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Seizing opportunity
Former Rams McCray, Hunt take advantage of their chances
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The last time we saw Demetrius McCray and Justin Wray on the field together, they were engaged in one of the best high school football games the county has ever seen. Then again, Appalachian State University football fans get to see the duo play together every Saturday. Or at least they will next year.

Newton football hasn’t had much to get excited about the past two years. After missing the state playoffs again this season, the Rams are finishing out the year the best they can with an eye on 2012. That doesn’t mean some former Rams aren’t having success on the gridiron.

McCray is a starting cornerback at Appalachian State University and is coming into his own after paying his dues the past two seasons. He played sparingly his freshman year, seeing most of his time on special teams but got an opportunity to play cornerback last year when All-American safety Mark LeGree went down with injury and the Mountaineers were forced to shuffle things around.

McCray’s first start came against none than the University of Florida, at The Swamp no less. But McCray took advantage of the opportunity and recorded four tackles. It was enough to keep him in the lineup when All-Conference cornerback Ed Gainey was suspended for Appalachian State’s final two games.

McCray played in both of the Mountaineers’ playoff games to finish 2010 and hasn’t looked back. His play gave coaches the confidence to move incumbent cornerback Troy Sanders to strong safety and permanently McCray has been the man on the right side and coaches have raved about his cover skills and tackling ability.

Going into Saturday’s game, McCray is second on the team in interceptions with two and has 24 tackles — 1.5 for a loss, and one sack. He also has seven pass breakups and one forced fumble.

McCray isn’t new to making the best of his chance to shine. During his senior year at Newton, he started out at defensive back but was thrust into quarterback position in the Rams season opener against Eastside. In what is still widely considered the most memorable intracounty game ever, McCray led the Rams to a game-tying touchdown with four seconds on the clock to force overtime. He kept it going in overtime, scoring a touchdown to force the Eagles to do the same. Eastside, behind Wray, eventually won the game on one final stop but McCray’s performance was enough to cement his spot in the lineup at quarterback.

While playing quarterback, he racked up more than 1,600 all-purpose yards but it was his play at defensive back that garnered him attention from scouts. He led the Rams with seven interceptions while running the team’s offense and coming out of high school, Appalachian State recruited McCray as an athlete with an eye on him playing defensive back.

Unlike many athletes, McCray didn’t redshirt his freshman year. He started where many do, on special teams and his play there opened his coaches’ eyes. Playing alongside Wray, who also went through a position change although more drastic, McCray is inextricably linked with the quarterback he played opposite of in that memorable county opener in 2008. Wray is currently rehabbing a torn rotator cuff and redshirted this season but the two started alongside each other over the final three games of 2010.

Both McCray and Wray have won two conference championships together at Appalachian State. The two continue to compete for best Mountaineer from Covington. Wray starred on defense last year at linebacker, finishing second on the team in tackles. With Wray out for injury, McCray has closed the gap. Next year will likely settle the battle probably neither thinks much about. The rest of us will watch in anticipation with fingers crossed the duo can be the first players from Newton County to win a national championship.

Fellow Ram Hunt seeing PT at Purdue

Demetrius McCray isn’t the only former Ram leaving his mark on the college gridiron. Akeem Hunt, who led Newton in rushing each the past three years, is finding playing time at Purdue despite being a freshman. Not only is Hunt finding playing time, he’s doing quite well when he gets it.

In six games, Hunt has run for 152 yards on just 18 attempts. He’s third on the team in yards per game but the most telling stat is Hunt’s big-play ability which it appears, he didn’t leave in Covington.

Hunt leads Boilermaker running backs with at least 10 carries in yards per carry (7.8). His longest run of the season is 30 yards, third behind only starter Ralph Bolden and JUCO transfer Akeem Shavers.

Known in high school for his explosiveness and combination of speed and ability to break tackles, Hunt amazed people with some of the runs he made at Newton. His most memorable game was a four-touchdown performance against Newnan last year in which he single-handedly willed the Rams to a come-from-behind win.

Like McCray, Hunt went to Purdue as an athlete. Also like his former teammate, Hunt has taken advantage of his opportunity. Not even listed on the depth chart to open the season, Hunt has run for more yards than third-string back Reggie Pegram. He led Purdue in rushing against Notre Dame then again against Minnesota albeit in mop-up duty. Hunt also scored two touchdowns in his first game seeing action against Southeast Missouri in week three.