Tuesday September 25, 2012Lerentee McCray: Making The Dream A Reality
By Kristin Watkins, UF Communications
As many younger siblings do, Lerentee McCray looked up to his older brother and wanted to be just like him when he grew up. Well, luckily for Florida, his brother just so happened to play football.
“I started playing football when I was around 10- or 11-years-old watching my big brother play. I always had the dream of playing football because I watched him play and that’s what got me motivated to start playing.”
Once McCray stepped onto the gridiron, it was having his family around him that kept him motivated during his journey from playing football as a youth, to now playing at the collegiate level.
“I had a lot of people inspire me growing up in my family – my brother, my mom, my uncle,” he acknowledged.
That support has helped him become the player that he is today. McCray is an experienced player on a Florida team that will rely on him to help lead a stout defense through the rest of the season. However, it wasn’t always all about the Gators for this redshirt senior, who grew up a University of Miami fan.
Wait a minute…Miami?
Hailing from Ocala, just 30 miles down the road on Interstate 75 from The Swamp, it would have been easy for McCray to follow the Gators but he was all about the Hurricanes as a child. Due to family circumstances, the distance from home ultimately proved to be a deciding factor in his decision to attend UF.
“I came to Florida because it was close to home,” the Dunnellon High School product explained. “When I came out of high school, I had a lot of stuff going on with my family so I just wanted to be close to Ocala.”
The choice for McCray to become part of the Gator program has certainly worked out for Florida, and that life choice is something that the linebacker has benefited from as well.
“I am glad that I came here for school,” the Butkus Award Preseason Watch List member said. “I don’t regret coming here and have had a good experience here.”
As a freshman in 2008, when the Gators claimed the school’s third National Championship, McCray contributed to the team right away by dressing for all 13 games and playing in eight games on special teams and as a reserve linebacker. However, he received a medical redshirt during his sophomore year after only appearing in three games. As a redshirt sophomore, he played in 10 games for the Gators, in which he recorded six tackles, five of which were solo, and 0.5 were for a loss.
McCray really came into his own last season, when he was a redshirt junior. He doubled his career tackles to tally 24 on the campaign, including 7.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks. He delivered a career-best seven tackles at top-ranked LSU in Death Valley last October. Despite appearing in nine of 13 games in ‘11, he still managed to tie for the team lead with four quarterback hurries and finished fifth in tackles for loss totaling 25 yards.
However, the individual accolades don’t matter as much to McCray. It’s all about one word: ‘Championship.’
“I really just want to play for an SEC Championship and to reach the National Championship. The goal is for us to have a good team and whatever else comes after that personally then I will take that. But, I would rather win a National Championship with the team than have a lot of personal goals.”
With McCray being in his final collegiate season with the Gators, he wants to do everything possible to help the Orange and Blue contend for the SEC Championship and possibly play for the National title. It will be a tough task for the Gators, as they are currently slated to face five teams ranked in the top-25, including last year’s runner-up, LSU.
The Gators have an important factor on their side, McCray’s mentality and intensity when it comes to playing defense.
“I love hitting the quarterback,” he stated. “That's my favorite part of football, just getting into that backfield and hitting the quarterback because they never get hit [in practice], and they're always smiling all the time.”
This is the kind of player that every team wants, a guy who puts the team first and truly enjoys playing the game. So far this season, McCray has proved his passion for football.
“Lerentee has a great motor,” said head coach Will Muschamp. “He’s very passionate about playing at Florida. It’s important for him to be a Gator. Lerentee’s a guy that can give us some pass rush and he plays extremely hard. He’s tough; he sticks his face in there. Lerentee’s a guy you really appreciate coaching, he’s always up in the meeting room asking questions, a guy we’re expecting to have a really good year.”
Through three games in the 2012 season, he has collected nine tackles, including a sack for loss of four yards. He also forced a fumble, giving him three for his career, in the SEC opener at Texas A&M and snared his first career interception and had a 25-yard return to set up the Gators’ first touchdown at Tennessee.
McCray is hoping that his love for the game and his playing abilities will clear the path toward a career in the National Football League. After his final collegiate season is complete, he will submit his name into the NFL Draft and will wait to see what happens next. Eventually, he believes that coaching will be an outlet for him to remain connected to football.
“I will test the waters with professional football and see how that works out,” said McCray, who is on the Watch List to participate in the Senior Bowl. “If that doesn’t work out, then I will probably do something like coaching. If I wasn’t playing football, I would start coaching to see how that is for me.”
Either way, it is evident that McCray will continue to make football a prominent part of his life. What started out as the hopes and dreams of a young boy emulating his brother has turned into a life-long passion that has stayed with him as he has matured and developed into a starting linebacker for the Florida Gators.