SMU Fall Camp Notebook: Day 13

The Pony Stampede staff will be at every SMU fall camp practice this month and will provide exclusive stories, videos, and observations. Today we reflect on Day 13.

McJunking Paving The Way For Young Linemen

By Billy Embody

One of the most well-respected players on SMU's football team is senior linemen Blake McJunkin. McJunkin was selected as the male recipient of the 2012 NCAA Division I Sportsmanship Award this summer. McJunkin received national attention for shielding Texas A&M defensive back Trent Hunter's head after his helmet came off when McJunkin tackled him after Hunter intercepted a pass in SMU's 2011 season opener against the Aggies.

Already on the Rimington Watch list for the nation's best center, McJunkin has proven that he can lead and help the offensive line work together as a unit. As the most experienced member of the line, he is charged with mentoring younger players.

"The main thing and first thing you've got to do is model it by the way you practice and the way you play, once we start playing. You model how you handle business just as a professional and as a student-athlete and that's the main thing," McJunkin said.

McJunkin has seen many different players come throug SMU during his time here, but has his own way of leading.

"The main thing I've got to do is model and demonstrate the way things need to be done. We can have guys that tell people what to do. That yell and scream, get loud and curse, but it won't do a whole lot if you're not doing it as well," said the 6-foot-2, 305-pund senior.

McJunkin understands that a lot of the younger players are overwhelmed with the speed and complex system the Mustangs run, but he is focused on doing everything he can to help them in various ways.

"Practice habits and helping them understand everything about offensive line. This isn't high school anymore. We have a much more complex system. It's a lot more developed than what they've been running," McJunkin said. "So just helping them understand fully football IQ and what were trying to do with stuff and certain plays."

Seeing how well the freshmen have been developing excites the elder statesmen along the line, and McJunkin's mentoring is a major reason why SMU's talent at the offensive line position is so strong.

"There's all kind of good young guys. We've got a lot of young freshmen that are coming in. Chauncey (Briggs) and Seaver (Myers) are gifted guys, big. Sam Rice is a very developed kid for 18 years old. He's learning and still doing well. Taylor Lasecki is doing well learning his stuff. He's probably going to be asked to play a lot this year. He's got a big challenge ahead of him," McJunkin gloated about the next generation of SMU linemen.

McJunkin is trying to decide what path he would like to take for graduate school, as he just graduated this summer after taking a few courses to finalize it. Being back for a fifth season after being granted a medical redshirt is something that he does not take lightly.

"First of all, I'm obviously excited to get another go-around to come back and play and have another season," McJunkin said. "I'm excited big time for that and just to be a leader for these guys is pretty fun as well because I think it's going to equal team success. When you have another guy that's back and has played a lot to kind of help out these young guys, that's going to help us all."

McJunkin has always been committed to the weight room and improving physically any way he could. McJunkin also relies heavily on how hard he works on the mental aspect of the game and the high-level of effort he gives every snap. Now at 305-pounds, McJunkin believes he has all the tools to have a successful season.

"Strength is obviously the mental side knowing what to do and when to do it. Being able to direct everybody and what they need to be doing. I think technique is a strength of mine as well," McJunkin said. "Since high school I've never been the biggest, most over powering strongest guy, so I had to learn how to survive on technique and effort. So now that I am more caught up physically, the benefits to me to already have those habits of real strong work ethic on the field, playing to the echo of the whistle, attention to detail, technique so that's the main thing for me to keep doing."

For his last season, McJunkin cannot contain his enthusiasm for where this team can go with all of the talent and experience on it.

"I'm excited for our team. I wanna see how well we do," McJunkin said. "I think we have great capabilities and great potential to do well as a team so that's the most important thing is just how well we do as a group of guys and our experience together trying to win football games."

Video: June Jones Provides Update On Team

Versatile Gray Expects To Succeed As Nickelback

By EJ Holland

Three years ago, Jeremy Gray arrived on the Hilltop as a walk-on defensive back looking for a chance to play under June Jones at SMU. Now, he's earned a scholarship and is expected to be a big contributor in the secondary.

"I felt really happy to get a scholarship," Gray said. "My family was really happy for me. My teammates were really happy for me too. I was a little shocked when I got it, but now I have to keep working."

Gray spent the last two seasons at corner before moving to safety this spring. But with starting cornerback James Richardson out for the season with a torn ACL, Gray was forced to move back to his original position.

"I've getting used to making the transition from safety back to corner. I have experience there so it's not a big deal to me," Gray said. "It took about a week, but now I'm really getting into it. (Kenneth) Acker, (Chris) Parks, Keith (Robinson) have all made the transition a little easier by helping me out."

Even without Richardson, Gray believes SMU can have a top-10 defense in 2012 thanks to the depth at corner.

"J.R. was going to be a great starter for us," Gray said. "He was a confident corner and had good technique. But we have some good corners that can definitely fill that void."

Gray's versatility made him an easy pick to be SMU's nickelback this season. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder explained that having experience at both safety and corner will help him excel as the fifth defensive back.

"I like playing in the nickel because it's a hybrid corner and safety. You have to use some of your corner skills on the quicker guys," Gray said. "You have to use some of your safety skills on the bigger guys. It's a pretty good fit for me. Coach (Tom) Mason has been preparing me since I'll be starting in that package against Baylor."

Day 13 Observations:

- Taylor Reed did not practice again due to a hamstring injury

- Cody Worthen and Colin LaGasse did not practice

- Taylor Reich was back on the field but didn't do very much and mostly observed

- K.C. Nlemchi did not practice after injuring his shoulder on Saturday

- Bobby Waid made a leaping catch over Keith Robinson and looked pretty good today

- Keenan Holman burned Jeremy Gray by five yards in 7-on-7 today. The ball was put right on the money by Garrett Gilbert.

- Jeremy Johnson made a diving catch right behind Derek Longoria, who was playing extremely deep and in front of Ryan Smith

- Ryan Smith returned punts and may be the favorite to do so this season

- Daijuan Stewart got his chance to return punts today but didn't make the most of it as he fumbled the ball

- Der'rikk Thompson and Kevin Pope appear to be the favorites when it comes to returning kicks

- Kyle Guinyard had a very bad day of practice as he dropped four balls in a span of 20 minutes

- Ben Gottschalk is showing some agression this fall camp and pancaked Jarrett Spencer

- Kenneth Acker stepped in front of Guinyard and picked off a Garrett Krstich pass but Guinyard punched the ball out on the return, which caused linebackers coach Joe Haering to yell, "Protect the ball" at the top of his lungs

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