McCray Playing for Family

Lerentee McCray heard the questions. Multiple times throughout his last five years in Gainesville, people back in Dunnellon would ask his mother about her son. ‘Why wasn't Lerentee playing?' ‘Was he hurt?' There weren't always answers. Now an integral part of the Florida defense, McCray's fast start to the 2012 season is one he hopes to use to help support his family at the next level.

His mom, Sybill, is an important reason why McCray suits up for the Gators. He committed to Miami as a junior at Dunnellon High School after watching the Hurricanes play when he was growing up. He dreamed of one day wearing the orange and green while being the next great Hurricane defensive player in the NFL.

As Signing Day grew closer, that dream faded and he developed a new one. McCray wanted to stay closer to home and be around his mother.

It wasn't just because of their close relationship.

When McCray was still in high school and becoming known as one of the top defensive prospects in the state, his older brother, Leonardo Simpkins, was arrested for what McCray called "an armed robbery charge that he was falsely convicted for."

Simpkins was the oldest male in the single-parent household McCray grew up in. When Simpkins was taken to jail, where he still is, McCray felt the need to step up and be there for his mother.

"Not having him there, just having to step up and kind of be the man of my house," Lerentee McCray said on his relationship with his family. "It definitely motivated me. I have a lot of motivation coming from the family that I come from. That's just a little extra motivation."

McCray and Simpkins don't get to talk as much as they used to and haven't seen each other in eight months, but they've spent the last few months writing each other. Even without the constant communication, McCray still knows his brother is watching.

"He's definitely keeping up with the games," McCray said. "He definitely has some people in there that don't like the Gators, so he has to deal with that sometimes. He has to go through that all the time. He talked to the warden the other day and he was telling them about (others) hating on the Gators. They've got Alabama fans, Clemson fans, Florida State fans, so he definitely has to go through that all the time."

There has been a lot for his brother to be proud of while watching Florida. McCray is eighth on the team in tackles, but he's creating havoc in the pass rush for opponents. The redshirt senior had his best game of the year on Saturday at Tennessee, as he recorded one interception with a 25-yard return, two quarterback hurries and half of a tackle for a loss. Florida head coach Will Muschamp named McCray the defensive player of the game on Monday morning.

"Lerentee has worked extremely hard," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that's always in the weight room. He's always with (defensive coordinator 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 and he plays with great effort—a guy that gives everything he's got. It's really, really important to him playing at Florida.

"He has enhanced his pass-rush ability. He's flipped his hips in the rush. He can play SAM, he can play BUCK, or he can be a stand up and move around. He can do a lot of things for us. He's a great leader. He's a guy that goes out and works hard every day. He's a great example for our football team and our younger players."

While injuries and the depth chart kept McCray off the field in his early years at Florida, the defensive staff has found a perfect fit for him at the BUCK linebacker position. He's athletic enough to stand up and play outside linebacker, but he also has enough bulk to put his hand down at defensive end. He can get to the quarterback from either spot.

McCray came to Florida as a lanky, 200-pound freshman. He's playing the final season of his career at 250 pounds. The added bulk combined with an offseason of working on pass rush moves with Quinn has turned McCray into one of the most disruptive players on the defensive line.

"He definitely helped me with my hands to get around the edge faster and try to tightrope that corner to get to the quarterback as fast as possible," McCray said of Quinn. "(We worked on) just being able to turn my shoulders and not let the offensive linemen get their hands on me, just keeping their hands off me. Trying to stay untouched to get to the quarterback."

Work ethic was never a problem for McCray. Going into his final season of college football and last chance to impress NFL scouts, he worked just a little harder in hopes of having a shot in the NFL. Through it all, his family is always in the back of his mind.

"I definitely feel pressure, but it's nothing really because I'm going to take care of my family regardless of what I do," McCray said.

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