By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
The things you’ll get into on Facebook.
For Trey McVay, it led to what’s perhaps one last shot at a professional football career — in the most unlikely of places.
The former Northeastern State University standout who played his high school days at both Muskogee and Fort Gibson is calling Kragujevac, Serbia his temporary home.
It’s 5,633 miles away from his wife and son.
At times, it might seem like another world, with the only thing familiar is football pads and the fact he’s playing the position he did at NSU when in 2011 he set an NCAA all-level record for receiving yards in a game with 425 yards on 16 catches against Harding University.
The club president of the PBB Kragujevac Wild Boars, Namanja Calija, called the 5-foot-9, 195-pound McVay “our star player” in an email statement to the Phoenix.
“We feel that Trey has already proven to be a huge addition to our team. Versatile player, with great football skills, very smart, and even more important, a great person that's willing to put in some extra work when it comes to passing on his knowledge to other players, and helping out in coaching with his experience,” Calija said.
He stands out in that respect as he strolls around a municipality of 175,000, 95 percent of them ethnic Serbs.
McVay’s also come to realize he stands out in other ways.
“I’m basically one of a couple of black guys in the whole town,” he said. “I get a lot of stares. It took me a while to get used to that.”
Among the handful he’s run into is Terrico White, who plays for the local professional basketball team. He was drafted in 2010 by the Detroit Pistons and played a short time for both the Pistons and Hornets. His agent and cousin, both of whom are there with him, happen to be black.
“We’ve hung out, my team and I are together a lot and go to their games,” he said.
On the field, McVay’s measuring up to the pedestal the club president put him on. In three games, he’s had over 400 yards and four touchdowns receiving. He also plays safety on defense in long-yardage situations and has two interceptions to his credit. Additionally, he’s a return specialist.
The Jerry Rice of the Central European League? Or even the Serbian Super-League (yes, they compete simultaneously in both).
“I’m trying to be a star, I guess,” he said with a laugh. “I’m having a lot of fun, that’s for sure.”
How this odyssey began was the same way most of this story was built — McVay’s communication with those back home is with Skype and Facebook. It was the latter while surfing one November night he found Stan Bedwell, a former quarterback at Trinity Bible College, an NAIA school in Ellendale, N.D. Bedwell had been with the team off and on over the past four years, McVay said.
Bedwell is both the quarterback and the coach.
“He told me he had looked up the top 10 receivers in NCAA Division II and clicked on the first name he saw,” McVay said. “Once he got hold of me he thought for sure I was playing somewhere in the States. I told him not as of now.”
McVay was then asked if he was interested in becoming a Wild Boar.
“I figured it would be the opportunity of a lifetime,” he recalled thinking at the time. “I talked it over with my wife. She was very supportive and that was all I needed for confirmation.”
Well, to hear Kami Draper McVay, she wasn’t exactly all over the prospect of she and their son Sir Prince, 2, being a half-a-world apart from her husband.
“I didn’t like it but then again, I didn’t want to be the one to say no and one day he regrets this. And I didn’t want to be the one he blamed for not being able to chase his dream,” she said from her home in Muskogee. “And I know it’s not forever. I know this, I couldn’t be an Army wife, that’s for sure.”
Serbia and military have shared a scarier past. In the decade of the 1990s, ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia brought the region into Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II. It was in the town of Kragujevac that over a three-day period in October 1941, 2,778 males between the ages of 16 and 60 were assembled by Nazi troops and executed. Slowly the city has recovered from the most recent strife although unemployment is widespread — McVay’s salary is the equivalent of $500 per month — yet he said the average wage in the town is similar to $350 a month in a country where the national currency, the dinar, is one penny to the U.S. dollar. He also has no bills, a local cell phone, meal allowance and insurance.
“It’s dirt cheap to live here though,” he said. “I couldn’t spend the money I’m getting in a month if I tried. The food here is amazing.”
Kami knows this. It’s very similar to Greek cuisine, due to the nearness of the two regions. “He told me he ate at a place for $3 and it was a meal he couldn’t finish,” she said.
McVay has tried other options to fulfill this dream — after his senior season at NSU, he attended a combine at Central Oklahoma in Edmond where Bryce Davis was getting the primary focus of up to eight NFL scouts.
“I thought I did pretty good,” McVay recalls. “But nothing came of it.”
Not the prototypical size desired as targets for NFL quarterbacks, McVay went unnoticed — undrafted and unsigned as a free agent in 2012. He’s seen it before. Even after setting a national record in receiving, D2football.com chose instead to go with Northern State’s Kristin James’ 246-yard day for its national player of the week honor. He did, later, wind up with All-America honors.
McVay, a workout addict most of his career, continued a demanding regimen leading up to the Facebook path crossing with his quarterback/coach. It’s not anything close to the NFL. But for McVay and others with unfulfilled dreams, it’s a doorway of hope.
“The athletic ability is there,” he said. “The guys are more physical than the guys in the US and I think it’s because the refs here are not so strict on how they call penalties. The game speed and lack of pure football knowledge stand out but players here start playing late and these guys are now just getting to the point where the basic concept of football is in their subconscience.”
He’s there for a total of five months. When it’s all over, he says, he’ll self-evaluate, hoping that a scout has seen something he likes. The Canadian Football League would be fulfilling enough, even Arena Football League.
“This is a one-time deal for me,” he said. “If nothing big comes of this, I’m headed home. I might try the (semi-pro) Tulsa Thunder, just to keep playing and after that if nothing is still out there for me, I’m done.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that. I love the game and I’m pretty good at it, in my opinion. I just need to find someone to give me a chance to prove my worth.”