Student-athletes are well-known and well-respected for their performance on the field, and occasionally commended for their academic achievement. But many have talents that even the most diehard of fans would not know about.
During the 2013 Under Armour All-American game, freshman safety Leon McQuay III was able to put one of his many talents on display for the main stage — but not his football skills. He was acknowledged for his participation on the field, but McQuay was also highly touted for producing a song -— “I Will,” featuring Florida rapper Infinite Skillz — that debuted during the game.
“I didn’t really know how to feel,” McQuay said modestly. “I was just like ‘Wow, my beat is really on TV.’”
McQuay says Corey Long, an ESPN reporter who knew of his musical abilities, approached him.
“He asked me if I wanted to make a beat for the Under Armour game and of course, I said yes,” McQuay said. “He hooked me up with a rapper, I went to Corey’s house because he had an in-home studio and I made the beat.”
As he awaited the approval of ESPN, McQuay said he was so excited that he did not really think about compensation at the time.
“ESPN didn’t pay me for having the beat aired during the game, but the song is on iTunes and I do make money off of that,” McQuay said.
McQuay began making music in his sophomore year of high school back in Seffner, Fla. His cousin recommended that he buy Free Studio, a beat-making software program. From then on, McQuay began researching how to use the software and started honing his craft.
He said his mother was supportive from the beginning, but his father was skeptical at first.
“My mom bought me the equipment and a lot of the different programs,” McQuay said. “But my dad took some convincing. He told me, ‘If you are going to do it, then you need to take it seriously.’”
Once McQuay’s father saw how much time and energy his son was dedicating to his newfound love, he encouraged him to make it official.
“My dad told me to make it a business before I got to college,” McQuay said.
McQuay listened to his old man and created LM3Beats (Leon McQuay III Beats), his own beat production company. LM3 Beats is a limited liability company, which is not considered a corporation. Instead, it’s a legal company that has elements of corporate structure. Because McQuay created LM3Beats during his senior year of high school, he is able to profit from any beats he produces under his company while at USC.
“I’m setting myself up for post-football,” McQuay said.
McQuay credits a pair of musical mentors for helping him get on track. While still in high school, McQuay visited the University of Michigan. There, he met JDK and Rey, the Michigan football music duo who gave McQuay advice on how to balance football, school and music.
“They inspired me,” McQuay said. “If they can do it, I know I can; they have a pretty big fan base.”
McQuay said he wanted to start by sharing his passion with the people closest to him — his teammates.
“I was nervous,” McQuay said. “I was like, ‘I hope they like it.’”
“Like it” was an understatement; his teammates were left in awe after the freshman revealed his musical talents at the annual rookie show during fall football camp at USC. Freshman wide receiver Steven Mitchell still vividly remembers the performance.
“He had the best rookie show, hands down,” Mitchell said. “He literally showed us the process of making a beat, step by step. He put all these small beats together and it came out to probably the best beat I have ever heard.”
Mitchell was not the only one who left with a lasting impression of McQuay’s talents. All-American junior wide receiver Marqise Lee said all the veteran players were impressed with how much talent the young freshman has.
“We were all sitting there shocked,” Lee said. “He started off with one simple beat and I was already impressed; he kept adding to it, and by the end we were all in there going crazy, dancing. Much respect!”
After sharing his talent, he was overwhelmed by his teammates’ support. Some players even surprised him with their freestyling skills.
“[Freshman wide receiver] Darreus Rogers and [freshman offensive lineman] Khaliel Rodgers are mainly the guys that will come over and freestyle over my beats,” McQuay said.
McQuay can easily be called a jack of all trades. Not only is he a musical genius in the making, but also one of the many athletes who takes the “student” portion of his title just as seriously.
After achieving a 4.7 GPA in high school, McQuay was named one of five finalists for the 2013 Watkins Award, given out by the National Alliance of African-American Athletes. The award is presented to student-athletes who demonstrate outstanding community leadership, football performance and academic achievement. McQuay is one of two current Trojans to qualify as a finalist, following in the footsteps of redshirt freshman offensive tackle Zach Banner, who did so in 2012.
But McQuay has forged his own path by being the only music industry major on the football team, and he wants to minor in technology. He was elated to hear that hip-hop artist Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre, donated $35 million to create an Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, and plans to apply for the program.
McQuay can boast a long list of accolades, but what’s most impressive is that he is one of the most humble, modest and poised young men at USC.
“I Will” by Infinite Skillz is available on iTunes.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @LJonesSports