"Coach Croom talks to me all the time and tells me I'm supposed to make all the big plays. See, sometimes I'll be selling myself short and making excuses for myself. And I need to break out of that habit. I'm trying to live up to the potential Coach Croom wants me to be able to."
Thus, the willingness—eagerness, even—to remain in the June swelter as long as somebody is willing to throw a football McRae's direction. Starter Wesley Carroll and backup Tyson Lee are content to accommodate him, as well as a couple of young tight ends trying to get a head-start on pre-season, even though each has already fired plenty of passes in the preceding summer afternoon hour.
This, McRae says, is when bonds between thrower and catcher are built. "I'm trying to get the quarterbacks familiar with me so that on certain plays they know where I'm at and how I am, and we have that good chemistry. That's why I'm trying to get the extra work with them. It's paying off, very much. Wesley and Tyson are getting the ball there, they know how I like to do extra moves and stuff! So it's paying off well."
By the time a reporter arrives to watch the last 15 or so minutes the work is all on red-zone pass plays; quick hitters only a couple of strides off the line, sideline grab-and-goes, and timing tosses to either corner of the end zone. McRae does well working off both quarterbacks, though naturally he and Carroll do seem to have more consistent results. And at times the soph starter halts action to fine-tune a route or discuss one of those aforementioned moves…especially as McRae adapts to new shoes and slick footing.
The older wideout pays attention because has Carroll earned the respect due a SEC winner. McRae is still impressed with how quickly the young quarterback developed under pressure last fall. "People like Wes come along once in a lifetime. For him to be doing stuff like that is pretty amazing." At the same time Lee and redshirt Chris Relf are making their own cases for potential contributions this season. It's welcome news given the risky lives State quarterbacks have led the last few falls.
"We're happy now that we've got Q-B depth because in the past everything would just fall down with the quarterback," McRae said. "This year it's going to be a great year."
McRae thought he was going to have a great year himself in 2007. The Morehead State transfer made an initial mark on the scout team, drawing praise from defensive regulars; then showed off in '07 spring camp. Enough so that on opening night, McRae was a starter. He wouldn't open another game until the Liberty Bowl.
And in-between the touted transfer caught just two balls, one each against Tulane and Alabama, for 50 total yards. Disappointment is a mild description of his personal season, and while team success came first McRae still feels he let everyone down. Especially himself.
"I thought I was going to have something big. But I guess I didn't work hard enough, so I'm making sure I do this year." Understand, McRae did his pre- and in-season work as required; it wasn't any slacking off that cramped his '07 style. He believes now it was not going the extra mile, or practice yards, so to speak.
"I don't think I caught enough balls. I've got to catch at least 100, 200 balls a day. I'm trying to stay consistent with that because I don't want to drop any balls." When a throw did go off the gloves today, McRae came right back with the same pattern and got it right. It's a carry-over attitude from the past semester's camp.
"This spring I was more focused. I was like, I've got two years left so I'm going to make the best of it and do what I can to help my team out. Because we want to win the SEC Championship and if I'm not working to my full potential then…"
Potential is a by-word for Bulldog offensive personnel this season. Sure, the team won eight games with modest scoring and yardage statistics last fall. But McRae and Co. want this to be State's break-out season on offense, both individually and collectively. He is convinced the personnel is here to get it done. Even, he grins, convince their old-school head coach that showing good throwing is a good way to open up the already-established ground game.
"That gives us a lot of incentive, I think we're going to have to change it! Because we've been working so hard and we want that ball!" McRae is so excited about the prospects he suggests the Bulldogs can lead the league in both passing and rushing. "We're going to be the best in every phase of the game!" he claims. "I'm not shy at all!"
Turning somewhat more serious, McRae agrees with coordinator Woody McCorvey's spring comments that to improve on 8-5 overall and 4-4 SEC the Dog offense has to take much more responsibility for, well, winning games. "Man, we've got to do more than better," he says. "We're going to be great, that's how I feel. So many people are so young and everybody is working so hard. And everybody wants is. A guy like Anthony Dixon is here working hard because he wants it, and that's what I like.
"Everybody wants this SEC Championship. We want Coach Croom to be the first African-American coach to be in the SEC Championship game." Bold talk, but then a year ago only the Bulldogs themselves had idea they could win their way into a bowl game. So, why not publicly up the emotional ante and raise that proverbial bar? Motivation matters, after all.
"That's how it has to be," says McRae. "Because if you don't put pressure on yourself you don't really want it." He wants it, enough to work overtime even in these voluntary summer sessions. Of course Wednesday was an easier afternoon to run around longer because all the Dogs did was stretch. "Because we're getting ready for tomorrow and a big squat day," he explained. Which means a lot of weary legs by the time throwers and catchers leave the weightroom, right?
"Yeah," McRae agrees. "But we've got to be out here running routes every day and catching more balls."