Imhotep senior Jordan McCray could have copped an attitude, been a disruptive and disgruntled player or just flat-out transferred.
McCray possesses the size, speed and athleticism to play linebacker in college somewhere next season. The problem is that the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder plays defensive end really well for the Panthers, who will play District 10 Cathedral Prep in the Class AAA state championship Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.
"I thought about it like I really need to play linebacker because if that's what [college] coaches want to see then that's what I have to give them, because I need this scholarship," McCray said. "My parents are not fortunate enough to pay for tuition, so I have to work hard so they don't have to pay. [But] my coach needs me to play defensive line, so I just stepped up and I told him I'll do what I've got to do for the team."
As a defensive end last week, McCray recorded three solo tackles for losses that totaled 11 yards in the Panthers' 72-27 thumping of District 11 Saucon Valley.
"This year I really wanted to play linebacker, because when colleges came in they said I had the perfect size for a linebacker," McCray said. "But they've never seen me play linebacker, so they can't offer me [a scholarship] as a linebacker. They say, 'Well, he's great at defensive line, but his size . . .' "
Imhotep coach Albie Crosby said McCray, who has always played defensive end for the Panthers (14-0, 6-0), still might be best suited to play defensive line at the Division I-AA or Division II level.
"He's superb with his hand on the ground as opposed to standing up [as a linebacker]," said Crosby, who also lauded McCray's sacrifice.
McCray, who lives with his great-grandparents in West Oak Lane, said he has received varying degrees of interest from Towson, and Division II schools such as Lock Haven and Shippensburg.
Winning a state championship, however, is foremost in his mind right now.
Two years ago, McCray was academically ineligible and couldn't play in the Panthers' 41-0 loss to South Fayette in the Class AA championship game.
"That made me realize how important education really is," McCray said. "I used to settle for C's, but after that it woke me up and now I get A's and B's. It's stressful, but I'm doing what I have to do."
That includes, he hopes, bringing a championship back to Philadelphia and being a role model for his six younger siblings.
"A lot of us come from nothing," McCray said. "Us winning a state championship would give a lot of people hope. There would be great memories for a lot of people and for a lot of our players. A lot of people don't have a lot to look up to or a lot to remember [positively] from their childhood, and that would be something that we could always look back on and say, 'I did that.' "