"Big D" Hoping To Emerge From Injury Problems

One of the strengths of the Fighting Illini football team this year is its defensive line. There's athleticism, strength, experience and depth at every position. D'Angelo McCray is one of the most promising, but he is just now getting a chance to show what he can do.

The 6'-4", 333 pounder out of Andrew Jackson high school in Jacksonville, Florida, was an All-American tight end and defensive end, but he played with an injury his senior season.

"I hurt my knee the first game of my senior year. And then I played the whole year. I messed up my knee a little worse. I had my surgery after the (Army) All-American game, February 1st, actually."

D'Angelo hoped to play as a freshman, but the injury delayed those plans.

"When I got to fall practice, it (knee) was about 70%. So in two-a-days, I just practiced one to see how it was from there. It swelled up. The coaching staff thought it was best for me to redshirt and learn the plays and techniques to get on the field for this season.

"I had to accept it because that's the way it went. I had a lot of older guys who were contributing, so I didn't rush myself on the field and get hurt."

McCray also was behind learning the techniques needed for college ball. He was a basketball player and didn't get onto the football field until the end of his freshman year of high school.

"The redshirt helped me a lot with techniques and things I needed to know to get on the field."

He has gotten much bigger and stronger since arriving at Illinois.

"I've gained about 30-40 pounds since I've been here, and I'm getting stronger in the weight room. I've gained about 150 pounds in my bench press since I've been in the weight room, so I'm getting stronger."

Just when he was ready to make his presence felt in spring ball, D'Angelo suffered another setback.

"Offseason, about the start of 6:00am's, I tore my meniscus."

While the surgery to remove loose cartilage in the same knee was a minor procedure with a quick recovery time, it prevented D'Angelo from participating in the grueling 2 week conditioning phase of winter training that would have put him in top shape for spring ball.

"I've lost a little bit of speed, but I've got a little left in me. I'm trying to get my strength back in my leg. I'm swimming 4-5 laps every day in the pool, and just trying to get back healthy. I'm doing extra running at the end of practice because I didn't go through 6:00am's, and that's where they got most of their conditioning."

After all the setbacks, McCray is thrilled to be back on the field with his teammates.

"Yeah, I'm glad to be out here. Right now, I think I'm in a good position. This spring it's been off and on, but I should be ready to go before the Lemont scrimmage.

D'Angelo knows that seniors Dave Lindquist and Sirod Williams have first crack at the starting defensive tackle spots. But he looks forward to the challenge of competing for playing time.

"The seniors are a good group of guys. Me and Josh (Brent) are trying to work our way into the rotation. He got to play last year, so we're trying to get a crack at 1st string line."

McCray is explosive and has great potential, so his future seems bright once he returns to full health. Coach Ron Zook looks forward to that day as much as D'Angelo.

"He's working hard, and he wants to get out there. He's an athletic guy, he's a strong physical guy. He can do all those things, and that's why we were so excited when he came to the University of Illinois."

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