What I Learned Watching: Gary McCrae

CUTHBERT - A lot of life is about timing - Gary McCrae already seems to understand that.

There are criticisms to be made of any high school athlete, but understanding when to make a play is not something Gary McCrae needs to work on. More on that in a minute. Long and with a quick burst, McCrae is raw with significant upside. It is hard to know what he will play in the SEC, but he’s equipped to play a number of positions.

That’s why it is confusing to see McCrae, one of the premier athletes in the state, play a limited amount on offense. And that’s strange in general, but particularly at a high school the size of Randolph-Clay.

The other criticism of McCrae is that he’s really not challenged at this level of football (which is another reason to wonder why he doesn’t play more offense). If he wants to go get the ball he’s going to go get the ball. It is impossible to know what his backpedal looks like - because he doesn’t backpedal… McCrae is always moving forward.

We talked after the game, and that’s what he said his responsibility is - getting the quarterback. That allows for teams to run draws, which Lanier County did a few times to perfection. What is impossible to know is if McCrae can deal with confronting a blocker, shedding that blocker and making the play.

I know he can make the play (more on that in a minute). What I don’t know (and we just don’t have the data on it because of his job in the Randolph-Clay defense and the level of offensive tackle talent in the area) is if he can take on a blocker and dismiss them. You usually can’t make a play without beating a blocker.

So that’s my incomplete look at him.

Again, what we know, and the reason he’s being recruiting by everyone, is that he can dip his shoulder and turn the corner to make a play on the ball. That’s the point of football - make enough plays to win… and did McCrae ever do that to win the ball game.

After surrendering a 12-point lead to Lanier County, Randolph-Clay was left defending on its own 32-yard line with 1.2 seconds remaining in a tied game. To be clear, Lanier County had all of the momentum - the Red Devils could have snuffed them out, and probably should have, in the first half. But that didn’t happen. Only after surrendering the lead and momentum did Randolph-Clay put McCrae in on offense, at quarterback no less, and suddenly the Red Devils could move the ball. They didn’t score, but they moved the ball. McCrae on offense should have happened more often and earlier in the game.

But in the final moments of the game Randolph-Clay needed a play, or they certainly could lose. McCrae, likely either believing in himself too much, or knowing just what he is capable of, screamed up to his defensive coaches in the press box “I’m going to make it happen”.

He sure did.

Lanier County took the snap, and looking to win with a 32-yard pass, put its signal caller in a slight scramble mode to buy a little bit of time for his receivers to get down the field. McCrae, who has to be the top pass rusher at that level of football, was doing what he’s really good at - rushing the passer.

The Lanier County quarterback rolled right, and then made the mistake of turning back to the left - running away from McCrae. No one runs away from McCrae for long. Understanding that the play was going the wrong way for the other guys, McCrae decided to make it worse.

He slapped his hand onto both of the signal caller’s hands and knocked the ball loose about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The ball laid prone and unmolested on the turf until it was scooped up by McCrae’s defensive teammate who hustled into the end zone for the game-winning score.

McCrae made the play, and that’s what people remember. The Randolph-Clay bench exploded. The Lanier County quarterback laid, face down, on the ground. It was a tough way to lose a game; it way a way too difficult way to win a game. But Randolph-Clay had McCrae, and Lanier didn’t and that was the reason why one team won, and one team lost.

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