Brian Westbrook was five-foot-four and 125 pounds when he went out for football as a ninth-grader at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. But coach Bill McGregor saw something in him. “What you couldn’t measure was the fire inside,” McGregor says. Westbrook went to Villanova on a football scholarship, was a star running back with the Philadelphia Eagles, and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
McGregor is among the top high-school coaches in the country in terms of getting college scholarships for players. In 2004, he was NFL High School Coach of the Year—an honor he received in a ceremony at the Super Bowl. He was nominated by Brian Westbrook.
McGregor’s record would be remarkable at most schools. What makes it more so is that DeMatha has no real football field. Its practice field is a dustbowl. The boys who come to DeMatha often have limited means—some parents work two jobs to keep their sons there.
These obstacles don’t deter McGregor: “If my kids play hard for me, then I owe something in return—to play hard for them and get them into good schools.”
Three tutors work with players, and McGregor pushes them to participate in an SAT prep program. He has built relationships with college coaches and holds training demonstrations so visiting coaches can see his players in action.
And it works. His office walls are filled with pictures of former DeMatha players in their college uniforms.
But Bill McGregor gives his players more than a chance to go to college. He instills in them a spirit and a work ethic that extend far beyond the football field.
Brendan Looney played football for McGregor at DeMatha. He was recruited to play football at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he switched to lacrosse. Lieutenant Looney was serving in southern Afghanistan, expecting to return home soon, when he was killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash last September. In his last conversation with his wife, Amy, he said, “Tell Coach I’ll be home and I’ll talk to the players about the tradition we have at DeMatha and what it means to wear a DeMatha jersey.”
“That’s how we are,” McGregor says. “We’re a family.”
This feature first appeared in the January 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.