The junior offensive lineman from Jackson's Forest Hill High School missed the 2009 season with a redshirt, played in all 12 games in 2010 but didn't get in on any action in 2011. There were some players in front of him, and he experienced chronic knee problems.
But now he's at the forefront of breaking through to help the offense at its left tackle position. McCray is hopeful now is his time.
"It was a little surprising," the 6-foot-5, 319-pounder said of not contributing more before. "Coaches have different philosophies. The last group probably didn't trust me because of my health. I understand. They've got a job. So I just maintained, was patient, continued to work hard, and good things are happening."
McCray had some goals heading into August from the spring practices and the summer workouts.
"I wanted to become a leader, practice hard, solidify myself in my position and get my mind set for the season," he said. "I haven't played a game in three years solid. So I'm just getting my mind ready to get back into that mode."
He likes what he sees out of the entire offensive line.
"I'm very pleased with how the offensive line is progressing from where we came from in the spring," he said. "We're a more cohesive group right now. We still make a couple of mental mistakes, but that's just part of the game. We're getting closer to everything, and I feel pretty good. I think we're going to be just fine."
McCray said the spring and summer work got the Rebels ready on offense in a lot of ways.
"Coach (Paul) Jackson in the summer got us in good shape," he said. "It's still different from being in game shape. Definitely toward the end of camp we were doing just fine. You feel tired out there, but when you get to the sidelines, you realize you're not that tired. That just gives you more confidence, and you know you are in shape and can run this offense."
The Rebel offense brought in by head coach Hugh Freeze and staff is upbeat, uptempo, and fast-paced. McCray said that's all good for the offensive line as far as he's concerned.
"The speed and everything (of this offense) helps the offensive line tremendously," he said. "We don't have to hold our blocks as long. We're looked at as a spread, but we've got some power runs. That's what some of the older guys are used to in the old offense."
More from McCray -
On Randall Mackey: "I was just telling Randall, ‘I'm still not used to calling you a running back.' He's spectacular. He's a playmaker in general. I think you can put him in at any position, even on defense, and he would make some plays. He's learned the offense pretty good. He's surprised a lot of people. He's playing good. He's going to have a big year."
On how the team can prevent becoming complacent or fatigued with yet another week before the opener: "2-10. 2-10. That's all the motivation you really need for not becoming complacent. The closer you get to the season, you shouldn't become complacent. You should get more excited and want to work harder. The harder you practice, the easier the game will be."
On the second team offensive line: "We've got a couple of young guys. They're physical, definitely. They're still making a couple of mental mistakes, and that's probably some of the reasons some of those guys aren't starting. They definitely have the ability. They have to fix a few technique things. But a couple of them are right on our heels, definitely."