Despite growing up a Miami fan and retaining his summer commitment to the Canes until December, ESPN's No. 6-rated outside linebacker Lerentee McCray (Dunnellon, Fla.) announced Wednesday at the ESPN Club in Orlando he would be keeping his explosive linebacker play instate and suiting up for Florida next fall (the announcement will air on tape delay during SportsCenterU on ESPNU at 6:30).
"That was real hard to back out of Miami because that was the school I grew up liking," said McCray. "I will always like Miami, no matter if I go there or not, that was real tough."
The fierce-hitting linebacker narrowed down his final choices to Florida, Florida State and LSU before choosing the Gators, currently on a torrid recruiting pace heading into signing day. McCray is the fourth ESPN 150 prospect to commit in the past 10 days.
"I just love Florida and the Gators, I love everything about them. I like the coaching staff, the school, everything," said the linebacker who amassed an astonishing 178 tackles as a senior.
We are sure the feeling is reciprocated by Urban Meyer and the Florida defensive coaches. On the field, he is a heat-seeking missile and embodies all the great traits represented by this 2008 outside linebacker class. The aggressive McCray is leaner than the prototypical Division I outside linebacker prospect at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, but he generates speed so quickly in the short area he hits with the force of a 225-pound 'backer.
The No. 80 prospect on the ESPN 150 possesses uncoachable fast-twitched athleticism and an elite burst in space when pursuing to the football; the size will come once he attacks the Gators' full-time strength program, which is alarming for fellow SEC opponents.
Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has a good one headed to Gainesville. McCray might need to be covered up as a weakside linebacker until he gains the bulk and power needed to hold his base at the point of attack and shed through traffic, but his sideline-to -sideline range, change-of-direction quickness and closing speed could have Strong, who was instrumental in McCray's decision, working him into early blitz packages next fall.
"Coach Strong and Coach Mullen recruited me. Coach Strong shoots it to me straight all the time. He is not like some coaches, he tells me straight up what I am going to do and how I am going to do it," said McCray.
Aside from McCray, Strong has to be excited about the group of elite defensive prospects and potential impact freshmen headed to The Swamp next fall. It may be difficult to find a more impressive 2008 secondary class, particularly at safety, than the Gators. Will Hill (West Orange, N.J./Saint Peter's) and Dee Finley (Auburn, Ala.), strikingly sit one and two atop our 2008 safety board; both possess great size, can cover, close and hit. Joining Hill and Finley in the secondary is corner Janoris Jenkins (Pahokee, Fla.), who recently slid up to the No. 4 spot after his impressive performance as an Under Armour All-American in Orlando. The Gators currently have commitments from four ESPN 150 defensive prospects projected to play in their back seven.
Despite limited scholarships, the amount of premium talent currently headed to Gainesville is impressive; more than half of Florida's committed prospects are in the ESPN 150, and it has a good shot at landing either Darrell Scott (Moorpark, Calif./Saint Bonaventure) or Jamie Harper (Jacksonville Fla./Trinity Christian), ESPN's No. 2- and 3-rated running backs. Recently jumping into the top 10 in the latest release of our class rankings, expect the Gators to land a few more highly-coveted prospects like McCray prior to signing day.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.