Bloomington – Way back in 2005, former IU Coach Terry Hoeppner whetted Hoosier fans' appetites with what was in store with the arrival of tailback Demetrius McCray.
"Some coaches in Florida told us they thought he was the best running back in the state," Hoeppner said 4 ½ years ago about the Tampa area product. "He's, quote, ‘never been caught from behind.'"
That glowing report produced lofty expectations for the Armwood H.S. star, ones that he's still trying to live up to as a fifth-year senior. The truth of the matter is that the player who once couldn't be caught from behind has been even harder to for Hoosier fans to catch in action.
In his first four years on campus, McCray has totaled just one start, 672 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Nearly half of those numbers came as a redshirt freshman in 2006, and he's spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons as more of an occasional contributor than a difference maker.
The reason behind McCray's limited impact can be summed up in one word – injuries.
There's no question the 5'11", 209-pounder has had his share. The most debilitating and lingering was one to his left foot that sidelined him for the final nine games of the '07 season and limited his effectiveness a year ago as well.
But for the first time in years, McCray managed to stay off the injury list since camp opened in early August. An injury-free McCray proceeded to out-duel Darius Willis, Bryan Payton and Trea Burgess for the No. 1 tailback job coming out of fall camp, and he made a huge impact in Indiana's 23-19 win over Western Michigan Saturday. McCray eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his college career, racing for 134 yards on 17 carries on an afternoon that was highlighted by a 59-yard second-quarter touchdown run.
"I haven't had an day like that since high school," McCray said. "It was a good feeling. I'll try to get used to that feeling so I'll try to do it again next week."
That opportunity will come Saturday when the Hoosiers travel to Akron as 4 ½-point underdogs against the Zips. They will not only be looking to improve to 3-0 for just the 14th time in school history, but they also want to avoid being the first Big Ten team to lose to Akron since 1894.
To avoid that dubious distinction and remain perfect, IU will look to McCray to lead a ground game that showed tremendous improvement last week compared to the season opener. Despite the absence of Willis, Indiana still managed to rush for 187 yards as a team with Payton (5 carries, 29 yards) and Mitchell Evans (6 carries, 35 yards) helping out as well.
McCray knows last week's performance will have Akron's defensive coaches scheming to take away some of the runs that were successful against the Broncos. That's just fine with McCray, who figures IU's coaches will come up with some new wrinkles of their own as they prepare for a game that no one is overlooking.
"You have to have respect for each opponent," McCray said. "There are great players everywhere, and there are great coaches everywhere. You can't say because you're playing a MAC team that they're not going to be as good as you."
McCray's (Finally) Up and Running
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