Enterprise senior athlete Josh McCray announced on Jan. 5 that he had committed to accept a scholarship offer from the University of Illinois to play running back with the Fighting Ilini.
McCray has been a starter at Enterprise – at a number of positions – since his freshman season and earned his first scholarship offers from Tennessee and Troy as a sophomore. Since then McCray, a true definition of an “athlete” having starred at running back, safety, linebacker and wide receiver, has earned more scholarship offers from schools like Washington State, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Kentucky.
McCray wanted to play offense in college but most teams – especially the SEC schools – envisioned him on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker.
In December, Illinois hired longtime Arkansas and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema as its new head coach. Enterprise defensive coordinator Jed Kennedy – who is from Wisconsin – formed a relationship with Bielema during his coaching days in the state.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a good enough relationship with (Bielema) that he picked up the phone and called back,” Kennedy said. “I knew what he did at Wisconsin and the kind of players he’s looking for. Josh is a great kid and a big back and that got the ball rolling.”
After seeing McCray’s film, Bielema immediately offered the 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound athlete a scholarship. While McCray hasn’t had a chance to visit Illinois’ campus – because of COVID-19 and NCAA restrictions – he’s been able to form a good relationship with Bielema.
“Coach Bielema and I have had a really good relationship,” McCray said. “I met with my family and Coach (Justin) Jones and decided that Illinois was the place for me.
“I haven’t got to visit the campus because of the restrictions the NCAA has put in place due to COVID but I have Zoomed with them and I’m excited to get on campus. (Bielema) has been great. The first time we got on the phone I knew he was different than a lot of other coaches.”
McCray said Bielema’s offer to play running back and the relationship he formed with the staff were big impacts on his decision to go to Illinois.
“I got recruited as a running back by Coach Bielema and I really just wanted to play offense,” McCray said. “They’re excited about me and my ability to carry the ball a lot. I wanted to play big time football, and I really like Coach Bielema and his new staff at Illinois.”
Bielema is known for his team’s punishing running style, which has been a staple in the Big 10 for decades. Bielema led Wisconsin to years of success in the 2000s, going 68-24 and three Rose Bowl appearances. Some of the star running backs that Bielma coached at Wisconsin include future NFL stars Melvin Gordon, John Clay, Montee Ball and James White.
“I think he’s going to be an unbelievable player in the Big 10 and one of the players that will help get it turned around up there and I can promise you that Coach Bielema is the guy to get it turned around. He’s a great coach,” Kennedy said. “Just knowing the schemes Coach Bielema runs on offense I think the sky is the limit there for Josh.”
McCray is a two-time all-state athlete at Enterprise, three-time Elite 11 representative and three-time Elite 11 All-Around Player of the Year.
This past season was truly McCray’s breakout season as Enterprise’s “do everything” athlete piled up nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns. While McCray’s potential at Illinois is clear, he has very simple goals.
“My goal for Illinois is to receive my degree and do anything I can for the team,” McCray flatly stated.
McCray said that he plans to sign with Illinois during February’s National Signing Day.