May 9, 2024

“I’ve always been a fighter.”

Tyrique McGhee -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Tyrique McGhee places his helmet on the new turf at Princess Auto Stadium for a moment and then taps his index finger on a spot just above his right ear.

“This is where the cyst still is on my brain,” began the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back following the second day of rookie camp on Thursday. “I used to have seizures, grand mal seizures, when I was growing up. I couldn’t focus in school, I was heavily medicated in school. It was something I had to overcome growing up and it was something the doctors always had to double-check so I was allowed to play football.

“As I matured, and my body grew the medication assisted at first and then the cyst never gave me any problems. I honestly don’t even think about it much. And thankfully, I haven’t had a seizure for years.”

There are many layers to McGhee’s story – how he got to Winnipeg a year ago, his two suspensions during his time with the Los Angeles Rams for not understanding the medications prescribed to him violated the performance enhancing drugs rules, his days at the University of Georgia and now to him trying to land a starting cornerback job now with the Blue Bombers.

McGhee in action on Day 2 of Blue Bombers Rookie Camp

Yet, to begin to understand what the second-year cornerback has had to overcome just to be here, this is as good a spot as any – literally and figuratively – to begin his tale: with McGhee pointing at the area above his ear where the cyst on his brain remains.

“Overcoming this, it’s paralleled my life as a football player,” McGhee told “I’m not the biggest guy, a little bit under-sized. And so, I had to overcome some things.

“I’ve always been a fighter.”

The cyst was first discovered when McGhee was six years old. On the same day his mother was burying her father, who had died a few days earlier – shockingly, her grandfather would pass later that day after attending the funeral — she got a call from her son’s school saying he had been rushed to the hospital because he had been having seizures.

Doctors offered the family two options: surgery – which would likely mean McGhee would need to learn to walk and talk all over again – or medication. They chose medication and that came with its own challenges.

“I would go to school with all these wires attached to my head (while wearing an electroencephalogram) so they could read my brain activity,” McGhee explained. “It was a big ol’ thing — about the size of this helmet — on my head with wires all over it. I would get teased and that meant I had some social anxiety I had to overcome, too.

“But it made me stronger, and it taught me some things.”

McGhee earned a scholarship with the Bulldogs and would play in 50 games at a variety of positions in the secondary during his college days. Undrafted, he landed a on the Rams practice squad in 2020 – before the suspension trouble hit and derailed his career.

“It was just not being a pro and handling business with the paperwork I needed to get done, instead of asking the questions like, ‘What can I take? What’s against the rules?’” he explained. “It wasn’t illegal drugs, but rules are rules and as a professional athlete you’re responsible for what goes into your body. I learned from the mistakes and use it as a learning opportunity.

“I ended up in Winnipeg and I’m very fortunate to be here. Looking back on it, it was a blessing in disguise.”

The Blue Bombers naturally quizzed him about the suspensions before signing him and have since had that leap of faith reinforced by what they saw of McGhee in snippets last year and already this week through two practices.

“He’s obviously made the right decisions since he’s been up here,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “He was here for rookie camp and an extended period of time last year on the practice roster and every day on the practice roster he took every rep he possibly could on all the scout team stuff. He was running out at receiver to give the receivers a break. He does everything with a smile on his face every time and his attitude is unbelievable.

“And then out there today he’s got two or three young guys with him… they’re competing for the same spot and he’s showing them techniques that JY (defensive coordinator Jordan Younger) had taught him last year that he thinks could help them out. He’s showing them why and he’s got guys running routes against certain defences and he’s talking to them and explaining it to them. He’s giving everything he can to help guys who are competing for the same spot.”

Injured in rookie camp a year ago, McGhee rehabbed in Winnipeg to get onto the practice roster and then dressed for the regular-season finale in Calgary. Now, with that year of adjustment in the rear-view mirror, he’s ready to step up and fight for the starting cornerback spot left vacant with Demerio Houston’s signing with the Stampeders in free agency.

“It’s night and day,” he said. “I feel so much more comfortable, whether it’s with the playbook, the city of Winnipeg… being able to come in knowing what to expect is a big relief but also you can’t get comfortable with that. That’s dangerous also, that comfortability. So, I keep pushing myself to be better. Much is expected, but I also want to turn heads. I’m just getting started. I’m extremely grateful for this.

“Now,” he added with a wide grin, “I just need a little break, man. That’s why I keep on working.”