Look at any NFL roster and you can find a large amount of players contributing to teams that were drafted late, or weren’t drafted at all, coming into the NFL as relative unknowns. There are only 32 first round picks and so many stars entering the league every year, and teams need players that might not be heralded to step into roles with the team to become players to be counted upon. Catawba College’s LJ McCray is one of those guys. He is a 6’, 210 pound safety.
McCray entered Catawba College in 2009 and immediately made an impact, starting 8 games at cornerback as a true freshman. In 2010, McCray led NCAA’s Division 2 with a 32.5 yard kickoff return average and he set a NCAA Division 2 record with 304 return yards against Tusculum, scoring from 94 yards and 99 yards out.
He was injured after the season opener in 2011 and was red-shirted for the year. He was back at it during the 2012 season as he was a first team All-South Atlantic Conference selection and accumulated over 1,000 return yards. As a senior in 2013, he totaled 78 tackles and registered 2 sacks and 8 pass break ups. He also averaged 22.7 yards per kickoff return.
I had the pleasure of talking to McCray this week as he settles in for the 2014 NFL draft. He was a pleasure to talk to, and was clearly excited about his future as a football player.
The first thing I asked about was his pro day experience because he put up some really interesting numbers.
“Pro day was a great experience, it was something that I prepared for while down in Texas at Michael Johnsons Performance for a few months. Actually it was just stuff that I was already good at they improved and I just went out and showed that. I was the underdog going in to the pro day so I had to do something to make myself stand out so I feel like I did just that.”
McCray’s pro day numbers went like this. He ran a 4.46 second 40-yard dash, vertical jumped 41”, and broad jumped 10’7” and ran a 3-cone shuttle time of 6.98 seconds.
I asked him whether he considered himself to be a box safety or a free safety, and what specifically made him more comfortable.
“Well, I consider myself a good mixture of both because I played cornerback. I have the cover skills but I love playing the box because I love being physical. Also I think a great position, like the perfect position that fits me would be the nickel. But I’m great at safety because I can do everything they require. I can come backwards, I can tackle, and I can cover a lot of space form hashes so I consider myself a good mixture of both, free and strong.”
I asked him what he thought his best fit in the NFL would be as there seems to be a transition to safeties playing more of a coverage role than a run defense role.
“I think that would be good for me. It’s not a problem for me to cover space so if that’s the big transition I would still love my place as a safety. I would be great at covering and being a cover safety instead of a box guy. You know, that would be great for me and I would love it. There’s a lot that I have to learn and I look forward to learning there so I can do whatever they need me to do.”
We talked about his favorite memory from playing college football.
“My favorite memory is definitely yeah I won All-American. It was a great experience for me because the college I went to we didn’t win a lot. You know, winning came far and few so, uh, definitely you know that as a personal win, you know for as hard as I had worked. Winning All American my sophomore year and then being named as team MVP and earning a lot of respect for my conference competitors. It was definitely great so that’s one of the most memorable times in my college career.
McCray and Liberty CB Walt Aikens played together in high school and we talked about what that experience was like.
“It was great man. We did everything. He was the quarterback in our senior year and a little bit of our junior year, and I played receiver, running back and he played some safety and corner. And we swapped out. We both played safety together and both played corner, we did everything. It was great”
We talked about his plans for the NFL and I told him that this article was going to act as a means to introduce him to the fans of the team that he goes to, and I asked him to give a message to them.
“I’d describe myself as a passionate, competitive football player. I don’t always make the best decisions, but everything I do, I do it 110 percent. I go as hard as I can because at the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about the team and I like to show that on the field. I’m a person that, that speaks with action and not with just words.”
We talked about his draft weekend plans.
“I’m just going to be at home chilling with my family. My mother, my, my father, my sister and maybe a couple of friends. My little brother is off in the Marines in Rhode Island so he won’t be able to come home but we’ll probably just sit at the house and maybe cookout and just watch the draft, just hoping to hear my name called.”
LJ McCray is one of those under the radar names with the skill set to go to the next level and surprise because of his physical abilities, which were on display during his pro day. It will be interesting to see how his career progresses going forward.