2 Eagles soar to the Super Bowl from Upper Marlboro

Most football fans around Prince George’s County, Maryland, either cheer for the Commanders or the Cowboys. But for this weekend, Upper Marlboro may as well be part of South Philadelphia.

Two players, one named Zach, one named Zech (short for Zechariah), both graduated from different high schools in Upper Marlboro and then took different routes to get to Philly. The older player is Zach Pascal, a fifth-year pro who had to bounce around the league for a bit before landing in Philly. But the hard way is the only way he knows.

“Zach was a hard worker. He got better year-to-year. Never quit. He did anything that made him better,” said Pascal’s coach at Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School DaLawn Parrish. “When he first played, he played JV football and was playing youth league football.”

“I had to put an end to it,” said Parrish, with a laugh. “He played anytime he could play.”

Pascal had opportunities to play at some of the top colleges in the country as long as he was willing to play defense. But Pascal wanted to play wide receiver, and so he went to Old Dominion University and set all kinds of records there.

Philadelphia Eagles’ Zach Pascal in action during an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

He was invited to the NFL Combine, but went undrafted. He later signed with Washington, got cut, spent time in Tennessee, and then started making a name for himself with Indianapolis. When Nick Sirianni left the Colts to become the head coach in Philly, Zach followed him.

“Zach believes in himself,” said Parrish.

And even though he has a smaller role with the Eagles than he did with the Colts, “he’s always been a team player wanting to do what’s best for the team.”

Pascal is also still involved with the Wise Panthers football team.

“He comes back. He was just at our homecoming game this past year,” said Parrish.

Pascal also donates money and runs a camp there.

“For them to have somebody that came out of our program, and they get to see him on a day-to-day basis, be involved with him, speak to him and see his journey, it makes it even easier for me when we’re talking about commitment, trying and never giving up.”

On the other side of Upper Marlboro is a player on the other side of the ball, also making contributions during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run.

Zech McPhearson graduated from Riverdale Baptist High School, which historically had been more associated with baseball than football. McPhearson is one of several pros to play ball there in recent years, though.

“He’s an awesome young man. Very, very respectful. He comes from a good, devout Christian family,” said former Riverdale Baptist football coach Caesar Nettles.

But the McPhearsons are also a very athletic family — in fact, an NFL.com article called them “America’s most athletic family.”

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson (27) defends during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

McPhearson’s dad and his six brothers all played college football, with some of them later making it to the NFL, too. Two of those brothers also played professional baseball. His mom played in the National Women’s Football League. His sister plays college soccer.

“I believe it was his sophomore year, I called his father, because he was trying to decide whether or not he was going to play football or stick with baseball, because baseball was his first love,” said Nettles. “I told his dad, ‘I don’t say this lightly, but I believe he’s a pro.’ I told him that when he was 15 years old.”

The youngest McPhearson went to Penn State for two years, then transferred to Texas Tech, where his abilities as a defensive back would be better tested in the pass-happy Big 12. He was a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2021, and in his second season, he’s working as a backup defensive back and special teams ace.

“He will do the little things well,” said Nettles. “He’s one of those guys that is just as happy for his teammates that are getting ‘the glory’ and he’s perfecting his role. Because he had that in his upbringing … being humble and just doing whatever you can do to make the best of a situation.”

Nettles said the two were able to talk for a few minutes last week, before the craziness around the Super Bowl really got going.

“We kind of reflected a little bit on some things in high school and how far he’s come,” said Nettles.

“He’s just so thankful. We’re amazed at what God can do for you when you do things the right way. There are a lot of guys that have the athletic ability to play on that level but there are not a lot of guys that make the right decisions along the way to actually get out of their own way to be here.”

Nettles, an avowed Cowboys fan who called it “sacrilegious” to cheer for the Eagles, will nonetheless do so this weekend because one of his former his players will be wearing the green and white on Sunday.

“This is just the beginning for him, and he knows that, and so he’s going to continue to only get better,” Nettles said.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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