McCray's opportunity at UF
Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 12:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 1:26 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — Lerentee McCray has seen it all.
He's seen the good times and the not-so-good. He has a ring as a member of the 2008 Florida national title team and a ringing in his ears from 11 losses in the last two years. He has seen his body transform from skinny freshman to thick senior.
The one thing he hasn't seen is a fulfillment of the expectations that accompanied him to Gainesville from Dunnellon High School.
“I hear about it all the time,” he said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “It gets frustrating. It's definitely hard to explain what's going on. But I was probably hardest on myself.”
This is the last chance for McCray, a fifth-year senior who is expected to play a major role in Florida's defense this season. McCray will play both the Sam and Buck linebacker positions, and coach Will Muschamp said the hope is that Darrin Kitchens or Neiron Ball could take over the Sam and allow McCray to play the Buck — where he would be a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end — permanently.
“I'm very comfortable with Lerentee,” Muschamp said. “When Ronald (Powell) got hurt at Auburn last year, he came in and played well at the position.”
McCray was set to play the Sam (or strong linebacker) spot before Powell suffered a torn ACL in the spring game. In four seasons (one which ended with a redshirt), McCray has only 40 tackles and five starts.
Time is running out.
“Coming out of high school, I had high expectations,” he said. “I thought I'd play right away. But I had to play the hand I was dealt. I had to accept my role on the team.
“There have been highs and lows, but that's life. It's definitely my last chance. I'm just going to do my best, and I hope my best is enough. I'm just ready to accept the challenge. I came from the bottom and I'm ready to make it to the top. I feel like I'm ready to make a statement.”
McCray certainly has the size to be an SEC linebacker. He came to Florida at 202 pounds, but a few years in Florida's Breakfast Club and in the UF weight room has him up to 253 pounds.
“It was hard because I'm not a big eater,” he said. “I had to go through the transition of some back problems. But this is where I feel comfortable. I want to start the season at 247 and maintain it.”
Even when he was a skinny, young freshman 51 pounds lighter, he could lower the boom on ball-carriers.
“The whole mentality aspect of him hasn't changed,” said Florida middle linebacker Jon Bostic. “Regardless of what weight he was, he wasn't going to back down from anybody. He's one of those hard-nosed guys that is going to run right down the middle of people and, basically, he makes somebody feel the pain before he does.
“I've always liked that. I remember when he first got here he was 210, 215, and he was going head up with offensive linemen and putting them on their back. He's finally found a position where he fits in and he feels comfortable there.”
Now it's time to produce.
“It's been a long, great journey," McCray said. “It doesn't feel like it is as long as it has been. Defensive end, linebacker, injuries. You just gotta love to play the game.”