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Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Mike McCray II just like his dad -- sort of

By Jared Shanker
ESPN Recruiting

Hanging in Mike McCray II's room is a picture of an undersized linebacker, running with the ball in his hands and wearing a scarlet No. 99 jersey.

It's a scene from the past and potentially the future, too.

The framed photo is a picture of his dad, Mike McCray, during his time as an Ohio State outside linebacker in the 1980s. Despite a series of injuries that hindered his collegiate career, McCray was a Buckeyes team captain for the 1987 season, his last in Columbus.

Mike McCray
Watch List LB Mike McCray II already has offers from Purdue, Syracuse, Tennessee and Toledo.
Like his father, McCray is an outside linebacker, and one of the best in Ohio. It likely won't be long before the Buckeyes come calling for the Trotwood-Madison junior and 2013 ESPNU 150 Watch List member.

"He's athletic, a little smoother than I was," the elder McCray said of his son. "He does things so easily and fluid sometimes. Sometimes I don't think he's moving but he's moving.

"I was extremely athletic, really good speed, played hard," said McCray, who shared the backfield with Keith Byars in high school. "I was rugged, just a typical linebacker."

Growing up, the younger McCray looked at that photo of his dad rumbling toward the end zone in front of more than 85,000 die-hards and dreamt of one day playing for the Buckeyes, maybe making the game-winning tackle against Michigan.

Turns out, he could be making the game-winning tackle for Michigan in 2013.

On Sept. 10, Michigan held its first-ever night game in the Big House. McCray was on hand for it and had a little present for his dad afterward.

"He got out of the car with a Michigan hat on," said the elder McCray, who jokingly admitted that probably was the first time anything maize and blue graced his Trotwood home. "I said, 'What are you doing with that hat on?'"

It was all in good fun, but McCray knew it would irk his father just a bit. "That's one of the reasons why I did it, so I can get under his skin," he said with a laugh.

McCray and his father have a great relationship, and both understand that when it comes down to it, the son needs to be his own person -- even if that means playing his college ball in Ann Arbor.

"I guess every parent would want that," the elder McCray said of his son following his footsteps and going to Ohio State. "But I'm still stuck on you got to do what's best for you. Ohio State was the right [decision] for me.

Michael McCray
Mike McCray played linebacker and was a captain at Ohio State in 1987.
"Whatever situation is best for him, I'm going to support it. If he goes with Michigan, Michigan State, if that's where he needs to be, that's fine. My dream was to go to Ohio State. That was the best place for me at the time. "I never want him to feel pressure about my accolades from high school or college. I tell him, 'You don't have to live up to me. Your name is Mike McCray II, and I'm the first. We're two different people.'"

And football used to be one of those differences.

The younger McCray played basketball and baseball year 'round, sun up to sun down. During the summer, he played in both an AAU basketball and a baseball league. Football never made it into McCray's daily schedule. Not that there was much time anyway.

Despite his background, McCray's dad never pushed for football.

"As a father, you believe you wouldn't mind seeing your son participate in some of the things you did," he said. "But I want to support him and the decisions he makes."

It wasn't until sixth grade that McCray finally asked his dad to play football, but after two years, it was back to just baseball and basketball. Right before preseason practice was set to begin in eighth grade, he chose to take the fall off.

"I was worn out," he said. "My body was just tired."

The plan for McCray was always to get back into football as a freshman at Trotwood-Madison. He just needed to recharge his batteries.

Those batteries are fully charged and haven't lost any life in the more than two years since.

"He brings a lot to the defense, stepping up and making a big hit," Trotwood-Madison teammate and fellow Watch List member Cameron Burrows said. "He pumps up the whole defense and brings a lot of intensity."

Playing on a loaded Trotwood defense, McCray leads the linebacker corps, and already has offers from Purdue, Syracuse, Tennessee and Toledo. Undoubtedly, more offers will be coming his way. It likely won't be long until Ohio State is one of them.

The question now is whether McCray would jump on the opportunity.

"I used to [envision playing at Ohio State] a lot, but now there's other colleges showing me interest," McCray said. "My eyes are open."

Jared Shanker covers Midwest recruiting. He can be reached at jshankerespn@gmail.com.