2014 was a learning season for Jared McCray. After four years of being the big man on campus at Minford, where he helped lead the Falcons to a .651 winning percentage and two playoff appearances, McCray was forced to take a backseat role in his freshman season at Ohio University.
But that didn’t stop him from finding a way to contribute. McCray appeared in eight games for Ohio in 2014, including his first career start in a 34-19 victory over Eastern Illinois in Athens on Sept. 27. He also saw extended playing time in the Bobcats’ nationally televised game at Kentucky.
“All in all I thought it went pretty well,” McCray said. “It was good…just to learn everything I needed to know.”
One of the biggest challenges McCray faced last season was adjusting to Ohio’s pass-heavy “Pistol” offense. Coming from a Minford scheme where throwing the ball was a rarity, McCray was quickly forced to re-learn his entire technique.
“Where we’re from, Minford is probably 90 percent run. You get to college, and it’s 60-4o pass to run. It was just a different ball game,” he said.
McCray spent much of last season working on his pass sets, and says he’s been able to tailor his game to the Bobcats’ system. Now, he’s looking to improve his leverage and become an even more formidable run blocker.
“Something I’ve been working on this offseason is flexibility, just so I could play low and stay low throughout the entire game,” McCray said.
Just as 2014 was a learning season for McCray, it also was for the Bobcats. Ohio failed to qualify for a Bowl Game for the first time since 2009, and finished at .500 with a 6-6 record. The Bobcats were beset by a number of injuries, a quarterback competition and untimely errors.
This season, McCray entered training camp locked in a battle for the starting right tackle position with red shirt junior Troy Watson and fellow sophomore Joe Lowery. Though McCray had been preforming well in practice, Jason Arkley of the Athens Messenger reported that he suffered a knee sprain during Monday’s practice. While the injury could keep him out for as long as “a few weeks,” he still hopes to return to the lineup as a starter for Ohio’s first game at Idaho on Sept. 3.
“I think it really brings out the best in me,” McCray said of the position battle. “You know you’re going through some hard practices, but you always have to have that mindset in the back of your head that you’re competing for starting job. I want to be a starter, that’s my job.”
McCray hopes that with a number of returning starters on offense and defense, the Bobcats can compete for the MAC East Title and return to a Bowl Game in 2015.
“We’ll bounce back,” he said. “we have two quarterbacks that can play, we have several running backs. We filled some spots on the D-Line and a lot of our defense is back too. I look for us to be pretty good.”
Before heading off to training camp, McCray made sure to stop by his old stomping grounds and take in a few Minford football practices. He said he was impressed with senior Falcon pass rusher Cain Madden, and hopes the addition of Columbus Bishop Ready to the schedule will help prepare them for a tough slate of SOC II games.
“I think that’s going to be good for Minford to add on some competition,” he said. “The whole SOC is going to be competitive; we’ll see how the season plays out.”
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter