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Thursday, June 20, 2013
DB McRae hoping to follow mentor's path

By Josh Moyer

Juantez McRae (Towson, Md./Calvert Hall) can't remember exactly what words were exchanged or how the topic was brought up that day. He just remembers the moment -- the sun peaking beneath the horizon, relaxing on the porch in gym shorts and the warm, sticky air -- right before his epiphany.

The 2015 prospect's friend and role model, the kid from two or three houses down, turned to him and asked McRae -- then a freshman -- what he wanted to do with his life. McRae glanced up at the neighbor, Trevor Williams, a starting PSU cornerback now but a Calvert Hall receiver then, and mouthed some hesitant answer about football and education.

"He said, 'Juantez, this is what you need to do. You got to do your work and not give up because if you don't make it at football, you have to have a backup plan,' " McRae said, reflecting back on that day nearly two years ago. "So whenever I would slack off, I'd be like, 'Think back to what your role model said. Think back to what Trevor said.' "

Juantez McRae
Juantez McRae looked up to current Penn State cornerback Trevor Williams when he was younger and still values his counsel.
McRae and Williams grew up next to each other, so the two talked a lot after workouts. Usually they'd chat about football or high school, friends or music. The tone to this conversation was different, more serious, and it became the first time McRae reflected on his future priorities.

He was just a freshman, after all. And Williams knew better -- he was the natural athlete, the lanky receiver who was destined for greatness since Pee-Wees. So, when Williams spoke, McRae listened.

"It was kind of like a movie," McRae said with a laugh. "I don't remember everything from that day, but I just remember him really inspiring me and opening my eyes. That meant a lot."

McRae hasn't forgotten the theme of that conversation -- work hard in school, never give up on anything -- and is following in Williams' footsteps. Or, actually, maybe he's already surpassed them in some respects.

Williams left the picturesque brick-and-glass building of Calvert Hall with three FBS scholarship offers and a one-way ticket to Penn State. McRae is entering his junior season with nine FBS offers -- and stood out as one of the top defensive backs at PSU's June 8 camp.

McRae's longtime mentor wasn't too far away. Some current Penn State players crossed their arms and watched the camp a bit in jeans and T-shirts. They didn't say anything, but they watched as a dozen other Calvert Hall players took the field in hopes of showing PSU's staff they deserved to stand where Williams and his friends stood -- watching instead of proving -- in the future.

"They're definitely like one of my top four schools that I want to attend," McRae said. "From what I gather, it seems like it's a really good place to be."

Defensive coordinator John Butler pulled McRae aside on more than one occasion, talking gently about form and technique. McRae would nod, shuffle back in line, and Butler's eyes would follow him to his next turn.

He could feel the eyes on him, the same eyes that follow Williams and the other Calvert Hall alumni, Da'Quan Davis and Adrian Amos, in practices. In some ways, McRae knew this was a bit like a tryout. But he tried to brush that thought aside and focus on Butler's instruction.

"I got to say, I love the coaches there -- just the way the coaches are," he said. "They're not hard on you, but they're going to get on you. It's just something about them. It's something that makes me feel like these people enjoy watching me play ball. I've heard a lot about them."

Whenever McRae pauses to catch his breath or feels as if he can't go one more play, he thinks back to his mentor and sometimes that conversation two years ago. It's stayed with him all this time. Sometimes, he admitted with a laugh, he even catches himself day-dreaming about it all coming full-circle and playing alongside Williams at Penn State.

Three Calvert Hall players have headed to PSU to play defensive back. McRae doesn't yet hold a PSU offer, but he wonders if he might just be the next. Solidifying a legacy like that is something that appeals to McRae -- but he just hopes he'll see his mentor at some point in the future.

"It would be like, 'Wow' if I finally get a chance to play with those guys," he said. "But even if I don't go there, just to play against Trevor, it would be great."