Redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray had a bit of a coming out party for the Florida Gators on Saturday, grabbing his first career interception, causing another with his pass rush and hitting the opposing quarterback hard on two separate occasions.
He was awarded Defensive Player of the Game honors by head coach Will Muschamp on Monday and even earned an honorable mention from the Southeastern Conference for his outstanding efforts.
“Lerentee McCray played an outstanding game. He’s got a great motor, a guy that plays hard all the time. [He caught] a big interception and then caused an interception for Matt Elam later in the game. [He] continues to play well for us, gives us a lot of good rush on the edge,” Muschamp said.
“Lerentee works extremely hard. He is a guy that is always in the weight room, always up with Dan [Quinn] wanting to watch extra film. He does the little things it takes to be successful. It’s very important to him. He’s a passionate guy. He plays hard, plays with great effort. A guy that gives everything he’s got, and it’s really, really important to him playing at Florida.”
Moved into the starting Sam linebacker role as a redshirt junior in 2011, McCray looked to be one of the team’s better defenders early in the season until a shoulder injury knocked him out for the final four games.
Senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic saw flashes from McCray last year and is not surprised that he has once again stepped up and played a major role this season.
“He has been doing it all along,” Bostic said. “If he wouldn’t have got hurt last year, he started off the season pretty much playing the best on defense. He had to get hurt; we wish he wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Coming back from the injury, we knew that he was going to be back to the old Lerentee. He just had to get his feet in the ground. He pretty much can do it all – he can drop in coverage, he can rush the quarterback, he’s physical. He’s pretty much everything you want in a player.”
An injury was not the only obstacle McCray has had to overcome. In speaking with the media on Monday, he explained that his family situation has provided plenty of inspiration or him as a football player.
“It definitely motivated me. I have a lot of motivation just coming from the family that I come from. That’s just a little extra motivation,” he said. “My mom, I just come from a single-parent home. My older brother, who I looked up to, went to jail when I was in high school and he’s still locked up to this day. [I] just had to step up and kind of be the man of my house.”
Read the rest of this story on Lerentee McCray…after the break!
McCray explained that he did not always dream of playing football for Florida but instead grew up a Miami fan because that was the first team he ever saw play. After being committed to the Hurricanes for nearly two years, McCray decided to flip to the Gators in order to stay close to home (Ocala, FL) and support his mother and little brother.
He is also playing for his older brother, who currently resides in jail in Live Oak, FL, according to McCray.
“[I’m] just kind of giving him a sense of being out here just to kind of give him like a little extra motivation to stay humble and keep pushing forward, just to keep fighting and serve his time, just to give him something to look forward to when he gets out,” he said.
McCray said he has been writing back-and-forth with his brother, a former high school football player in his own right who has been jailed for what McCray described as “an armed robbery charge that he was falsely convicted for,” an arrest that was also his brother’s first offense.
“He’s definitely keeping up with the games. He definitely has some people in there that don’t like the Gators, so he has to deal with that sometimes,” he said. “He had to go through that all the time. He talked to my mom the other day and was telling her they’re hating on the Gators and all that stuff and they got Alabama fans, Clemson fans, Florida State fans.”
McCray admitted that family friends back home asking his mom about his injuries and why he wasn’t playing more provided some extra fuel to his fire. He also noted another motivating factor that has led to him putting a lot of hard work and dedication into getting “better and better every day.”
“I definitely feel the pressure, but it’s nothing really because I’m going to take care of my family regardless of what I do [for a living],” McCray said.
If he keeps playing the way he has been over the last two seasons and finds a way to continue improving each week, there may very well be no question about what he will do for a living after he graduates.
Muschamp said Monday that he is extremely impressed with McCray’s pass rushing abilities and maturity both on and off the playing field.
“Right now he is rushing the passer extremely well. He is a threat on the edge, but he’s also a heavy-handed guy. He can really get his hands on people and get them off of you. He’s a guy that can convert speed to power in the rush, which is critical [to be able to do] for a speed rusher, which is what he is,” Muschamp said.
“Lerentee is a very coachable guy. He listens. He understands what his weaknesses are and what he needs to improve on.”
McCray is also a paradigm of versatility and leadership, Muschamp added.
“He can play Sam, he can play Buck, he can stand-up and move around. He can do a lot of things for us,” he said. “He’s a great leader. He’s a guy that goes out and works hard every single day. He’s a great example for our football team and our younger players.”
McCray’s perseverance and determination also makes him someone his family can count on as well as a fantastic role model for his now-17-year-old little brother.