Tre McBride didn't expect it would be easy. Playing Division I college football as a true freshman in a complex offense at a new position doesn't lend itself to seamless transitions.
Still, McBride admitted that there were plenty of difficult moments as he went from proud and productive high school star to college rookie role player at William and Mary.
"It was very frustrating, but it was a learning experience," said McBride, now a seasoned sophomore. "I just had to keep telling myself that I knew my time would come eventually."
McBride is the leading receiver and a prime target as the Tribe (0-4, 0-2 CAA) prepares for Saturday's visit from Georgia State (0-4, 0-1 CAA) at 7 p.m. at Zable Stadium.
The 6-foot-1 wideout comes off perhaps his best game at William and Mary, catching seven passes for 137 yards against 12th-ranked Delaware — a 51-21 loss made more lopsided by the Blue Hens' ability to turn every Tribe mistake from kickoff to final gun into a score.
"I don't think anybody's lost confidence," McBride said Tuesday. "If anything, we've gotten more hungry for a win."
McBride was hungry after a freshman year that was equal parts promise and inconsistency, remaking his body and his mind.
"As a freshman, he had ability, he knew how to run and catch," Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock said. "But he really didn't know what was expected of him, he really didn't know what college football was all about. He didn't know how to run three or four plays in a row at the same level.
"But he's shown a lot of maturity and has taken on that role of a guy who says, I want the ball thrown to me. We tell him, if you want it thrown to you, you've got to work at it and you've got to be in there and you've got to be consistent. You can't be on one play and off three plays. He's learned that."
McBride played last season at 180 pounds and was often pinballed by defensive backs, who were able to knock him off of routes and outmuscle him for balls. He added 15 pounds and is much more confident in his ability to absorb contact.
Even more important is his comfort level within the offense. He was a Wing-T running back in high school in suburban Atlanta who didn't figure that he'd be able to put on enough weight to be a durable college back. He attended camps and trained as a wide receiver in front of various coaches and scouts.
The problem: McBride knew little about pass coverage.
"I had never read coverages in my life," he said. "I didn't know what 'Cover 2' or 'Cover 3' was. I didn't know anything about reading coverages and learning how to adjust your routes based on coverages."
The Tribe offense requires that receivers read coverages and make adjustments. Still, McBride found himself on the field last season, the first true freshman to play wide receiver at W&M since D.J. McAulay in 2005, because of injuries and inconsistency among the receiver corps.
McBride caught 14 passes for 146 yards in part-time duty and often as the third receiver last season. As a starter this season, he has 20 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns — more than half of the Tribe's pass yardage total (607).
McBride is plenty bright enough to pick up the Tribe's offense. He was a merit scholarship winner in Georgia and was offered academic aid to Harvard. He had football scholarship offers from Duke, Furman and W&M, and was heavily recruited by the U.S. Naval and Air Force academies.
Duke's offer fizzled when he wouldn't commit early. He grew up an Army brat — his father, Col. Douglas McBride Jr., is currently deployed in Afghanistan — and decided that he preferred a civilian college experience, with the blessing of his dad. He eventually chose W&M over Furman.
McBride is developing a rapport with quarterback Raphael Ortiz, the redshirt sophomore who has started the past two games and is the most athletically gifted of the Tribe's three quarterbacks.
"You see where Raphael's not afraid to throw the ball to Tre, even though a guy's on him," Laycock said. "You've got to trust your receivers. You've got to trust that he's going to make a play, and you do that by throwing it up to him and seeing him make plays."
Ortiz and McBride hooked up for several key completions against Towson and Delaware. McBride caught both touchdown passes in the Tribe's 17-14 loss to Lafayette, bright spots in a game in which the offense was otherwise stuck in a ditch.
Improvisation is part of the rapport. Ortiz is as likely to roll out and scramble as he is to stay in the pocket and go through his reads. When plays break down, McBride said he often adjusts to get himself in Ortiz' field of vision. Against Delaware, Ortiz exhibited more patience and looked downfield for receivers, rather than simply tucking and running as he often did at Towson.
It's all part of the learning experience, one that McBride anticipates and intends to improve upon.
"I think I just need to be able to be the guy, to make big catches when we need them," McBride said. "I want Ortiz to trust me enough to throw the ball to me."