LEMOND: Marlon McCree fighting to stay in NFL

Former Kentucky football star Marlon McCree became a starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars as soon as he walked into the Jags lockerroom as a rookie in 2001. He started for Jacksonville again in 2002, and then started for the Houston Texans in 2003. That's why it's surprising that McCree is now fighting just to stay in the NFL after signing with the Carolina Panthers last March. He's listed as the Panthers third-string strong safety.

"It's not like when you were in college. You're not on scholarship," McCree said. "It's been like that every year for me. They bring in maybe eight, nine, or ten guys sometimes, and you've just got to compete, and so far I've been able to prevail. With God willing, I'll be able to do the same here (Carolina)."

McCree was an undersized linebacker at Kentucky, but he knew his future was as a defensive back in the NFL. His best year in the NFL was during his "sophomore" season when he tied the Jaguars team record with six interceptions and made a career high 85 tackles during the 2002 season. In 2003, he set a Houston Texans record and had the longest interception return for a touchdown for the entire season when he picked off a Steve McNair pass and ran it back 95 yards for the score.

"I'm having a great time here," McCree said. "God has really blessed me. I've been able to stay healthy for the most part. I'm just having a good time. The guys on this team are very professional with everything they do. I think we have a really good chance to go somewhere here.

This will be McCree's fifth season in the NFL, but he still smiles when he remembers back to his days at Kentucky, which included back-to-back bowl games.

"The fans at UK are the best, football or basketball," he said. "I mean they would come out and support us all day. That's really what I remember the most. Whenever I go back there, I really am going to miss that - that feeling of being out on that field."

McCree has done his best to keep up with his alma mater, and if he can't he's got plenty of teammates to make sure he knows what's going on.

He said, "We've got a lot of SEC guys in the lockerroom, from Tennessee, Florida, Georgia. They give me a hard time, but I watch them. I think they did pretty good. I think their defense stepped up. I just think they've got a couple of holes to fill, and I think they'll be able to compete this year."

So how about a prediction on the upcoming Kentucky / Louisville game? McCree didn't pause, "Kentucky all the way! 21-zip baby!"


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