In August 2013, Jameill Showers finally reached his goal to be named starting quarterback for a BCS-level college football program.
“It was very exciting,” Showers said recently. “It was a dream come true. Everything I had hoped and wished for. I felt like a little kid.”
One catch: The team Showers was quarterbacking was the University of Texas at El Paso, his second collegiate stop after beginning his career at Texas A&M.
Once thought to be the heir apparent to NFL first-round pick Ryan Tannehill, Showers lost that role to a then-unknown redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel.
The rest, as they say, is history. Johnny Football took the college football world by storm, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Aggies to an 11-win season in 2012.
Meanwhile, Showers needed a new home.
He found it, thanks to a loophole that is becoming more and more popular with college football players, particularly quarterbacks: the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.
It's the same rule that allowed Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson to transfer from N.C. State to Wisconsin following an aborted minor league baseball career in the Colorado Rockies system, then lead the Badgers to a Big Ten title.
The rule allows players who complete their graduation requirements before their senior season of eligibility to transfer to another school, provided that institution offers a graduate program compatible with their further education.
“My academic adviser (at A&M) told me if I graduated in the spring or summer, I’d have two more years to play,” Showers said. “I didn’t know a lot about the rule until after Russell Wilson did it.”
That rule gave Showers’ career a fresh start.
|Name||QB class rank||Star rating (247)||Passing yards||Passing TDs||Rushing yards|
|Jameill Showers||No. 16||3||2,150||22||513|
|Johnny Manziel||No. 13||3||3,559||45||1,674|
In spring 2012, it was a rule he didn’t even know he’d need.
Showers had established himself as Tannehill’s backup in 2011 and followed that up with an excellent spring. In the Aggies’ spring game, he completed 20 of 31 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, while Manziel had 154 yards on 13-of-27 passing with a touchdown and an interception.
He felt like he led the competition, and why not?
“I definitely did,” he said. “I was pretty much sure I had the job. Going into fall it was more of a battle, but I felt I did enough to win the job.”
In late August, then-A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury called Showers into his office for a talk. Manziel had won the job. Showers would be the backup.
“It was a complete surprise to me,” Showers said.
Still, Manziel was an unproven redshirt freshman. If he faltered, Showers would get a chance.
That didn’t happen.
Manziel became “Johnny Football,” the biggest sensation in college football. He threw for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions and added 1,410 rushing yards with 21 touchdowns, leading the Aggies to an 11-2 record and winning the Heisman Trophy.
He became the first freshman and only the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. In short, he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Showers played in seven games as a backup, completing 27 of 44 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns, adding nine rushes for 39 yards.
“It was tough,” Showers said. “I came to A&M to start and I wanted to play college football since I was little. Having the door closed in my face at one point was depressing. I talked to my parents, my girlfriend, everyone about it and got a better attitude.”
Unless Showers wanted to watch the Johnny Football Show, it was time to move on.
“I took into account that Johnny was younger than me and he may or may not go to the NFL,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit there till my eligibility was up. I weighed the odds. He won the Heisman. I’m not taking a Heisman winner’s spot. That pretty much made the decision for me.”
His parents’ strong influence in his high school academic career helped Showers immensely. Showers’ parents pushed him to take dual-credit classes which would fulfill basic college requirements, allowing him to essentially be finished with a year of college credits before he ever stepped on campus as an Aggie.
He also enrolled a semester early and went through summer school, meaning that he was already on track to graduate in December 2013 had he stayed. Instead, he took a 17-hour load of spring classes and 12 in the first summer session, enabling a June graduation. He earned a degree in university studies with a concentration in architecture.
Showers looked hard at Arizona State and Houston but ultimately felt most comfortable at UTEP with first-year coach Sean Kugler.
“He seemed trustworthy and honest about what he was saying,” Showers said. “None of it seemed fake. I took a visit, talked with the coaching staff about starting the Kugler Era, and they sold me on everything.”
In a release announcing Showers’ transfer, Kugler lauded his leadership, character and “outstanding skill set.”
“He has a strong arm, is quick and can make plays with his feet as well,” Kugler said.
In July, Showers arrived in El Paso, but he was already learning the offense.
“They got me a PowerPoint of all the basic plays and I was looking at those, studying them,” he said. “The biggest thing was the formations. It was all the same content we had at A&M, so it wasn’t too bad.”
Showers worked seven days a week on his own to improve and also consulted with new offensive coordinator Patrick Higgins. He also went through weekly seven-on-seven drills with his new teammates and found out he fit in quite nicely.
This time, Showers won the job as the Miners’ starting quarterback, making the 10-hour move across Texas worthwhile.
He started the first seven games of the season for UTEP, throwing for 1,263 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. However, a separated shoulder suffered against Rice on Oct. 26 ended his season, and he watched the rest of the way from the sidelines.
“That was tough and a test,” he said. “It tested my faith in God and was very disappointing to say the least, but I had to keep a positive attitude for my teammates.”
The injury helped Showers “mature as a quarterback and leader,” he said, off the field, on the sidelines and in the weight room.
Now fully healthy, he has only one season of eligibility remaining. The Miners were 2-10 last fall, something Showers badly wants to change by leading his team to a good bowl game while he works on a graduate degree in leadership studies (he’d like to work as a personal trainer after football).
A year ago, Showers started seven games, but really only played half a season. Against Rice, he attempted only three passes, completing one for four yards before being injured. If he is healthy with another year to mature in the offense, there's no reason he can't throw for 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns or so.
In addition, he rushed for 196 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. If he could add 500 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, the Miners would be a much improved team and could challenge for bowl eligibility.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m ready for the full season and I know this team is better than we were last year for sure. It’s a different attitude and mentality, and I’m really excited to get going.”
Showers harbors no ill will toward A&M—in fact, he was recently in former wide receiver Ryan Swope’s wedding.
“When I go into town, I visit all the staff, have a good relationship with them,” he said. “There’s no bad blood between me and A&M in any sense. I’m thankful for the time. It didn’t work out football-wise, but I’m happy for the time I spent there.”
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace