Last Wednesday on The Crafting Linemen Show on Twitch, Torrian Wilson interviewed his old UCF teammate and current Atlanta Falcons guard, Justin McCray. They reminisced on their different recruiting stories, playing offensive line at every level, and what NFL Sundays are like during Covid-19.
Torrian Wilson (TW): And today we have a special guest... Justin McCray from the Atlanta Falcons, man. What's going on, man?
Justin McCray (JM): What it is, what it is. Appreciate you having me.
TW: Hey man, definitely, definitely. Before we get started, tell the audience a little bit about yourself.
JM: So, Torrian and I both went to school at UCF. We are both from Miami. I played at South Ridge High School in Miami and came to college as a 3-star recruit. Me, my twin brother Jordan, and Torrian, we just started working our way up. We went from black jerseys on the second team to starters.
TW: There it is. I'm going to kind of go back a little bit, cause I'm gonna have some guys reading and a lot of them are not being recruited highly. Some of them are 3-star, 2-star, or 1-star recruits.
So, what advice do you have for a 3-star (like you were entering college) who feels he’s not getting the recognition he deserves?
JM: Honestly, all you need is one shot. You need one team. My brother and I, we were not like you coming out of high school. You had something like 60 offers. You were one of the best linemen in the country. We didn't have all that. We had one offer from UCF and another offer from FAU. So, all you need is a chance. It doesn't matter where you go. If you can play, they're gonna find you. And that goes for high school or college or the pros.
TW: Exactly, exactly, man. So, for all the guys that constantly ask me about size, and why they are not being recruited highly. It doesn't matter, man. You can't go to 30 schools. All you can do is go to one. All you need is one opportunity for that school to take that school to take a chance on you, man.
Honestly, all you need is one shot. You need one team... It doesn't matter where you go. If you can play, they're gonna find you. And that goes for high school or college or the pros.
- Justin McCray on being recruited
TW: So, you’re playing for the Atlanta Falcons, now. You played for Green Bay. And you played for (Cleveland and) Tennessee, as well.
You transitioned to all of these different teams. What is it like going from the Green Bay Packers to a team like the Atlanta Falcons? Like team chemistry wise?
JM: I've been in four organizations now. Every one feels a little different. I mean, in Green Bay, there ain't nothing to do. It's only football. You got a casino out there. That's about it... But, every place has a different feel and different sorts of history when you step in the building.
TW: So now kind of the same question, for different organizations... for different environments... for different playbooks… what would you say is the hardest adjustment as far as what the team likes?
JM: Because pretty much every (team) is doing the same thing, I think the hardest thing is just memorizing and getting new verbiage down, pausing for different things. And the main thing I'm learning is I was in Green Bay for two and a half years (and now it's) just second nature. I feel like the main thing is that I'm learning so I can put the new information in when you get to a new team.
Last year, when I got traded from Green Bay to Cleveland, it was right before the season started. So, my mind going into that first game with a new team... I was still programmed to use all the verbiage, all the calls, all the plays, that I was learning in Green Bay in the Packers camp. And it's sorta like, you know, we're not doing that here. So, I gotta erase that from my mind and learn something totally new. It's just, it's a little difficult. It just takes a little more time... more patience for you to get the playbook and stuff like that down.
TW: That's true, man. ‘Cause I know going to different organizations, you hear different things and for the most part, football is football. But, the verbiage is different. One team might call something one thing and on another team, they call it a whole different thing. Totally different. So, I definitely understand that.
There's a whole bunch of different guys, different upbringings, different schools, and different ways they got into the league. But... I think everybody wants the best for each other. And I think that's what brings about the best rooms.
- Justin McCray on NFL offensive line rooms
TW: So, most people want to know this question and I definitely want to know, too, cause I never experienced it. What's the environment like, right now, playing during COVID? With empty stadiums and everything else?
JM: Well, it's totally different. If you don't have to be around somebody, you probably are not going to be. A lot of meetings and stuff are virtual. We've been doing a lot of simulcasting like You still get the same information. You can hear everybody You can still interact. You can still ask questions, but it's just, it's different.
The games are the weirdest part, honestly. You can hear everything going on. If they make a big play on their side. They turn it up, you get mad. Because you can hear everything going on over there. And it's the same thing when we make a good play. But, going to games and not really being able to see anybody… it's a major difference.
TW: Right. And that is this crazy man, because you know, being a football player, we feed off the fans...
JM: Yeah, you feed off that energy.
TW: Yeah. You, you feed off that and you need that.
JM: I think they're starting to do a little more crowd noise. So, it sort of sounds like there are people there. But, when you actually look and take a little glance, you realize ain't nobody there. They just pumping music into the stadium.
It's different, but at the same time, it's still like, you still get the same little jitters before the game. You're still going against somebody different. It ain't like practice and stuff. So a lot of it's different. But the main thing is I the game is pretty much the same.
TW: Yeah, that's another thing, too. (When you're) at home, you know, you want your crowd for that home field advantage. And now it's just another game.
JM: Yeah, it's just a game. Everybody's playing the same thing.
TW: That's crazy, man. I know you've got some top guys and some veterans. So, what's the chemistry like in the offensive line room?
JM: Yeah, I think that's, that's one of the best things about our room. I've been in a lot of (different) rooms and this one just sort of gels together. There's a whole bunch of different guys, different upbringings, different schools, and different ways they got into the league. First round, paid. Second round. Third round. And free agents like myself. But I think the guys work well together. We care about each other and that's the main thing. Everybody wants to see everybody do well, no matter who in what spot or what time of practice or what time of game it is. I think everybody wants - genuinely wants - the best for each other. And I think that's what brings about the best rooms.
I was a free agent in Tennessee and I was released. And I was out for two years and I remember whenever I would watch games, I always used to think that I know I can do this. Like, I know I should be out there playing.
- Justin McCray on motivation after being cut
TW: Okay. So, so kind of piggybacking off of what you said. You came into the NFL undrafted, as a free agent. I did also. And so, seeing you go from the Titans to where you are now, you always play with that chip on your shoulder.
So, what drives and motivates you at this point? As a free agent, you're not supposed to be in the league seven years later. You already beat the odds, so what motivates you now? What gets you going?
JM: I think honestly, man, I was a free agent of Tennessee's and I was released. And I was out for two years and I remember whenever I would watch games, I always used to think that I know I can do this. Like, I know I should be out there playing. I know I can be successful in this league and it would make me mad when I wasn't there.
And the main thing (motivating me) right now is just thinking about how I felt when I wasn't playing... when I wasn't in the league, when I was just working out and I didn't know when I was going to get my next shot. And I remember just how frustrated I was then. And when I actually got a chance to prove myself in the league and what I did, I knew I can keep getting better. I think that's the main thing. Just looking at how I was when I first went to Tennessee and how I play now... just seeing the growth, just knowing I can keep getting better like that. I think that's the main thing. That keeps pushing me because you never gonna know what your limit is. Right? Until you hit it. And I don't, I don't think I'm ever going to hit it. So, I just keep pushing and I keep getting better.
TW: There we go, man, That's real, man. Like, playing ball or doing whatever your purpose is in life, you have to have that self motivation. You have to find that drive. You have to find that purpose. You have to find out why. And obviously, you found that and you continue to build off of that. And for all the guys out there, man, find your purpose... find the drive, find the why of why you want to do whatever you want to do in life, man.
To read Justin's tips on technique and blocking the NFL's best rushers, click here for the rest of the interview.