McRae dropped the stress, picked up his game
Assistant coach Danny Verpale leads Antonio McRae through a drill.
Assistant coach Danny Verpale leads Antonio McRae through a drill.
It’s amazing what can happen when you’re stress free. If you don’t believe that, ask JU corner back Antonio McRae.

McRae, a redshirt freshman from Palatka, Fla., has his stress level down – you’ll learn in a minute why he was so stressed this time last year – and production up in fall camp.

“He’s been ultra-productive and making a lot of plays,’’ defensive backs coach Danny Verpaele said Tuesday. “In last week’s scrimmage he had four pass breakups and is having interceptions every day. As a freshman we redshirted him because he was kind of out of place and not ready and now he is stepping into his role as a starter.’’

McRae knows he was out of place and the reason for it isn’t hard to detect.

Imagine yourself an 18-year-old, just getting into college and knowing you have a son on the way.

“Last year I had some stuff going on and my mind wasn’t about football,’’ he said. “Now, I am stress free and just playing ball.’’

Little Noah was born Dec. 10 and has become, along with McRae’s hometown, all the motivation needed.

And, despite the stress of last year, McRae clearly wouldn’t change a thing.

“I wouldn’t take it back,'' he said."I was 18 at the time and stressed out now I’m stress free, got my son and that’s what I’m working for. He’s a lot of motivation.’’

The other motivation is being from Palatka, McRae said.

“A lot of people don’t make it out (of Palatka) and I am trying to represent where I’m from.’’

Being able to “just play ball’’ has meant a blossoming for the ever smiling sports management major (with a business minor).

As he has been able to learn coverage technique instead of relying on pure athletic ability, McRae has ascended the depth chart.

“It’s been drastic improvement,’’ Verpaele said. “He’s a great cover guy. If you look at him you can see he is undersized but the kid can jump. He can dunk a basketball, has a really good vertical leap and good change of direction.’’

At 5-10, 165, that’s saying quite a bit.

“Coverage is a strength and it’s getting better,’’ McRae said. “Before I learned the techniques they are teaching me I really was playing corner back on raw talent. Learning the techniques has improved my coverage. I know what’s going on, I know our plays, my checks and being where I’m supposed to be at the right time.’’

Assistant defensive backs coach James Rowe agreed McRae knows his stuff, but his admiration goes beyond football knowledge.

“You can really tell he wants to be coached,’’ Rowe said. “He’s always asking questions and seems to take it serious in meeting time, on the field and in drills.’’

About the only negative is McRae needs to gain some pounds.

“They would like me to be about 170 or 175 and I can gain weight,’’ he said. He tried drinking chocolate milk to put on pounds but that didn’t last long.

“I started with it but it tore my stomach up,’’ he said. “Now I’m eating a lot of bananas and fruit but I’m staying away from that chocolate milk.’’

Notes: Tight end Quintin Davis came back with a vengeance Tuesday from a sore calf. In a very short span, he made one of the best blocks of camp by sealing his side on a run play and a few moments later made a nice catch of a wet ball. He reported sore legs after the morning practice. … Not to be outdone, tight end Andrew Robustelli had a pretty solid practice of his own.

- Jim Nasella