition.
Each monthly winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship and becomes eligible for an additional $1,500 in college funds that is awarded in June to the male and female scholar athletes of the year.
In the classroom, McGill is an accomplished student, having taken honors courses in varying subjects throughout his four years of high school, accumulating a 3.81 weighted grade point average in the process.
McGill said he didn’t enter high school wanting to take the honors courses, but was encouraged by his parents originally, and later his friends.
“With the senior class that I’ve been with, it was pretty much either take honors classes or be bored in school because all my friends took them,” he said.
It was encouragement he appreciates in retrospect.
“I’m actually glad they pushed me. There’s not much difference in taking honors classes and taking regular classes. The only difference is maybe a project or two.”
He’s also involved with the NC Scholar program and is members of both the Beta Club and the Chess Club.
On the field, his passion for athletics spans several generations. His father and grandfather both were athletes at the West Virginia University, and Sonny was passionate about football.
McGill has had plenty of success on the gridiron, earning All-County honorable mention his sophomore year. He became a full-fledged All-County recipient in both his junior and senior year. This year, he was also named a team captain, All-Conference, and was The Robesonian’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording over 100 tackles last season.
He’s also one of the top swimmers in the county, having picked up the sport to help rehab a shoulder injury his sophomore year. As a team captain, he’s specialized in freestyle events, swimming both the 50 and the 100 meter distances, and also swam the 200 meter individual medley and contributed to the 200 yard freestyle relay team’s success.
“If I wouldn’t have done sports, I wouldn’t know half the people at this school, as it is now,” he said, noting that when he picked up swimming, his relationships expanded even further. “It feels like the more evolved I was, the more people I was meeting, and I liked to get to know everybody better just through doing sports.”
When nominating McGill, Brill noted not only his linebacker’s athletic prowess, but his response in the hardship that came with losing his brother.
“Despite facing the death of his brother, despite walking on the field for recognition on senior night without his parents, and despite ending his high school football career with such a dark cloud of memories and emotion, this young man continued to perform in the classroom and on the field,” Brill said. “He maintained his grades and had one of his best games ever on senior night, as well as during his final home game against our county rivals.
“He led by example, showing his teammates first-hand the true meaning of dedication, ‘heart’, and how to overcome adversity. I couldn’t have been more proud, if he was my own son,” Brill said.
McGill said much of his strength through the experience has come from keeping a positive mindset.
“Without (Sonny) around, it’s different, but the way I think of it, I can’t let that overcome me. I will overcome it,” Mac said. “It’s not like he’s gone anywhere, because I know he’s just waiting for me. People come and go and it happens.
“I know I’ll see him again one day.”
McGill was enthusiastic as he received the trophy announcing him as the winner.
“It feels rewarding because I feel like we always get overlooked around here, being here in Robeson County and in Lumberton, and it feels like this is something that puts your name out there.” he said. “Everybody has dreams of going to Division I schools and being on TV and all that stuff, but I’d rather go somewhere where I’m going to play, and having even the smallest scholarships helps keep that dream possible.”
McGill’s top college choices include Allegheny College (Pa.), Alderson-Broaddus (W.V.) College and Methodist University in Fayetteville, and he’s also been offered a preferred walk-on spot at West Virginia.
He’s unsure of where he will sign or what he will study, but the date he signs is one with personal significance: Sonny’s birthday, March 18.
“I’ll give him one last gift, to be able to see me succeed in life, and I feel like that’s the most important part of me signing to where I’m going to start my career,” he said.