FOOTBALL & MUSIC: Up Close with USC Athlete and Music Engineer, Leon McQuay III

EDITOR'S NOTE: 21-year-old PAC 12 student athlete Leon McQuay III, currently a football defensive back at USC, stands at 6’2 and is quite the statuesque figure in-person. We meet for the first time on Fairfax at one of my favorite hangouts and second-home, Tried & True Co. alongside Fashion contributor, Hannah Song. A bit soft-spoken and generally shy, McQuay juggles his football career at USC along with being a music-industry major at the distinguished university. Not to mention, football is also a big deal for his family as Leon explains… 


HANNAH H. SONG: Football runs heavily in your family!

LEON MCQUAY III: Football runs deep in my family. My grandpa played in the NFL, my dad and older brother both played in college and are now coaches for the two-time 7-On-7 National Champions, Team Tampa. Our family founded the “Leon McQuay Help Me Get There Foundation”, where our main mission is to provide guidance and support to at-risk student athletes and to get them into a four-year college where they can continue to grow and succeed. My family has always and continues to support my goals, both in football and music, and continue to serve and help others get to where they want to be. 


Has beat making and Music Engineering been something you were interested in even before moving to Los Angeles?

Yes, I've been making beats since the tenth grade [as a sophomore living right outside of Tampa]. While being recruited for football, I knew that I wanted to make music after I was done playing, so I chose the school that would give me the best opportunity to pursue music while also being able to still play on a competitive team. 


 Leon McQuay III for SUSPEND Magazine. Photographed by Diane Abapo. 

Leon McQuay III for SUSPEND Magazine. Photographed by Diane Abapo. 

How has your passion for music evolved since being in L.A.?

My passion for music has grown so much because I'm right in the center of the action. All the people I've met along the way and being so close to the industry reassures me that I can really do music and actually be good at it. 


I know right now you identify yourself as a producer and engineer, but do you plan on becoming an artist in the future?

It's a possibility. I have a couple of tracks I've recorded just for fun, but those will probably never be heard by the public, haha. I am not really the kind of person that puts stuff out unless it has a purpose, so right now I'm sticking to production and engineering until I actually have something meaningful to say on the mic. 


Has it been difficult juggling football and music? Or has being a student athlete benefited your music career in terms of making connections and getting your projects out there?

I wouldn't say it's difficult, but there are definitely positives and negatives to doing both. I've made huge connections and met people that I probably wouldn't have been able to if it wasn't for football. 

The only way that football gets in the way of music is in terms of availability. Football and school take up so much of my time that it's hard to link with artists and other producers. There have been many nights where I leave a session at 3 to 4am and drive straight to school, nap in my car for an hour or two, and then go to training at 5 to 6am depending on what day it is. 


Is there a place where your love for football and your love for music meet? Do you see them as two separate lives you live or more so as collaboration?

It’s a possibility that my music and football could intersect in the coliseum or maybe on our team’s highlight videos this year. Who knows, maybe I'll make something big enough that it makes it onto one of the Madden video games, haha. I don't really see football and music as separate lives because one complements the other. It'd be a lot harder to get noticed if I was just another producer trying to get my stuff out. People are more interested and willing to listen when they know I play football at USC.


Where or when do you feel most SUSPEND-ed (lose track of time, etc.)?

I feel suspended when I'm in a session with an artist or another producer where there's a crazy vibe and good music being made. There's nothing like it. 


Interview and Styling by Hannah H. Song

Photography by Diane Abapo

Follow Leon on Instagram at @lmcquay22

Hannah H. Song

Hannah is a Fashion Contributor at SUSPEND Magazine.