Mike McCray grew up an Ohio State fan.
As the son of former Buckeye captain Mike McCray, Sr., his allegiance made sense.
But now, the fifth-year senior linebacker is a captain for the Michigan football team. And Monday, his final week of preparation for ‘The Game’ began.
According to McCray, his father is now committed to the Wolverines as well.
“He’s rooting for us, so that’s all that really matters,” McCray said. “We have a great relationship. … He’s cheering for us every weekend, so he doesn’t really care about Ohio State right now.”
McCray Sr. may accept that his son is a ‘Michigan Man’ now, but he was initially caught off guard by his son’s interest in the program he used to regard only as “that team up north.”
McCray initially visited the Wolverines in September of 2012 at the first night game in Michigan Stadium history. The Wolverines may have fallen to Notre Dame, but McCray returned home to Ohio with a collection of Michigan gear.
“(My dad) was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I just told him I really liked it,” McCray said. “He was a little surprised because it was my first time ever being up here. It kind of shocked him a little bit, but overall he was just happy for me.”
McCray admitted Monday that he never hated Michigan. Even though his father did, McCray Sr. quickly changed his mind about the Wolverines when his son decided that is where he wanted to spend four years of his life.
McCray is in the midst of his fifth. He needed one more to accomplish his goal of becoming a captain at Michigan. He may not have followed in his father’s footsteps in Columbus, but he still did in Ann Arbor.
“It sunk in the day that I got voted captain,” McCray said. “…It was just one of those moments (that) was kind of surreal. I don’t know too many people to ever have the opportunity — him being a captain at Ohio State and me being the captain here. It’s one of those things you can’t take for granted.”
Throughout his career, McCray’s father has been by his side. He records the Wolverines’ games and evaluates his son’s play. He offers his advice to prepare for each game, and now that his son is a captain, he provides tips for him to help his teammates succeed as well.
“Ever since I committed, he was all in,” McCray said. “He’s a big supporter of me and a big supporter of our team, so I thank him for that. Probably after this game and the bowl game, he’ll go back over to the dark side.”
Saturday, McCray will be leading Michigan down the tunnel and onto the field for the final Ohio State game of his career. He has never beaten the Buckeyes. None of the Wolverines have.
Michigan has lost to Ohio State 12 times in its past 13 tries. The Wolverines are eager to reverse that streak, especially in light of the dramatic nature of last season’s overtime loss. McCray is especially motivated to secure his first victory over the Buckeyes.
“In my eyes, it’s really important,” he said. “I don’t want to go back home and hear, ‘Oh, you never beat Ohio State while you were up there.’ ”
McCray understands that this is his final chance to make a mark on arguably the most historic rivalry in college football. He and his father may have been on different sides of the rivalry during their college careers, but Saturday, McCray Sr. will be cheering on his son against his former team one more time.
“It’s my last game at the Big House, and it’s my last time being able to try to beat Ohio State since I’ve been here,” McCray said. “Everybody here hasn’t beaten them, so it’d be a great memory to have if we win.”
Even McCray Sr. would likely smile if his son and his team managed to pull off the feat.