CFL Pass

McCray has connections to Lancaster's legacy

L.J. McCray was familiar with Ron Lancaster’s ties to the Saskatchewan Roughriders long before joining the CFL team.

What the first-year cornerback didn’t know was how much Lancaster meant to Rider Nation — a realization that hit home when McCray saw the statues of Lancaster and George Reed outside Mosaic Stadium.

The larger-than-life Lancaster statue impressed McCray because Bob Lancaster, Ron’s son, was McCray’s defensive backs coach at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. Lancaster not only coached McCray at Catawba, but also recruited the defensive back to join the Indians out of high school in Charlotte, N.C.

“(Bob) used to tell us in college that his father was a legend and that we would find out about him one day,” McCray said after Tuesday’s closed practice at the University of Regina. “He wouldn’t tell us on our own because he was never one to brag, but his father is a big deal up here.

“When I first got out here and I saw the statue, I didn’t know he was that big. Any guy who plays football wants that kind of recognition when they are done and that’s a great thing for him.”

The elder Lancaster won Grey Cups as a quarterback with the Ottawa Rough Riders (1960) and Saskatchewan (1966) and CFL titles as a head coach with the Edmonton Eskimos (1993) and Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1999). Lancaster was also the Riders’ head coach in 1979 and 1980.

McCray was impressed by Ron Lancaster’s history through 16 Canadian Football Hall of Fame seasons as a player with Riders. Lancaster, who died on Sept. 18, 2008 at the age of 69, still holds franchise passing records for yards (46,710), attempts (5,834), completions (3,186) and touchdowns (299).

“I always thought his dad was a coach, but I didn’t know he was known for playing and coaching,” McCray said. “He was the man! It was a great feeling when I got to tell (Bob Lancaster) that.”

McCray was at Catawba College from 2009 through 2013 (he was a medical redshirt in 2011). Bob Lancaster was the defensive backs coach with the Indians from 1998 through 2012, and in 2016 and 2017.

“I love him and he was my guy,” said the 28-year-old McCray, who is expected to make his third CFL start Friday when the Riders are in Montreal to face the Alouettes.

“He was one of the greatest coaches that I had in my life. He changed my life because he let me know that hard work wasn’t enough. He also let me know that I was destined for greater things than just being at Catawba and that I had to compete every day. He made it possible for me to get here.”

Bob Lancaster, who is a coach at Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord, N.C., has two Catawba graduates in the CFL. McCray is joined by Hamilton Tiger-Cats cornerback Jumal Rolle.

“It’s a really special feeling to see a guy not only go on to play pro ball, but play in the city that I know and love,” Bob Lancaster said via e-mail.

McCray wasn’t drafted after his senior year, but signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent. He dressed for 22 regular-season games with the 49ers, recording 10 defensive tackles over the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

A knee injury contributed to to the 6-foot-0, 210-pounder being released by the 49ers after the 2015 season. He had subsequent NFL stints with the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills before making his way to the Roughriders.

“I wish the number (of NFL games) was higher, but I’m thankful for every rep I’ve gotten,” said McCray, who signed with the Riders on April 25. “I’ve been playing this game since I was seven years old, so to still be out here, to still be giving it all I’ve got and feeling like I’ve got so much more to give, is a great feeling.”

mmccormick@postmedia.com

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Source: montrealgazette.com