John Denton's Knights Insider: Cliff McCray Granted Two Year Eligibility Extension By NCAA

March 30, 2010

By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - When Cliff McCray found out recently that the NCAA would be granting him a two additional years to complete his college football eligibility he first called home to his parents and then sent a text message to his twin brothers.

As it turns out, the text message to Jordan and Justin McCray, UCF recruits who will be joining their brother on the Knights offensive line next season, wasn't necessary.

``I told my mom and before I could tell everybody else everybody else already knew about it,'' McCray said with a chuckle, referring to his mother, Debra. ``They were all very excited.''

McCray, a starter at guard for 12 games last season for the Knights, was officially granted two more years to complete his eligibility by the NCAA on Tuesday. McCray was granted the extension by the NCAA's Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement.

McCray missed his first two seasons, one of which was a redshirt year, because of a congenital, preexisting heart condition that had been misdiagnosed in high school. He then missed the 2008 season following the death of his roommate, former Knight Ereck Plancher. Citing Bylaw 30.6.1, McCray was granted the extension by the NCAA because of ``reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution which deprive the student-athlete of the opportunity to participate for more than one season in his sport within the five-year period.''

McCray first came on campus in 2005 as a redshirt freshman from Miami Southridge High School. He is believed to be the first UCF athlete in recent years to attain a sixth and seventh year from the NCAA.

As happy as the McCrays were, UCF coach George O'Leary was just as excited about getting the 6-foot-2, 320-pound McCray back for next season. The Knights are actually 14-5 in the 19 games that McCray has started - 8-4 last season and 6-1 at the end of the 2007 season. McCray is primarily a guard, but can also play center for the Knights.

``We were hoping that things would work out. The NCAA has been very student-friendly in hardship cases and I'm happy to have him back,'' O'Leary said. ``As far as the offensive line is concerned, nothing beats experience. I think things will only get better from the past year for him.''

O'Leary said he's had plenty of brothers play together on the same team, but never before three brothers. That will be the case next season when Justin and Jordan McCray get on campus to join their older brother. The trio always dreamed of playing together along the same offensive line, but thought it was impossible because of the gap in age.

``Growing up, we talked about that all the time, but there was always that five-year gap,'' McCray said. ``My father (Clifford) coached us and we talked about it. It's a dream come true. It really is.''

About to graduate in May with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, McCray plans to enroll in graduate school in the fall. He said the extra time in football has been a blessing because it has allow him to pursue his education even further.

``It has been an experience in itself. I'm thankful for everything that happened,'' McCray said. ``It has helped me develop into the man I am today. If it wasn't for the things that have happened, I wouldn't be who I am. I'm grateful and I'm looking forward to moving forward and being a great football player.''

UCF Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance Lisa Danner worked with McCray to compile a 125-page explanation to the NCAA as to why the offensive lineman should be granted a sixth and seventh year to complete his eligibility. And when word came down from the NCAA recently, there was elation in the UCF football offices and the McCray home in South Florida.

Enduring everything that he's gone through over the past five years helped shape McCray into the person that he is today. Missing two seasons because of the heart condition made McCray appreciate the chance that he has to play football. And losing a close friend also changed his outlook on life.

``It was something that I had to go through as a person. It made me look inside and it allowed me to grow spiritually,'' he said. ``I'm thankful for my faith. That's what has gotten me through everything up to now. It was a life-changing experience for me and has allowed me to come back that much stronger.''

And McCray thinks he will be stronger on the football field this season after finally getting the chance to play in consecutive seasons for the first time in his UCF career. He said being back on the field last season wore on his physically and he's bettered for the pounding this time around after an offseason of weight-lifting and conditioning.

``It was really tough sitting out a year -- more physically than mentally,'' he said. ``My body was not used to all of the hitting and being bruised up. What I am focused on this year isn't just being more mentally tough, but being more physically strong, quicker and more agile.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.