Bobby McCray was just a kid when Hurricane Andrew tore through his hometown. Twelve years later, McCray is going home to play a professional football game, as another hurricane closes in on south Florida.
"We were in Florida City. We were in the eye. We got the worst of it. Our two cars were both totaled. We had somebody's roof on our cars," McCray said prior to the Jaguars' practice Thursday afternoon.
The prediction for storms sweeping into Jacksonville this evening caused coach Jack Del Rio to move Thursday evening's practice to this afternoon. Those storms are associated with tropical storm Bonnie. Behind Bonnie is hurricane Charley, which could threaten the south Florida coastline tomorrow.
What a time for McCray to make his professional football debut. Actually, the timing couldn't be better, since the Jaguars are in a depleted state at defensive end. McCray, the Jaguars' seventh-round draft choice from Florida, figures to get a lot of playing time in Saturday night's preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Veteran defensive end Tony Brackens was lost to the team earlier this week when it was determined that Brackens had torn a muscle behind his right knee. Now, starting left defensive end Paul Spicer has been sidelined by a left fore-foot sprain.
This will be McCray's big chance, and it could lead to something a lot bigger, should he give a strong showing Saturday night. He needs the opportunity. The Jaguars need him. McCray and the Jaguars could be a great fit.
"I just think it was meant to happen. I think God wants to see if I really want to play football," McCray said of lasting in the draft until the seventh round.
That he lasted that long was somewhat surprising. After all, 6-6 pass-rushers with McCray's physical tools are at a premium. Though he's only 251 pounds, his physique offers strong potential to put on size and strength. He could turn out to be the steal of the draft at a position where teams routinely draft players higher than their skills warrant.
"I'd rather go in the seventh round to Jacksonville than in the second or third round somewhere else," he said. "I'm in the best situation here. They need some talent at defensive end. It's open for someone to step in."
He's got that right.
For that someone to be McCray, he'll have to prove he can hold up against the run. The knock on McCray coming out of Florida was that he wasn't a physical player.
"He's working very hard on his techniques, especially his run techniques. We knew he has the ability to rush the passer. He's improved every day in his run techniques," Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith said.
At Florida, McCray blossomed as a pass-rusher and play-disrupter in his senior season, when he recorded 9.5 sacks and made 11.5 tackles for loss. He had 2.5 sacks in each of his previous two seasons.
"I was ready to leave (college) after my junior year, but I definitely needed more coaching. I think I'm ready to excel," McCray said.
He'll probably get a lot of extra coaching this weekend. His father is the head football coach at Homestead High School, and he gave his son sound advice for this training camp: "Don't give any of the coaches a reason not to keep you there," McCray said.
"I'm just trying to take advantage of it," he added of the opportunity that exists at defensive end. "I've been here so long, since spring, I should be playing perfect football. Once I get that down, I should be able to pull away from the bunch."
He could take a major step in that direction this weekend.