<
>

Mike McCray's Michigan career comes full circle

Mike McCray was ready to quit.

In the fall of 2015, Mike McCray walked into Claiborne Green's office to talk. That wasn't unusual, as Green, the director of football academics at Michigan, had become somewhat of a counselor and confidant to McCray. But this conversation was going to be different.

McCray was ready to transfer from Michigan and wanted to talk it through with Green before he took any action.

"At that point, Mike was pretty serious because he was already talking about certain schools," Green said. "I never tell a guy what he should or should not do, but I say you need to talk to your family, pray about it, think about things because that's a big life-changing decision and you don't want to make that off pure emotion. Mike's a smart guy, so you could tell he had been thinking about it and it wasn't just a sheer emotional thing."

A shoulder injury after his redshirt freshman season, a surgery before the spring game in 2015, another shoulder injury and a few coaching changes lead McCray to Green's office to reevaluate if football was what he was supposed to be doing and if Michigan was where he was supposed to be.

McCray went to high school in Dayton, Ohio, and is the son of former Ohio State football player, Mike McCray Sr. So when the younger McCray, an ESPN 300 linebacker in the Class of 2013, chose to play for then head coach Brady Hoke at Michigan, it was a surprise to many.

He spurned his Buckeyes roots and thought he could pave his own path in Ann Arbor.

"Everyone wants to come in as a freshman and play," McCray said. "So once I got here, I just wanted to play and be able to help the team win. I wasn't really worried about winning awards or anything, I just wanted to win championships and become a captain one day."

Instead of playing, he redshirted his first year on campus and mainly played on special teams his redshirt freshman year. That didn't deter him from his goals, though, as he still had plenty of time to see the field.

Heading into his third year on campus, however, McCray was already on his second defensive coordinator and second head coach as Hoke was fired and Jim Harbaugh was brought in to lead the team.

When McCray arrived at Michigan, Greg Mattison was his defensive coordinator and Mark Smith was the linebackers coach. The second season, Mattison was still the coordinator and now McCray's position. Now DJ Durkin was coming in with Harbaugh as the coordinator with a whole new defense and planning to coach McCray's position as well.

Then, in spring 2015, McCray injured his shoulder and ultimately decided to have surgery before the spring game.

The injury left him depressed and down on himself as he watched as the new staff was working with the players on the field and McCray thinking his Michigan career was passing him by.

That's when McCray found himself in Green's office.

"I think that was just a lot of stress and doubt. He was fighting and couldn't come back," McCray's girlfriend, Hanifah Shabazz said. "He did have thoughts about leaving Michigan and reconsidering football after his injury. So the conversations went away from football a little bit and more so just faith based, staying strong, making sure he as a person was mentally, physically and spiritually OK."

In the end, McCray's family, Green and Shabazz convinced McCray to give it one more shot. The idea that there was a new coaching staff could be used as a positive, a fresh start of sorts, instead of a daunting task of having to learn from another new coach.

McCray decided to rehab his shoulder through the rest of his sophomore season to ensure it was 100 percent and he would get his best shot at meeting his goal of one day becoming a captain at Michigan and winning a championship.

Then in December, 2015, defensive coordinator DJ Durkin announced he was accepting the head coaching position at Maryland. As McCray's confidence started to gain, he would now be playing for his third defensive coordinator.

This time it would prove to be different, though.

When Don Brown was brought in from Boston College to man the defense, instead of feeling the challenge of learning a new playbook McCray's optimism continued to grow.

"Coach Brown had the most confidence in me than any coach at Michigan," McCray said. "I feel like that's kind of what got me going and he said that I needed to be ready, that he knew I could play. Him showing confidence in me even though I hadn't even really played yet, that kept me level-headed and speaks to the type of person he is."

As the positivity swarmed around him, Green noticed McCray's academics rose with his performance in practice. Working under Brown came as a welcomed challenge for McCray.

In 2016, he was named a starter, starting all 13 games. He registered 76 tackles and scored a touchdown in the Capital One Orange Bowl. For the first time, he was starting to see that maybe his choice back in high school was the right one and that his family, girlfriend and counselor were all right that he should stay.

Now, heading into his final season at Michigan, McCray has one more reason to make those close to him proud. In a team vote, McCray was named one of the team captains for the 2017 season.

"The first time he started at Michigan, it was a proud moment for him," Green said. "His dad was a captain at Ohio State and he was so proud because he said his dad started tearing up when his name was announced. He had never seen his dad cry and I think that was big for him."