McCray hopes name is called
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
When Florida visited Tennessee last September, lost among the many highlights of the Gators' statement win was a torn rotator cuff suffered by senior linebacker Lerentee McCray.
Round 1: 7-10:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN and NFL Network
Rounds 2-3: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN (ESPN2 at 7 p.m.) and NFL Network.
Rounds 4-7: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN (ESPN2 at 6 p.m.) and NFL Network
McCray played through the shoulder pain that day — and for the remainder of the season — putting off surgery until the offseason.
“It was something I had to do just to help the team win,” McCray said. “I couldn't let my teammates down. I felt like we had a great chance to get into the national championship.”
His left shoulder is mostly healed now. He's been running, jumping and lifting at full throttle in preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, which begins with today's first round and continues through Saturday.
And though McCray's shoulder isn't ready for full contact just yet, it's more than strong enough for the chip he's been carrying around as motivation.
“I was an underrated player coming out of high school, not having a lot of hype around me coming from a small town, Ocala,” McCray said. “I feel like I was always underrated throughout my career and I'm still underrated. Now is my chance to prove it.”
McCray is widely projected to be a mid- to late-round pick, with most draft analysts rating him anywhere between the fourth and seventh rounds.
At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, McCray has the prototypical size, speed (4.75 in the 40) and strength of an NFL outside linebacker.
His strengths, according to those draft analysts, all lie in his pass-rushing prowess. He has huge, strong hands that he uses effectively; he has a strong first step; he can explode to the quarterback from either a three-point stance or an upright position.
“He's a threat off the edge, but he's also a heavy-handed guy,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said last September. “He can really get his hands on people and get them off of him. He's a guy that can convert speed to power in the rush, which is critical for a speed rusher.”
The same draft analysts who trumpet McCray's pass-rushing ability are generally listing his ability to drop into pass coverage as a weakness, but that's not something McCray is willing to accept.
“Experts, they break you down by looking at film,” McCray said. “They might see that I don't have a lot of film dropping into coverage. That's because my job assignment given to me by my coaching staff at Florida was to rush the passer more than drop back into coverage. That's just something I did, but I'm able to do everything. When experts look at that, they don't really know. They're on the outside looking in, not on the inside looking out.”
Those on the inside, including UF teammates like fellow linebacker Jon Bostic, see McCray as more than a one-dimensional player.
“He pretty much can do it all,” Bostic said. “He can drop in coverage. He can rush the quarterback. He's physical. He's everything you want in a player.”
McCray's Dunnellon high school coach, Frank Beasley, also believes he can be more than just a pass-rusher.
“When he graduated from here he weighed 197 pounds,” Beasley said. “Now he weighs close to 250 and he hasn't lost any of his speed. He's just a versatile kid that can do a lot of different things. He can rush the passer and he got better at his ball skills and dropping into coverage as he got older.”
Beasley said it's actually character that is McCray's strongest attribute, and that's what the veteran Dunnellon coach will be thinking about if an NFL team takes McCray's name off the board before the end of Saturday night's seventh round.
“More than anything I'm happy that someone who is a really good person is having a lot of success,” said Beasley, who calls McCray “the best leader I've ever coached.
“It's just the way he carries himself,” Beasley said. “He knows when he needs to stand up and speak and he knows when he needs to be humble. He got a lot of accolades, but you'd never know it with how he carried himself.”
McCray experienced a lot of turmoil and many highs and lows — both on and off the field — during his five seasons at UF.
As a true freshman, he played in eight games on UF's national championship team. Over the following three seasons, however, he endured a lack of meaningful playing time, a position change, and a host of injuries that cost him 11 games and a medical redshirt season in 2009 and seven more games between 2010 and 2011.
When the dust settled, the one-time major prospect was largely out of the spotlight heading into his senior year.
Off-field issues had also tugged at McCray's heart. While he was balancing academics and football in Gainesville, his single mother was raising his younger brother alone back in Marion County. McCray had been the man of his house since his high school days, when his older brother was incarcerated for armed robbery.
“Everything that happened at Florida throughout my five-year career there has made me who I am now,” McCray said. “It made me humble, hungry and more ready to play the game. I never want to leave the game saying there's something I could've done better. I felt like during my career at Florida I did everything that I could to be successful. I had adversity coming in, but adversity is what makes you a man, whether you're going to lay down and whether you're going to stand up to the challenge and get better. I felt like I stepped up to the challenge and got better and better each year.”
McCray started 12 games as a senior, all but three of those while dealing with his shoulder injury. He finished with 25 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
Those statistics, however, took a backseat in McCray's mind to what the Gators accomplished collectively during an 11-2 season that culminated in a trip to the Sugar Bowl. McCray left Florida feeling like he and his fellow seniors had successfully shepherded the Gators through a turbulent coaching transition from Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp and through a couple of uncharacteristically bad years.
McCray said it was UF's ascent back to national prominence, more than the national championship of his true freshman season, that he is most proud of.
“The best time was us being able to be at our lowest moment and still pulling together,” he said. “Then we came together my last year and rebuilt the program the way it's supposed to be.”
McCray hopes his own football profile will follow a similar path to UF's. Now that his shoulder is rebuilt, he believes he's the same big, fast and versatile athlete that major colleges once drooled over when he was a wide-eyed Dunnellon teenager.
And he can't wait for the chance to prove it in the National Football League.
“One of my assets is being able to play any position on the field,” McCray said. “I'm an athlete first and also a football player. I just love the game. I feel like I can rush the passer, I can drop into coverage, I can play on special teams, I can pretty much do it all.
“That's just one of the things a team's going to get when they get me in their program.”