Sunshine Warrior

There's no shortage of high school gridiron stars in the Sunshine State and, seemingly, no end to the obstacles that must be cleared to extract them.

Take the case of Lerentee McCray of Dunnellon, Fla., a four-star prospect who is rated the nation's No. 5 linebacker by The Vols have emerged as a contender for the gifted tackler and an unofficial visit could be in the offing this summer.

McCray is a playmaker with star power and outstanding athleticism. He elevated his stock at the Combine Jacksonville three months ago and has been a big-time target for recruiters ever since. He currently reports over 30 offers and lists his favorites as Florida, Auburn, LSU, Florida State, Miami, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

He grew up a fan of the Hurricanes and his mother favors Florida. Throw the other contenders into the mix and it would take quite a trick for the Vols to land McCray. That's not to say they will be dissuaded in their pursuit, and the reasons are simple: (1) McCray is a perfect fit at outside linebacker for UT's base 4-3 defense. (2) Florida can't sign everybody its recruiting. (The NCAA won't allow it.)

Turning the tide in this battle of SEC titans may require a victory in Gainesville on Sept. 15, followed by an SEC East Division title. That would show the Vols are still a viable force on the national scene. Such status is required when chasing Hot 100 prospects, who want an opportunity to compete for championships as much as playing time.

McCray is the type of talent that could help UT get there. At 6-foot-2.5 and 200 pounds he ran a 4.53 time in the 40 at the Jacksonville combine. He also recorded a 4.35 in the short shuttle and 37-inch vertical jump. He bench presses a respectable 320 pounds and squats an impressive 525.

As a junior last fall at Dunnellon High School, located in north central Florida, he posted 97 tackles and 11 sacks. He is also one of the few linebackers you'll find who returns kicks and plays wide receiver. He has a frame to carry another 30 pounds and his speed and quickness are top of the line. He plays a high-intensity brand of football, pursuing plays from sideline to sideline and displays excellent instincts.

"When I'm on the football field, I play with passion," he told Jonathan Jolley of "I'm aggressive. I'm physical. I like to run, and I'm athletic. I think my speed adds just another dimension to my game. At linebacker, I think I'm good at filling the gaps. I'm good at taking on blocks and getting off blocks. I can take on backs out of the backfield and guard tight ends."

There's nothing more Tennessee could ask from a linebacker except his signature on a scholarship. One point in the Vols' favor is McCray's stated intention to wait until late in the process before making a decision. That gives UT a chance to close ground and perhaps secure a recruiting visit.

Lerentee McCray is well worth the effort.

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