As a fast, athletic quarterback, switching to wide receiver was not a big deal for redshirt sophomore Jay Urich.
Mentally and emotionally? That was a different matter.
As one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in high school, Urich had to swallow his pride and learn some humility to make the transition last spring.
For that, he leaned on his faith and turned to his most important advisor.
“It takes some grit and it took me some humility. I had to really grow in that,” Urich said. “Just do what’s best for the team. That was the first thing. Just get my mind around, I don’t care what it is, I’m going to do what I can to help the team. That was really the first step, just sitting down and praying and talking to the Lord about that.”
Urich had a fabulous senior season at Wren High School in Piedmont, S.C. He threw for 2,055 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,036 yards and 15 scores to earn a spot in the state’s North-South All-Star Game and catch the eye of head coach Will Muschamp.
He saw action in just one game as a redshirt freshman, completing his only pass and rushing for 14 yards on his only carry. In the spring, with Dakereon Joyner and Ryan Hilinski battling for the backup quarterback role, he switched to wide receiver and made an impact right away, catching nine passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the Garnet & Black Spring Game.
After working on his pass-catching skills during the offseason, he has made the permanent switch to receiver during preseason training camp.
“I have enjoyed it,” he said. “Everything about it is what I am about. I love my teammates, I love my coaches, I love this university. It’s a little different but I’m enjoying learning and growing through it.”
It’s that kind of humility and team-first attitude that has made Urich one of South Carolina’s most popular players and teammates.
“Jay is unquestionably one of the most unselfish guys on the team,” starting quarterback Jake Bentley said.
“I think he’s done a great job handling it like a man,” Joyner said. “I think we all expected that from him. He’s a great guy and a team player. He’s going to whatever he can to help the team. That’s what he’s all about.”
It was not easy, however. Urich leaned heavily on his faith to learn that he was not playing quarterback for himself, and that life is about much more than football. Now the most important thing to him his sharing that testimony with others.
“Personally, I am learning right now [that] for so long in my life, I have run to people. There were a lot of pastors in my life … that have helped me during that. Right now I am learning that, as a believer, I need to go after God,” he said. “That’s my Heavenly Father, so really run after him before I run to a person. Really go to Him for comfort and to get my values and my identity so I don’t have to find it in, ‘I’m a quarterback and a quarterback only,’ but I’m a son of God who is loved so much by my Heavenly Father.
“From that place I’m able to have that humility of, ‘OK, this doesn’t define me, I’m defined by what God says about me.’ That just sort of lays a great foundation for me being able to do this transition.”
Urich is one of many Christian athletes on the South Carolina team that lean heavily on their faith. Several of them meet each week, often at Bentley’s house, for Bible study and prayer.
“We open up the Bible, we pray and we get close to each other and we ask the Lord to really change us and give us encouragement and give us what we need,” Urich said. “That has been pivotal since I have been here. That has been instrumental in not only our performance on the field but in being sons of God, just learning our identity and our purpose and our passions throughout life.”
As soon as the coaching staff approached Urich about playing receiver, he immediately embraced it and began working on his new assignment. He spent the spring and summer catching passes from Bentley, Joyner and Hilinski and learning from wide receivers like Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith.
“The moment they told him they wanted him to play receiver, he said, ‘Hey man, can we go throw?’” Bentley said. “Just to see how much better he has gotten since spring is incredible. That’s the thing with Jay, whatever he does, he wants to be great at it.”
“Jay has worked extremely hard this summer,” Muschamp said. “There is nobody that is going to work harder than Jay, I promise you that.”
At 6-5, 210 pounds, Urich has both the size and athleticism to play receiver. He’s one of the fastest players on the team and flashed his speed in the spring game on a 64-yard touchdown reception.
He believes his experience at quarterback will help him become an effective receiver.
“You are doing the same thing at receiver that you were doing at quarterback,” he said. “You’re grinding, your working hard and having those values I had as a quarterback, so it wasn’t any different. It’s just the technical side is different. Instead of throwing the ball you are running routes and getting to know the receivers in a new way. It wasn’t too big of a transition.”
Though South Carolina has a deep and experienced receiving corp, Bentley believes Urich can contribute this season.
“The thing about Jay, obviously he played quarterback, so he knows where to be, and timing-wise, he knows the drops we are taking and where he needs to be at the right time,” he said. “I think he has a chance to help us out this year.”
Urich is ready to help wherever he is needed, whether it’s at receiver, on special teams or as a scout team quarterback, where he and Joyner worked last year.
“My expectation is to help the team. I’m pounding that down,” he said. “That’s what I’m expecting off the field with my teammates, getting closer to them off the field, and on the field, taking advantage of the reps I get and being able to help the team on special teams or at receiver or wherever I am.”