Linebacker Mike McCray says he's "grateful for the opportunity" to be a Michigan captain in 2017. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Nearly three decades after Mike McCray was voted captain of the Ohio State football team, his son, Mike McCray Jr. was voted by his teammates to serve as one of two Michigan football captains this season.
McCray, a linebacker and Michigan’s lone returning starter on defense, and offensive lineman Mason Cole were voted captains late Saturday.
“I thought about that when Coach (Jim) Harbaugh said we were going to elect captains, and it kind of struck my mind, my dad, his fifth year, he was a captain at Ohio State,” McCray said Monday. “And for me to be one as well, it’s kind of a surreal moment, I guess.
“Not many people can say their dad was a captain at Ohio State and I’m a captain here at Michigan.”
After playing phone tag Saturday night, father and son finally connected.
“Dad, I got voted captain,” McCray told his father.
“Son, I’m very proud of you,” his father told him in a brief conversation they said they would extend later this week.
“Me and my wife are very proud of Mike,” McCray told The Detroit News in a telephone interview Sunday. “Very proud and blessed and thankful he got that opportunity to be voted by his teammates. He’s a really good person, and I’m very proud.”
“He was really happy for me and proud,” McCray Jr. said Monday. “He was ecstatic, really. He was proud and happy for me.”
That father and son will be forever known as captains of Ohio State and Michigan — one of the most respected rivalries in all of sports — is not lost on them.
“It is amazing once you think about it,” the father said. “It’s not like it’s Ohio State and Bowling Green, where my wife went to school, but it’s Ohio State and Michigan, two of the biggest names in football and to have two family members as captains is amazing. We’ll fight over our grandkids, his children, and I’ll tell them, ‘You need to go down to Columbus and not up north,’ but I’ve supportive of him and his decision to go there the whole time.”
McCray and his son have very different personalities. Mike Jr. is a quiet leader, while his father was more fiery as a player and still is more chatty.
We’re very opposite of each other when it comes to it,” the elder McCray said. “I’m more talkative; he’s a little bit more of an example guy. He’s about being on time and do everything I expect you to do. People can’t challenge that because he does everything you ask him to do. You don’t have tell Mike to do go to class, you don’t have to tell Mike to go to the weight room. He does it.
“If you get a chance to know him, he has few words, but he’s direct and is not going to beat around the bush. Sometimes that’s good you don’t. Sometimes I go too far. But one thing, we’re both confident in ourselves. You have to be confident in what you’re doing.”
When the two have a longer conversation about what it takes to be a captain, McCray said he will share with him to support his teammates in all situations and also know when to challenge them to be better.
“Being captain doesn’t mean you’re buddies and boys, you’re trying to lead,” he said. “You have to say things in a way that impacts them, not fuss at them, and when a play goes bad or something doesn’t go right in the season, be supportive.”
McCray Jr. said his father already has shared some thoughts on how to lead as a captain. He said he will welcome the advice, although they have different styles.
“He’s more vocal than I am. He’s always talking,” McCray said, smiling.
McCray Sr. always has been supportive of his son’s decision to go to Michigan, even though it didn’t thrill him. McCray was a four-star recruit who committed to Michigan in early 2012 and a few months later received an offer from OSU coach Urban Meyer.
“He always knew who he was as a person,” McCray said. “He showed that in high school when he said I decided to go to Michigan. He knew who he was when he said that. At the time I was disappointed and also proud at the same time. I was disappointed because you want your son to go in the same footsteps. Ohio State is my school, but I also was proud of him that he stood on two feet and made a decision that’s best for him. As a parent, you want son or daughter to make a decision that’s best for them.”
His son did not reveal many of the nasty texts and emails he received for making the decision to leave Ohio to attend Michigan until he was about to start his sophomore year.
“But he’s that type of guy — he didn’t care what they thought,” his father said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low, and that didn’t bother him.”
McCray will be at Michigan’s season opener against Florida in Arlington, Texas, and he will be wearing his maize and blue for his son.
“As long as Mike’s there, I’ll wear it. Do I love Ohio State and appreciate everything about Ohio State, yes, but my love for my son is bigger than that. That’s the way it is. My love for my family is more important than anything.”
That said, he did tell his wife that once the season is over and their son’s career at Michigan has concluded, it will be time to go back to wearing scarlet and gray.
“But she said, ‘I’m not going back,’” McCray said with a laugh. “She said she’s not going back to Ohio State. She likes Michigan. Her son has more power than me.”