An ESPN star, Trump's body man, a shipwright. UConn has a knack for its QBs taking 'broad spectrum' of career paths

John McEntee, President Donald Trump’s body man, was once just “Johnny Mac,” an online curiosity before he became a mysterious figure of influence within the White House.

Ten years ago, McEntee took over UConn athletic facilities with a camera rolling, and he essentially owned the internet for a time afterward.

“What's up?” he said, introducing himself in the lobby of the Burton Family Football Complex. “This is Johnny McEntee, representing UConn football. Trick shot video.”

Posted Feb. 8, 2011, it is 4 minutes and 49 seconds of innocent fun with McEntee knocking a water bottle off teammate Dave Teggart’s head and, outside, a Domino’s delivery sign off of a moving car. He throws balls into barrels from the rafters of the Shenkman Center, sails them across Gampel Pavilion and into a basketball hoop.

The video has 7.4 million views on its original YouTube channel alone. It was McEntee’s entry into a more public life that, post-UConn and post-football, became about a rapid rise from grunt campaign staffer to personal aide to the 45th President.

Walk-on from California earns UConn starting QB job, hams it up on YouTube, becomes Washington D.C. power player after stint at Fox News.

Pretty typical story line, right?

Of course not. Then again, McEntee’s career path isn’t totally off the wall considering the various pursuits of former UConn quarterbacks, a proud and unique fraternity. The center of the Huskies’ huddle hasn’t been a turnstile to the NFL, but instead something to scatter players this way and that, in and out of the sport.

UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee (18) warms up during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.

UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee (18) warms up during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

Before and after the early 2000s era of Dan Orlovsky, easily the program’s most prolific and celebrated player, UConn quarterbacks have made their presence felt through personality and a wide range of pursuits.

“All quarterbacks have to be who they are,” said Randy Edsall, entering his fourth season of his second stint at UConn. “You can’t be somebody you're not because your teammates will pick up on it really quick. Some are going to be really smart, some guys are going to laugh and joke, and some guys are going to be a little more serious. But it's a matter of having the respect of everybody on the team and especially in that huddle, having them understand who you are and what you're all about.”

Orlovsky Out Front

Orlovsky remains the only Huskies quarterback ever selected in the NFL draft, which he now analyzes with the start-from-scratch zeal of someone once forgotten or left behind. It makes sense, every angle of a process that has presented Orlovsky as a burgeoning face of ESPN’s football coverage.

He has credibility with 12 years in the NFL in a backup role akin to that of assistant coach, and the charisma to embrace the most famous play of his career — an absent-minded scramble through the back of the end zone while with the Lions in 2008. He carries himself on the air with the energy of an over-caffeinated Pop Warner player, excitedly showing off skills crafted outside the spotlight. He is a key contributor this week to ESPNs coverage of the draft.

“I remember when he was putting stuff up on Instagram before he got a call to do anything with ESPN,” said Bryant Shirreffs, UConn quarterback in 2015-17. “And I remember thinking, 'I wonder if anyone is watching.’ ”

“I think he was doing stuff on Twitter before he had a job,” said Tyler Lorenzen, a Huskies quarterback in 2007-08. “And it was good.”

“He earned it, that job, putting out YouTube videos,” Edsall said. “He created that opportunity for himself. He's taken something he has a passion for and put himself in an opportunity to be one of the best in the business.”

UConn quarterback Dan Orlovsky on Aug. 27, 2002.

UConn quarterback Dan Orlovsky on Aug. 27, 2002.

New Haven Register / file photo

Orlovsky’s might be UConn football’s best success story but, social media creativity aside, it is rather basic.

Shelton to Storrs, hometown kid sets records at State U, plays in NFL, winds up on TV.

Want interesting?

David Pindell, still chasing playing dreams, recently left his job in Maryland as a truck driver to play the inaugural season of Fan Controlled Football — a league where, yes, fans call the plays. He is preparing to play in the National Arena League and hoping to make an XFL roster in 2022. Pindell put in his own YouTube work, which led to the FCF opportunity and pulled him into some high-profile social and professional circles.

Juco transfer sets Huskies’ single-season QB rushing record, connects with longtime NFL wideout Dez Bryant and famous rapper Quavo.

“It’s all about making those connections,” said Pindell, who ran for with 1,139 yards in 2018, the most ever by a UConn quarterback.

Shirreffs remains in the area, working in wealth management in Hartford and living in Manchester, where he found the perfect roommate a couple years back by knocking on the door of random mansions. One septuagenarian, a retired entrepreneur who competes in motocross, welcomed him in exchange for rent payments and help with property upkeep, and the two often sit together for long talks about life.

Shirreffs, the easy-going and analytical guy from Georgia raising a 4-year-old son, finds himself in these situations often. He loves, for instance, wandering the grocery store, chatting with strangers.

“That's so funny you bring that up,” Shirreffs said. “It happened last night. A random older gentleman. We talked for about 20 minutes. It was like he was preaching to himself at the deli. Then he was directing conversation to me. He had some really good political points. He was just a really positive spirit.”

UConn quarterback David Pindell (5) breaks away from Rhode Island defensive lineman Brandon Ginnetti (99) for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in East Hartford, Conn.

UConn quarterback David Pindell (5) breaks away from Rhode Island defensive lineman Brandon Ginnetti (99) for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in East Hartford, Conn.

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

Shirreffs and Pindell are only the two most recently departed UConn starting QBs.

The others?

None were drafted. Most aren’t even in the sport. Some of them, though, have stories befitting reality TV.

Everybody’s Backup

Having a conversation with Lorenzen isn’t so dissimilar from watching an episode of Shark Tank. He’s already raised the money, though.

Lorenzen started all 13 games in 2007, leading UConn to its second bowl game. He is now CEO of Puris Protein, a subsidiary of a company started by his father, Jerry, in the 1980s.

Son of plant breeder leaves UConn a quarterback, pursues NFL as tight end, purchases dairy plant, becomes global leader in plant-based protein production.

“We knew we had something special when we were able to make pea protein taste good,” said Lorenzen, an Iowa native who transferred to UConn from Palomar Community College in California.

UConn quarterback Tyler Lorenzen reacts after UConn defeated Louisville, 21-17, in a big East Conference football game in East Hartford, Conn., Friday, Oct. 19, 2007.

UConn quarterback Tyler Lorenzen reacts after UConn defeated Louisville, 21-17, in a big East Conference football game in East Hartford, Conn., Friday, Oct. 19, 2007.

Bob Child / AP

The dairy plant, built in the 1950’s, was sold on the cheap to Lorenzen’s family 10 years ago. Lorenzen’s job became to commercialize the company’s products. He worked with a food scientist, refining the pea protein initiative. Puris, based in Minneapolis, has 300-plus employees and was named the “Most innovated food company of 2021” by Fast Company Magazine.

“My dad, back in 80s, envisioned that the world would go from eating animals as a main source of protein to needing to eat plants due to the rise in population and the inefficiency of animal proteins from sustainability, human health, etc.,” said Lorenzen, who spent two seasons as a member of the Saints practice squad. “In 2021, we're the largest manufacturer of pea protein in North America.”

That’s a lot to chew on.

So is the success of Tim Boyle, everybody’s backup before he was Aaron Rodgers’ backup. Boyle, of Middlefield and Xavier High, had limited opportunities at UConn and transferred to Eastern Kentucky before his final season of eligibility in 2017. He spent three years with the Packers as a fan favorite, taking knees to expire the clock on victories, and signed this offseason with the Lions.

High school standout at Xavier-Middletown, overlooked at UConn, becomes cult hero in Green Bay, lands $2.5 million contract.

Boyle started eight games in three years at UConn in 2013-15, spending much of his time behind Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer and Shirreffs.

“The Boyle thing is crazy,” Lorenzen said. “I'm really good friends with [former Packers tight end] Jimmy Graham, so I met Tim. … I was like, ‘Wait, you went to UConn? How did you get out of there? It's just a fascinating story.”

Green Bay Packers' Tim Boyle warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis.

Green Bay Packers' Tim Boyle warms up before a preseason NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis.

Mike Roemer / Associated Press

Shirreffs transferred to UConn from North Carolina State, sat out the 2014 season and was named the starter over Boyle in 2015.

“Tim supported me on and off the field,” Shirreffs said. “It's really uncommon to be in a position of competing with somebody where there's no animosity. He made a decision that must have been really difficult, to transfer when he did, and I have the most respect for him for having faith in himself.”

The season before, 2014, Cochran started over Boyle to open the season but weeks later retired from the sport due to concussions. Whitmer started from there.

“I stay in touch with Tim a good bit,” said Whitmer, in his first season in an offensive quality control role with the Los Angeles Chargers. “I called him my fetus. He was kind of my younger child who I would help and take under my wing.”

‘The Start Of This Journey’

Whitmer passed for 5,082 yards, fourth-most in program history, in 2012-14 after transferring from Butler Community College in Kansas and briefly pursued a playing career in an Eagles mini-camp, where he met Ryan Day, then Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach and now the Ohio State head coach.

After time away from the sport pursuing careers in marketing and modeling, Whitmer took a job as an offensive quality control assistant at Yale in 2017. He reconnected with Day at Ohio State as a graduate assistant in 2018, then worked as a grad assistant under Dabo Swinney at Clemson in 2019. He and new Chargers coach Brandon Staley share the same agent, and former UConn quarterback coach Shane Day is the Chargers’ QB coach.

“I've been fortunate to be around the right people and the right opportunities,” Whitmer said. “I think [playing at UConn] was the start of this journey, where I learned a ton. We had multiple offenses, where you might think it's hard to get in a rhythm. Really, I see it now as a blessing because there isn't much I haven't been exposed to and it made me more knowledgeable for coaching.”

Buffalo defensive back Adam Redden (29) forces a fumble on Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10) during the first half of an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Buffalo defensive back Adam Redden (29) forces a fumble on Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10) during the first half of an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Mike Groll / Associated Press

Cochran, who owns the UConn single-game record with 461 passing yards against Memphis in 2016, has since worked as a shipwright in Mystic while teaching himself to play the guitar.

Two-time Connecticut Gatorade Player Of The Year retires early, helps rebuild Mayflour II, releases music album.

D.J. Hernandez, another state Gatorade Player of the Year out of Bristol Central, played at UConn in 2005-08, the first two at quarterback before switching to receiver. Later, he was the coach at Southington High. He has largely stayed out of the public life following his younger brother Aaron’s murder conviction and suicide, and now goes by Jonathan Hernandez.

He is living in Florida, according to Lorenzen, who remains a close friend. Lorenzen took over at quarterback when Hernandez changed positions. And like Cochran, Lorenzen said, Hernandez is spending a lot of time with his creative side — writing, artwork.

“I don't know that there was anybody who worked as hard as he did,” Edsall said of Hernandez. “He just was off the charts when it came to work ethic.”

Edsall recently heard from Zach Frazer, the quarterback for UConn’s Fiesta Bowl team in 2010. Frazer is living in Oslo, Norway, working in football. Frazer’s goal, Edsall and others said, is to return to the U.S. and get into coaching.

‘Football Has Done Everything For Me’

Andy Baylock is UConn’s director of football alumni and community affairs. He’s all energy, even at 82.

Told of this quarterback exploration, Baylock went into his files and said, “I’ve got a list of about 50 here. I’m going to throw some names at you.”

Baylock: UConn baseball coach, 1980-2003; UConn football treasure, 2005-present.

“Way back in the 50's, a guy named Harry Drivas,” Baylock began. “He became a coach and teacher in Florida. Then there was Lou Aceto [1962-64]. He lives in Colorado. Then it was Pete Petrillo [1966-68], ‘Helicopter Pete,’ an Air Force pilot. Now he’s a truck driver. Ricky Robustelli [1968-70], he went on to run his father’s travel agency and he’s a professor now part-time at Sacred Heart, working for Bobby Valentine. Lou Mancari [1973-76]. Bernie Palmer [1973-76], he’s an attorney. Ray Tellier [1970-72] ended up being coach at Columbia for a long time [1989-2002].”

UConn's career leaders in passing yards are Orlovsky (10,706 in 2001-04), Matt DeGennaro (9,288 in 1987-90) and Shane Stafford (8,975 in 1995-98). Stafford and DeGennaro are tied for second on the program's list for career touchdown passes with 73 apiece, behind Orlovsky's 84.

UConn quarterbacks Blaise Driscoll (17), Chandler Whitmer (10), Casey Cochran (12) and Johnny McEntee, front, pose during the an NCAA football media day in Storrs, Conn., Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.

UConn quarterbacks Blaise Driscoll (17), Chandler Whitmer (10), Casey Cochran (12) and Johnny McEntee, front, pose during the an NCAA football media day in Storrs, Conn., Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

Stafford went on to become one of the best players in the Arena Football League, and coached in the AFL before its disbandment in 2019. DeGennaro is president and founder of a technology consulting business and lives in New Jersey, married with three children. One of his sons, Nick, was a freshman receiver at Maryland in 2020.

“I draw on my experience playing football just about every day of my life,” DeGennaro said. “What I learned was how to work, how to persevere, how to compete, how to lead. All of those things are invaluable in business. It's the greatest part of my life. Football has done everything for me and propelled me through my entire life, every aspect.”

Baylock kept naming names.

“Ken Sweitzer [1978-81], he was an All-American up here,” he said. “Peter Lane [1985-86], Cornelius Benton [1987-91], Luke Richmond [1998-00] …”

There are so many others.

“How about Johnny McEntee?” Baylock said.

YouTube To White House

McEntee, a walk-on from Fullerton, Calif., arrived at UConn in 2008. He started all 12 games as a junior in 2011, Paul Pasqualoni's first year as coach, passing for 2,110 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions as the Huskies went 5-7.

Months earlier, the trick shot video had gone viral.

“I remember the flood of inquires we got the week following, from ‘Ellen’ to ‘Entertainment Tonight’ to ESPN,” said Kyle Campbell, the video’s editor. “It was the No. 1 viewed video on YouTube for two straight days. It was a crazy rush for us.”

Campbell, known as Pink Hat Kid while leading cheers in the student section, is an Enfield native living in New Orleans, where he works as the director of game experience for the Saints and Pelicans.

While at UConn, Campbell worked in video production for the athletic department. He had side projects as a hobby.

On Jan 23, 2011, women’s basketball player Caroline Doty posted a trick shot video, “Caroline Doty Rise & Fire.” Campbell edited that, too.

McEntee modeled some of his video after Doty’s, celebrating one throw in Gampel Pavilion much the same way Geno Auriemma celebrated a half-court shot in Doty’s - lots of fist-pumping and a shake of the rear end. In McEntee’s video, Emmanuel Omokoro, a walk-on linebacker from Danbury at the time, walked toward the camera and said, “I want to be just like Johnny,” similar to what Maya Moore said about Doty in Doty’s video.

UConn's Johnny McEntee throws against Louisville's Mike Evans in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011.

UConn’s Johnny McEntee throws against Louisville's Mike Evans in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011.

Jessica Hill / ASSOCIATED PRESS

McEntee was joined in the video by Mark Dupuis, then a football equipment manager and today the wide receivers coach at Old Dominion, and friend Isaac Stalzer, a UConn student.

Campbell put the video together in McEntee’s Hilltop apartment. McEntee smashes a plate with a football, skeet shot style. He throws passes blindfolded. When it was time to hit the Domino’s sign on the passing SUV, McEntee crouched behind a car, grinned.

“Shhh,” he said, his forefinger to his lips.

Dupuis was driving the car. It is unclear how many takes that trick, or any others, took. A Gampel clock could be seen in one part of the video, reading 10:36.

“Kind of shows you how long of a day it was,” Campbell said.

McEntee lost his White House job in 2018. Numerous reports cited the denial of McEntee's permanent security clearance, and investigations into gambling issues, mishandling of taxes and financial crimes. McEntee was quickly retained, though, working with Trump's second campaign before returning to the White House in 2019.

“That whole situation with him being in the position he was, was pretty crazy to me,” Campbell said. “Putting political differences aside, potentially with anybody, that's still a really cool position to hold.”

Said Whitmer: “I’ve seen Johnny in the news. He's one of the unique characters. You’ve got to love him. He was always getting into some kind of adventure.”

Many UConn quarterbacks were, too.

“Just such a broad spectrum,” Shirreffs said, “So many great, interesting personalities.”