A ramp leads the way from the locker room to the football field at Glendale Community College. Vaqueros head coach Tanner Farwell typically stops and talks to the opposing coach on the incline before the teams square off on the gridiron.
During the 2021 season, Farwell remembers one recurring theme in those conversations.
“(The coaches) see big No.99 coming down the ramp, and they would say, ‘Oh sh*t, here he comes,’” Farwell recalled. “Teams were scared of 99. Offensive coaches knew going into the game, they had to double-team him. If they didn’t, he was going to drive their offensive line into the backfield.”
The feared player was Brandon McElroy, one of the newest members of the SDSU football team. The 6-foot-5 defensive lineman from Pasadena, CA, recently committed and signed his Grant in Aid (GIA) to play his sixth and final year of college football in San Diego.
“It’s right next to home,” said McElroy on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Podcast when asked why he chose SDSU. “I wanted to get back to my state, close to my city and most importantly, (DL coach) Bojay (Filimoeatu), to be honest.”
Filimoeatu began recruiting McElroy following that 2021 season while he was the DL coach at UNLV, and McElroy was looking to make the jump from JUCO to D1. Initially, McElroy verbally committed to UNLV before choosing Arizona State to continue his journey.
“We’ve been talking ever since, to be honest,” McElroy added. “He really wanted me back then, you know, things happen, but I feel like the time is right (now).”
McElroy is eager to see what new schemes DC Eric Schmidt, who just coached in the National Championship Game with Washington, will run and how he can be a major piece of the puzzle.
He expects to play nose tackle in the 4-2-5 system, similar to what he has played in his prior stops. Although McElroy is listed officially at 310 lbs on GoAztecs.com, he currently weighs 295, which still would make him the heaviest DL on the roster by at least 20 lbs.
As a nose guard, McElroy excels at stopping the run by clogging up gaps and fighting off double teams.
“He’s going to hold the line of scrimmage at the line,” Farwell noted. “He’s not going to let offensive linemen climb to the second level. Linebackers will like playing with him because he’s going to fit up those double teams and let linebackers play.”
Not bad for a guy who did not play football until his first year at Glendale Community College. McElroy attended John Muir High and only played basketball during his tenure there. He recalls trying out for pee wee football as a kid, but after being told he was too big for the league, he relented. He missed his window for tryouts at Muir as well, so he focused solely on basketball.
“I’d give you like 16 (points) and 11 (rebounds),” McElroy answered when asked to describe his basketball game.
With a lack of scholarship offers out of high school, McElroy took a chance to attend Glendale Community College in nearby Glendale, CA (eight miles from his high school) and play football in 2019.
“I placed all my bets there,” McElroy explained about his decision.
His freshman season was a struggle, learning to play a new sport with and against guys who had been playing football their whole lives. He only appeared in three games as a freshman and made seven tackles.
Then came a pandemic which shut down junior college football for the season. With nothing else to do amid difficulty working out with the team, McElroy began eating and the 240 pound basketball player out of high school suddenly weighed 350 by the time JUCO football returned in 2021.
Farwell was hired as GCC’s interim head coach four weeks before the pandemic hit in early 2020. While he didn’t coach McElroy during his freshman season, he had a year and a half to watch film of his players from that season.
“The first day I saw him (on film), I knew he could be pretty darn good,” said Farwell. “He just needed some coaching. He was so raw and athletically gifted, and then to think he’d never played football at his body size. He is a legit 300 lbs, but he’s not fat. His legs are thick. He is just a big-bodied kid, and he worked his tail off.”
The coaching staff tinkered with the idea of moving McElroy to play offensive line or as an inline blocking tight end in goal-line packages but ultimately saw a better opportunity for him to get a D1 scholarship as a defensive lineman. McElroy also preferred it.
“I just like the violence,” McElroy remarked. “I just like putting somebody on the ground (and) going to get the quarterback. I always liked that. To me, o-line is just, ehh, I don’t touch that.”
In that 2021 sophomore season that was making opposing offensive coaches tremble at the thought of blocking McElroy, he tallied 21 tackles and earned All-Metro League honors. The recruiting pitch to D1 schools following the 2021 season was simple.
“I said that if we could do this off of a pandemic and get him to perform, imagine what you guys can do with your resources,” Farwell told recruiters. “We don’t have the same resources that these D1 schools have, full-time nutritionist and a full-time strength and conditioning coach and all the technology they have.
McElroy secured six D1 scholarship offers before ultimately choosing ASU.
“Arizona State was a great experience,” McElroy said. “Coming out of junior college, you don’t really get as many chances. So when I got the call from (DL coach Robert Rodriguez), that was a no-brainer. I wanted to see what he had in mind, what he can teach me in a sense of d-line play.”
The 2022 season was spent as a redshirt year, getting acclimated to the speed and physicality of D1 football with sights set on a role in 2023. Plans soon changed when Herm Edwards and the majority of his staff, including Rodriguez, were let go after the 2022 season.
McElroy transferred to Marshall for the 2023 season, where he played the first four games of the season, collecting 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. But Huntington, West Virginia, is a long way from Pasadena, California. The thought of returning close to home to finish out his collegiate eligibility and finally link up with Filimoeatu was too enticing for McElroy to pass up.
Farwell looks back on McElroy’s journey in awe for accomplishing what he has in such a short period of time.
“It says a lot about his self belief to be where he’s at right now,” Farwell said. “His commitment to working hard and putting himself in a situation to have success. He’s come against all odds.”
“A kid from Pasadena who went to John Muir High School and played basketball. Then, he goes to community college to play football. Then the pandemic hits. He sticks with it when he could have just got a working job and said I’m done playing sports. He stuck with it, and he was an all-conference player for us. He’s been to three separate D1’s now. Here’s a guy that had a dream and kept his vision on the dream and kept working for what he wanted.”
Before McElroy can think about parlaying his journey into a potential professional football career, his new school will be counting on him to man the middle of the defensive front in their new defensive scheme. As the only defensive player near 300 lbs on the spring roster, he will no doubt have the first crack at a starting spot.
Farwell has high hopes.
“To think about where Brandon is three years later, he’s going to be a huge force for San Diego State this year.”
Aztec Nation will love to hear that.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.