UCF's McCray brothers go out on top

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Sunday routine is always the same, no matter how late the previous night’s game ended.

Jordan and Justin McCray wake up early and head to campus. They pop in the film of the previous day’s game, critiquing one another’s performance. Then they rush to the coaches’ offices, tracking down a graduate assistant to find out which one graded out higher for the game.

“We’re always the first ones in,” Justin said. “And we’re always giving each other a hard time.”

The sibling rivalry between the twin brothers goes back as far as they can remember. From the time they were kids, both wanted the upper hand -- a way to distinguish himself from his brother. Riding bikes, doing push-ups, chowing down at dinner -- everything was a competition.

“I’m pretty much a little bit better in everything than Justin,” Jordan joked.

Even now that both brothers are two-year starters on UCF’s offensive line, both team captains and All-AAC first-teamers, both on the verge of the biggest -- and final -- game of their college careers, the competition continues.

“They argue about who runs a faster 40-yard dash,” quarterback Blake Bortles said of his two offensive guards, “like it’s even relevant.”

After four years together, Bortles has found a foolproof way to tell his guards apart. Justin, the right guard, has a small freckle on his face. Jordan, the left guard, doesn’t. It’s not easily noticeable, but Bortles has studied them closely.

Justin is a little leaner, too. Jordan a bit thicker. Never mind that the media guide lists them both as 6-3, 310 pounds.

“I don’t think it’s a big difference,” Bortles said, “but after four years, that’s what I see.”

It’s tough to separate the McCray brothers, and that’s by design.

They’ve spent their lives competing, looking for an edge on a someone who’s a mirror image, but they’ve never wanted to be apart.

Coming out of high school, only a handful of schools offered both brothers a scholarship. A few were eager to take one and allow the other preferred walk-on status, but that was never a consideration for the McCrays.

“It was a package deal,” Jordan said. “That’s why we came here to UCF.”

UCF felt like home, Justin said. Their older brother, Cliff, played there, too. But the family ties didn’t mean an easy road to football success.

As freshmen, both brothers struggled to adjust. As sophomores, Jordan said he took a big step forward, while Justin lagged a bit behind. As juniors, it was Justin who progressed quickly. At each step, they measured themselves against each other.

This season, however, both have been exceptional, and they’re a big reason why UCF is playing in its first BCS bowl game.

“For them to compete with each other and want to top the other one, it makes you want to keep up with them, be in the race with them,” center Joey Grant said. “It’s fun to watch, to see them fight over who’s going to be better. That pushes the whole offensive line to be better as a unit.”

But if Wednesday’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is the culmination of a lifetime of competitiveness between the brothers, it’s also bittersweet.

Jordan and Justin both have NFL aspirations, but they realize it’s unlikely they’ll both find a home at the next level on the same team. Wednesday, most likely, will be the last time they play together.

It’s a weighty realization for two brothers who have never been more than a few feet apart on a football field, and they can’t ignore the implications. But they also know the moment was inevitable, and if the end was going to arrive, it couldn’t have been scripted any better.

“Just to be on this big stage at the Fiesta Bowl and playing a great team in Baylor,” Jordan said, “I wouldn’t want to go out any other way.”